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CASEY POWELL: AN AMERICAN BOX LACROSSE PIONEER

Casey Powell’s upcoming induction into the NLL Hall of Fame, set for September 16th, is a perfect example of how he has always defied the odds when it comes to box lacrosse.

Growing up in Carthage, New York, Powell didn’t know much of anything about lacrosse. It wasn’t until his fifth-grade gym teacher, Kirk Ventiquattro, introduced Powell and his brothers, Mikey and Ryan, to the sport. The young men were hooked upon hearing about lacrosse’s origins and how the game was played.

Their father was so moved by how excited his boys were about picking up the game that he went out and sold one of his hunting shotguns to buy them their first sticks. From that moment on, lacrosse was forever a part of their lives. Their backyard was the busiest arena in town, and they were pioneers in terms of spreading love and knowledge about the game.

In the years that followed, Powell and his brothers never lost their passion for lacrosse, and they went on to excel at Syracuse University.

Powell was known for his athletic, energetic and creative style of play on the field. It was something the field lacrosse fans at Syracuse and around the U.S. were not very familiar with. It was fresh, and it was exciting. Watching the way he played the game, you would have sworn he had a box lacrosse background, but he didn’t. However, he was influenced by fellow Syracuse lacrosse stars Paul and Gary Gait, who grew up in the box.

Some of Powell’s many collegiate achievements include:

  • Jack Turnbull Award for Division I Attackman of the Year
  • MacLaughlin Award for Division I Midfielder of the Year
  • Raymond Enners Award for Most Outstanding Player in Division I (twice)
  • 1995 National Championship

It wasn’t until after college that he took a leap of faith and wandered into the unknowns of the box lacrosse world.

From the get-go, Powell was thrown into the deep end. In his 1999 rookie campaign with the Rochester Knighthawks, Powell was playing alongside eventual NLL Hall of Famers Josh Sanderson, Pat McCready, Pat O’Toole, Steve Dietrich and Regy Thorpe, who is also being enshrined in the NLL Hall of Fame this year. Other notable members on Powell’s first team were Curt Malawsky, Mike Hasen and Dan Teat.

Powell bounced around a lot during his somewhat disjointed NLL career (he played 11 seasons from 1999-2014), but that was actually a benefit to him. He wasn’t just able to learn from the guys mentioned above while in the box; many others helped him along the way. Between playing for the Knighthawks, Anaheim Storm, New York Titans, Orlando Titans, Boston Blazers and Colorado Mammoth, Powell was fortunate to learn from many great box lacrosse minds.

“I played for a lot of different box lacrosse teams, and I was fortunate to play for a lot of different coaches,” Powell said. “I learned a lot of drills, different ways of thinking about the game, and different ways of training. I learned a lot from the Canadian influence [of] my coaches. I incorporated that in my playing style, and now I’ve incorporated it in my own coaching style.”

Powell hung up his jersey after the 2014 season, having amassed 674 regular season points, the most ever by an American in the box game. Earlier in 2010, Powell had created more box history as an American when he was named the NLL’s MVP, the first ever American to win the award. To this day, Powell still holds the record (although not by much) for most career points by an American, and he is still the only American to win the NLL MVP Award.

So, when Powell got the call that he was set to become just the 3rd American member of the Hall of Fame, it was a tremendous honor.

“It’s not my first lacrosse hall of fame [induction], but it’s the most special one because it was kind of an against-all-odds situation with not playing box as a youth,” Powell said. “I learned the game post-collegiately and found a way to learn the game and utilize my skills. To have my name included with some of the guys that are in this incredible class – they all had such an amazing influence on me. I studied them and watched them and was inspired by them.”

Whether in the NLL, at Syracuse, or in the professional field league, Powell always wanted to push the limits of what was possible on the floor and on the field. There was never a game where he didn’t want to be the most competitive person out there.

Now, in his post-playing career, what keeps Powell going, aside from his pure love of the game, is his desire to instill the kind of love he has for lacrosse into the hearts and minds of future generations.

“I spend my life trying to push the game forward because of the impact I know it can make on other players,” Powell said. “I try and pass along the things that matter within the game, and I love it because it makes a difference. I had idols and heroes who gave me time and attention, which made a huge impact on my life. I try to replicate that and be an ambassador of the game because of how special it is.”

Powell’s impact on lacrosse, particularly box lacrosse, is undeniable. There are few weekends when Powell isn’t growing the game. He has Powell Lacrosse, which hosts youth camps, clinics, and tournaments and has an expansive shop for all of one’s lacrosse needs. He also runs the Casey Powell World Lacrosse Foundation, which helps lacrosse players and families in need.

On the floor, you can see Powell’s impact on the game through the playing styles of some of the NLL’s current Americans such as Tom Schreiber, Joe Resetarits and Connor Fields. Powell showed Americans that it’s possible to have a successful career, even without a box background.

In fact, Powell encourages all of the participants of his camps and clinics to try box. He’s been around the game for over 30 years, and he’s learned one thing: the best lacrosse players in the world know how to play both box and field lacrosse.

“The very best players all have a box lacrosse background,” Powell said. “There’s not one player that I would say, ‘Oh, he’s the best’ without a background in box lacrosse because of the challenge and the skillset you need, and the adaptation to be well rounded. There have been successful field players, but the very best players of all-time, like many of the guys that are going in the Hall with me, they’re amazing field players and amazing box players.”

Schreiber, nicknamed “Captain America,” never played with Powell in the NLL, yet he still learned much from him. Schreiber plays with that same fearless and tenacious energy, bringing him great success in his six seasons in the NLL: he already has more than 500 points in the league. There is a chance that Schreiber could pass Powell’s NLL point total in two more seasons, which would be a surreal moment for the younger American.

“He’s such a legendary player and such a legendary person, so you’re always going to respect him,” Schreiber said. “To see him go into [the NLL] and have as much success as he did, with his style of play, it definitely played a role in me deciding to give it a shot. To see somebody take that kind of leap of faith and have success helps guide that sort of decision.”

Fields, who grew up in Buffalo, shared a similar sentiment. The breakout American box star remembers watching the Bandits play Powell’s teams and how Powell would play so well against Buffalo. There are few teams that Powell performed better against than Buffalo, and that made an impression on Fields. It was inspiring for Fields to see an American defy the odds of what people thought that was possible in box, and it motivated him to give the box game a real shot.

“I was always trying to go to the games in Buffalo when he was in town,” Fields said. “Just to see an American player have so much success… it was definitely a boost in confidence to know that it is possible. He obviously showcased it, and he’s one of the best to ever do it.”

Resetarits is one of the few current NLL players who has gotten to play against and alongside Powell. Resetarits was a rookie in 2013, so he had the privilege of seeing Casey in the NLL for two years. They would then play together on Team USA in 2015 for the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships.

Nearly a decade later, Resetarits is making a case that he is the best American to play in the NLL. Resetarits only needs 20 more points to surpass Powell for the most points by an American in NLL history. He will achieve that this season.

Yet, even as Resetarits inches toward passing Powell, there is no place in Resetarits’ mind where he thinks that he’ll ever surpass Powell’s status as a legend of the game.

“It’s kind of crazy that I got this close to being up there with such a legend,” Resetarits said. “Still, I would never put myself in the category of Casey Powell. His talents, his leadership, just everything that he’s done for the sport of lacrosse, I’ll never be able to be in the same category as him.”

Lacrosse has taught Powell many valuable life lessons and has introduced him to some of the most influential people in his life. It has given him everything that he loves about life. As a legend of the game and now as an NLL Hall of Famer, Powell will never stop pursuing the love, happiness, and satisfaction that only lacrosse can give.

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