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Brad McCulley Is Ready to Fill Some Big Shoes

One day when Brad McCulley was a young boy, he went to a local mall in Langford, British Columbia, just outside Victoria on Vancouver Island. It was a day that would change his life forever.

On a spring day in the early 2000s, a friend’s dad took McCulley and his son to the mall for a fun time. They walked past a promotional booth run by the Juan de Fuca Lacrosse organization and were told that if they signed up to try the sport that summer, they would get a free lacrosse stick. Kids being kids, of course they wanted those free sticks, so they got themselves signed up to play.

When they returned home, McCulley told his parents he had signed up to play with the Juan De Fuca Mini-Tyke (five to six-year-olds) team. He’s played every summer since. Now more than ever, lacrosse is an integral part of his life.

When McCulley was still getting a feel for the game in the early years, he and his dad started attending tons of Victoria Shamrock games. He quickly became a fan of Shamrock legend Lewis Ratcliff because of his ability to put the ball in the back of the net with regularity. He also liked seeing a fellow left-handed player excel at the sport that he was falling in love with.

“I watched Lewis Ratcliff, and he was the main guy that I really liked when I was younger,” McCulley said. “He scored all the goals. He was that big lefty shooter doing whatever he could to get open and then put the ball in the back of the net.

“I also liked watching Dan Dawson play. That physical style that he still plays. My dad always loved it. He was always talking about how Dan Dawson would swim guys and have a bunch of different moves that many people hadn’t seen before.”

By the time he was playing at the Novice level (nine and ten-year-olds), McCulley was really starting to hone his skills. His hand-eye coordination was improving, and, just like his idols, he was beginning to put the ball in the back of the net at a high clip.

Playing at the Junior level with the Victoria Shamrocks, we really started to see what McCulley could offer in the box game. Over three summer seasons from 2016-2018, McCulley scored 87 goals (29 goals per season) and tallied 114 assists (38 assists per season). From 2018-2020, McCulley improved different elements of his game playing field lacrosse at Robert Morris University. As a midfielder, he scored 28 goals in 40 games, with 15 of those coming in the 2019 season.

All his efforts while playing lacrosse, starting from that fateful day at the mall, earned him a spot on an NLL roster. But he wasn’t just picked up as an afterthought; he was actually so highly coveted that the Buffalo Bandits selected him 9th overall in the 2020 NLL Entry Draft. Two-and-a-half years later, having his name called in the draft is still one of the best moments of McCulley’s life/

“That was probably the coolest experience of my life because it was something I had been dreaming about for a while,” McCulley said. “My buddies and I had talked about getting to the league forever, so to go in the top-10 was something I was very excited about.”

“I didn’t know that some teams would want me so much. It was amazing to know that. It was extremely flattering and humbling. I was very thankful that I was being looked at that way.”

Yet, as many Jr. players who become rookies in the NLL will tell you, adjusting to the size, speed, and strength of the guys in the professional ranks is a difficult task. Even with a full training camp and the tutelage of some of the best coaches in the league, including the most dynamic left-handed scorer in history, John Tavares, being a young elite player in the NLL is still tough to do.

In his rookie season, McCulley only played in five games. It wasn’t necessarily because his skills weren’t developed enough. All you had to do was look at the Bandits roster last year to realize there wasn’t any room for him on the floor.

The Bandits had six forwards that scored 25+ goals, including Josh Byrne and Connor Fields (both lefties), who each scored 30+ goals. It was a position that McCulley was OK to be in because he was constantly surrounded by guys he could learn from.

“I only played five games last year, and I wasn’t mad about it,” McCulley said. “I don’t question anyone’s decision. I struggled to pick up the speed of the game. And our offense was hot. Thankfully, we weren’t dealing with any injuries, and our guys were firing on all cylinders, so I understood why I wasn’t getting in the lineup.”

This season, McCulley has started finding his groove in the NLL, particularly in the last two games that he’s played. He’s scored six goals in his previous two games, including a career-high, breakout four-goal performance in the Bandits last contest. Going back a few more matches, he’s scored eight goals in his previous five games. McCulley’s efforts are being noticed by his teammates, such as superstar Dhane Smith and his coaches.

“It’s very hard to find your way [in the NLL],” Smith said. “His hardest part was finding out what his game was and how it could help us out. I think many people were telling him what he needed to do instead of just focusing on what he was good at. With our injuries, he can step into a different role having the ball more. You can see he’s feeling way more comfortable with the ball in his stick – he’s shooting much better.”

“He does many things that don’t appear on the stat sheet,” Tavares said. “He drives through the middle, sets big picks, and he’s gotten into a couple of fights already – is willing to do whatever it takes to win. The goals and the assists are just a bonus.”

As a former top-10 pick in the draft, McCulley has wanted to prove his value to this team. He’s gone to great lengths to do so, including moving in market so he can practice with the team – it helps not having to fly across the continent from Victoria every home game. Especially with the injuries that the Bandits have experienced this season, there’s more opportunity and, more importantly, more of a need for McCulley to be upping his game this season.

Josh Byrne and Chris Cloutier have been out for an extended period, and last game, Tehoka Nanticoke, Ian MacKay, and Brandon Robinson all went down – it is unclear who will return for their next game, if anyone. The Bandits have also re-signed Chase Fraser, and he should be back in the lineup in no time.

Being the big team guy that he is, McCulley is more than willing to step into the trenches and fight for his brothers who are sidelined. No player ever wants to see his teammates go down with an injury, but if he needs to keep delivering, McCulley is ready to answer the call. In Jr., McCulley learned to be the guy with the ball in his stick much of the time, so with those key pieces out of the lineup, so he feels pretty comfortable in this new role.

“I really feel 300% more comfortable than I did any game last year and even the first three games this year,” McCulley said. “I’m picking up on the speed; I’m figuring out a few different things… I feel like I should be putting in two or three goals a game – that’s what I feel like I should be doing.”

Whatever ends up happening with the Bandits roster over the next couple of weeks or even the remainder of this season (postseason included), McCulley is starting to feel like this is his moment to shine.

He’s far from the player he was a year ago. He feels that the last couple of games are not an aberration. He is no longer a rookie struggling to fit in; he is now a sophomore beginning to play beyond his years.