Lacrosse fans will get a big helping of American lacrosse flavor this weekend as the Philadelphia Wings bring some of the NLL’s brightest U.S. stars to Las Vegas for a nationally televised game.
The 1-1 Wings, led by forwards Blaze Riorden, Matt Rambo, and faceoff man Trevor Baptiste, meet the 0-2 expansion Desert Dogs at Michelob ULTRA Arena on Friday night in the NLL on ESPN (10:30 pm ET; ESPNews/TSN.ca in Canada).
“The bright lights, energy, volume and exotic feel of Vegas is exciting,” says Riorden, the Wings’ top scorer this season with eight goals and 10 points. “I’m fired up to play lacrosse there.”
“It’s so exciting to see the game grow,” says Baptiste, who is 31-for-47 (66%) on draws with 23 loose balls this season. “I never thought I’d be playing a professional game in Las Vegas. I am super excited for the weekend.”
There are a total of seven American players on Philadelphia’s 20-man roster, including forwards Joe Resetarits and Hunter Lemieux and defenders John Ranagan and Isaiah Davis-Allen.
“Love the American flavor on the Wings,” Baptiste says.
“It’s great to have such a representation of U.S.-born players on the team,” says Riorden. “It speaks to how the game of lacrosse is really growing and expanding in the U.S.”
Fans should expect fireworks from the Philly forwards, especially left-handers Riorden and Rambo and righty Resetarits, who’s second in scoring for the Wings (three goals, nine points) in his first season with the team, including a team high seven points last game out.
Resetarits netted a league-leading 47 goals last season with Albany and was third in points with 111, the most-ever by an American player in the NLL.
“In my opinion Rezzy (Resetarits) is the most-decorated American box player ever. He grew up in the box game and you feel his confidence in himself and throughout the room,” Riorden says.
“Bringing Rezzy in was huge,” continues Rambo, who has two goals and eight points this season. “He is one of the best players in the game right now. He brings a lot of energy to the group. I’m excited to have him on our side of the floor now.”
Rambo, Riorden and Baptiste have been NLL teammates on Philadelphia since expansion in 2018. All three grew up playing the outdoor field lacrosse and made the transition to indoor box later.
“It’s especially different for me personally since I play goalie in [field],” Riorden says. “But I strongly believe I started playing this game in my yard simply as a lacrosse player, not at a certain position. I just want to be the best lacrosse player I can be.”
Rambo’s inaugural acquaintance with the NLL was with his hometown Wings, with his hometown of Glenside, PA being only 20 miles away from the Wells Fargo Center. “My first experience with box was watching,” says Rambo. “I used to watch the Wings growing up and came to a lot of games. Being from Philly, it was a dream to be able to play for Philly.”
“Transitioning to box has been fun and challenging,” adds Baptiste who got his first real taste of box lacrosse in the CCBLL of the National Collegiate Box Series of USBOXLA prior to being drafted 14th overall in the 2018 Entry Draft. “It’s been exciting because, at first, every time I stepped on the floor I was learning something new. It’s really refreshing because although it’s still lacrosse it’s allowed me to be in different situations.”
Baptiste, Rambo and Riorden also played together on the bronze-medal winning U.S. men’s box team at the 2019 World Indoor Lacrosse Championships. That squad also included Resetarits and Ranagan.
“Those guys are not my teammates, they’re my brothers,” Riorden says. “Our relationship is special and goes beyond the turf. These are moments I’ll forever cherish.”
Riorden, Baptiste and Rambo were also recently named to the U.S. roster for the 2023 World Field Lacrosse championships in San Diego.
“Playing for Team USA is always an honor,” says Rambo. “Playing for your country is something that is hard to put into words. Having my teammates on the Wings on the same USA team makes it special.”
Looking ahead to Friday’s game at Las Vegas, Riorden says Philadelphia has its work cut out after the holiday break and a bye in Week 5. The Wings’ last game was a tight 13-12 road win at Georgia on Dec. 17. Philly started the season with an 18-8 loss at Halifax on Dec. 2.
“They’re athletic, they’ve shown they can play tough and have a well-coached bench,” Riorden says of the Desert Dogs. “The main focuses are to stick to the game plan, take away their transition and be hard to play against 5-on-5 at both ends of the floor.”
Las Vegas has four Americans on its roster, second year forward Charlie Bertrand, transition player Connor Kirst, rookie Jack Hannah, and Joe Robertson on the practice roster.
The Desert Dogs will also be battling back from two losses to Panther City before the holiday break and a bye in Week 5. Las Vegas last played on Dec. 16, a 9-3 setback in its home opener. The Desert Dogs played their first game in franchise history on Dec. 9, a 13-11 road loss.
For the Wings players, playing lacrosse under the bright light in Las Vegas will definitely be a thrill.
“I have been to Vegas for a 24-hour trip,” says Rambo. “Never would I think I would be playing a pro lacrosse game there. I’m ready to see what Vegas has to bring!”
The NLL on ESPN continues Saturday with Calgary (2-1) at Colorado (1-1) for the Mammoth’s home opener and 2022 championship banner raising (10 pm ET; ESPNU/TSN.ca), one of six games on the league schedule that day.