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Stories/Op-Ed

Brodie Merrill, The Veteran Captain Leading An Expansion Team

Brodie Merrill’s career has come full circle.

Back in 2005, Merrill was the first pick of the NLL draft by the expansion Portland LumberJax. Now, he’s a part of another expansion franchise, the San Diego Seals. This time, it’s as a 14-year veteran captain.

And though the Seals are only the second expansion franchise Merrill has played for, the defenseman/transition player is used to playing with young and inexperienced teams.

“My first year in the league we were an expansion team so you’re going through similar things and it was the only thing I had known,” said Merrill. “So you’re intricately a part of building the team and growing with the team.

“And then I was picked up by the Rush (in the 2010 expansion draft) and they weren’t an expansion team but it was a team that was in a rebuilding stage. When I got traded to the Wings (before the 2011 season)  it was a similar rebuild situation. It’s definitely a unique situation and something that I’m excited for.”

Merrill, an Orangeville, Ontario native, busted out of the gates his first season in the league, winning both Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of The Year with 17 goals and 47 assists – the latter topped only by the 53 points he posted with Edmonton in 2010.

Merrill continued to shine early in his career, winning the Transition Player of The Year in 2009 and 2010 and again in 2017, becoming the only player to win the award three times.

In the 2014 offseason, Merrill was traded from New England – formerly Philadelphia – to Toronto, without ever playing for the Black Wolves. North of the border, he led the Rock to the 2015 NLL Finals and the 2017 Eastern Finals and served as Rock captain for the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 seasons. More importantly for Merrill, he got the opportunity to play with his brother, Patrick, for the first time since the two were on the gold medal-winning Canadian national indoor lacrosse team in 2011.

Last offseason, Merrill had a tough decision to make. Re-sign with the Rock, stay near his hometown, team up with Tom Schreiber and challenge the Swarm for the East title? Or play for Patrick, who was named the Seals’ first head coach and general manger, and for a city that had never hosted a lacrosse franchise before and a six-hour plane ride from the Toronto area where Merrill still lives?

The decision was not an easy one for Merrill. “It was a long and emotional decision. I loved everything about Toronto, from the coaches to ownership. But I wanted to play for my brother. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

“We’ve been attached at the hip since I’ve been born,” added Merrill. “Growing up he (Patrick) was the biggest influence on my career, whether it was playing backyard lacrosse or being the older brother and looking out for me and challenging me in different ways.”

When he came into the league with the expansion LumberJax, Merrill was surrounded by veteran players in Pat Jones, Bruce Alexander, and others, all who showed him the ropes of life in the NLL. Their tutelage provided a starting point for Merrill, who came into the 2018-2019 season with 138 goals, 300 assists and 2,313 loose balls – the latter good for fourth most in NLL history.

With San Diego, Merrill will be playing with a Seals team that started the year with eight players 23 years or younger, including the number one overall pick and one of the highest-touted players in recent memory, Austin Staats.

One of the things I was really looking forward to in signing with San Diego was getting a chance to play with Austin,” said Merrill. “I’ve followed his career pretty closely and he’s someone that I love watching and love the competitive fire he brings to the game.”

Already this season, Staats leads all rookies in goals (13), assists (9) and points (22). He’s only two goals shy of leading the league in goals.

“He’s so dynamic and he’s one of those guys that has won at almost every level he’s played at. I draw a lot of energy from him and, yeah, there’s an age difference between us, but that kind of goes away when you’re in the locker room. When you watch him practice you can understand why he’s great and why he’s going to be great with how hard he plays. He’s unique and it’s been pretty fun to be around.”

“For someone that is 37 years old, I’m learning from the 20-year-old. He’s got a fire in his eyes that my brother and I have talked about. He has that it factor and that kind of presence in the locker room.”

Merrill has been on the Seals for just over six months and already loves everything about the organization and the city.

“It’s been really impressive, starting with Joe Tsai to Steve Govett,” said Merrill. “There’s a really exciting vibe in the organization. It’s a beautiful city.”

“I was a part of a pretty established group in Toronto where I was comfortable. The move has pushed me out of my comfort zone, starting with new teammates and settling in and finding my place but that’s a fun process too. Stepping outside of my comfort zone a little bit, especially at this stage in my career has been a good thing.”

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