The National Lacrosse League is home to the best box lacrosse players in the world. They are at the top of their game, put on stellar athletic performances and have diehard, competitive attitudes.
With lacrosse action suspended until the pandemic has subsided, NLL players have been missing the game fiercely. Thankfully, they have stayed busy in their day-to-day lives. They’ve spent more time with friends and family, honed different types of skills, and remained grounded during this tumultuous moment in history.
This is the final installment of Gloves Off, a series that has peeled back the layers of 14 athletes to uncover more about their lifestyle and personal lives, learning about their hobbies, passions and more, with the goal of making them inherently more relatable to their fans.
Charlie Kitchen hasn’t played an NLL game yet, but he’s already one of the league’s most sought after players. He holds an odd sort of honour – the 23-year-old was drafted by the New England Black Wolves in 2020 and saw his team move to Albany before being drafted again by Panther City Lacrosse Club in June’s expansion draft. Three different teams without stepping foot on the floor.
“I did my research and looked into Mohegan Sun, and then I saw they had relocated,” Kitchen said. “I thought ‘Albany, huh. That could be cool.’”
So he drove up a few weeks ago to check out the city and meet some teammates, but on his second to last day there he received a phone call from Panther City GM Bob Hamley, who told him he’d be coming to Texas.
“I’m going to work my butt off for any opportunity I get,” Kitchen said. “I’m really open to new things. I love getting to know new people and go new places.”
Kitchen may also hold another odd honour, as the player who has given themselves the most tattoos – but there hasn’t been an official survey so it’s not definite.
Kitchen has 17 tattoos total; six of those he inked himself. He’ll also do tattoos for friends who ask.
Knowing he had an affinity for body art, his older brother James gifted him a cheap tattoo gun for Christmas three years ago. “What could go wrong?” they thought.
“The first one was brutal,” he sighed. “It went horribly wrong; it’s scarred and misshapen.” But, it’s a tattoo he shares with two good friends and has meaning to them, so it’s important. Every tattoo he has is meaningful to him.
He uses a stencil now to draw his tattoos before inking them, which makes it cleaner and easier.
“I was really good at drawing when I was a kid and if I had kept practicing I’d probably be great, but that trait stayed with my younger sister, who is an amazing artist. She freelance draws for fun, whereas I can’t figure out how to shape a nose on a portrait.”
Kitchen practiced and got better from that first one, and now sports an 11 in Roman numerals in honour of his late grandmother; a wave on the side of his knee; the phrase “get weird” on his thigh; and a die with his number six on it. He also has an electric blue turtle on his right thigh after he ran out of black ink.
“I love the creativity of it all,” he said. “I love tattoos because not only do they tell a story but they’re all meaningful and they show your personality before you meet someone. The tattoos I have do a great job of signifying me.”
Five of his tattoos are lacrosse related. On his left arm he has the number six in Roman numerals, a traditional lacrosse stick, and the world magnanimity, which his college team took to mean “striving of the soul towards great things.” The wave that he did himself is in reference to his time with the Toronto Beaches. Across his shins, he has the phrase “eyes on the stars, feet on the ground,” which has helped remind him to stay grounded throughout his lacrosse journey.
From Marlton, New Jersey, Kitchen played all sports, as a kid, he said – football, hockey, basketball and baseball. He started in field lacrosse at eight, after kids were allowed to start pitching in baseball.
“I did not trust eight-year-olds to throw the ball at me,” he said. “I did not want to get hit with that ball.”
But somehow, that fear didn’t exist with lacrosse balls, and he joined his older brother’s team and fell in love with the game immediately. Their dad was the coach and most of their skills they learned from YouTube videos. Lacrosse was still a niche sport in New Jersey, but it has grown exponentially since then.
“I loved the physicality of it,” Kitchen said. “I would chase my brother and sister around the house and throw them into walls. I was a devil child, basically. Lacrosse seemed like the right fit.”
He ended up playing for St. Augustine Prep, quite a distance away, but he said it prepared him for college.
“I drove an hour there and back every day solely so I could chase my dream of playing lacrosse in college. The teams we played against in New York and Maryland had the top recruits so it was like playing college ball in a way, skills and IQ wise.”
At school, he was a musician, too. A musical prodigy, if you will. He played eight different instruments including the saxophone, piano, viola, violin, trombone, trumpet, flute, and of course, the triangle, playing in the school band for many years.
“I was never satisfied with just one,” he said. He and his siblings were competitive with each other so they rotated through the instruments to see who could do it better.
“I was pretty good, too,” he chuckled, “but I just can’t do it anymore. I played them all until I was 12. Recently I tried to learn the guitar but I wasn’t too good at it. I’ve thought about learning to DJ. I love music in every way and you can access all the instruments. I’m not a singer but I can definitely make some music.”
For now, he’ll settle for being Panther City’s DJ in the locker room, and he can’t wait to get started.
“I’m a big team guy,” he said. “Nothing is won without a team and that’s something I’ve always understood. I am selfishly unselfish. I could say I’m a scorer as well, I guess. I have a nose for the goal.”
Head coach Tracey Kelusky is confident Kitchen will be an asset to the team, though recognized that his box skills will take some time to nurture.
“We know he’ll be new to it. We have teachers and coaches that want to help,” Kelusky explained. “Charlie is coachable. He’s a team first guy and he understands as well as we do that it’s a learning curve here. He checks a lot of those boxes for us.”
Kitchen said he uses his size of 6’4, 220 lbs. very well, and that’s something Kelusky is looking forward to.
“He’s a big athletic guy that has had a lot of success in the field game. He’s not shy to get to those hard areas and he’s a physical specimen out there. Playing that year of Jr. A was big time; he knew he wouldn’t have the field success but was willing to try.”
Kitchen’s box experience is limited; highlighted by a season of Junior A with the Toronto Beaches of the OJLL. His Canadian teammates at the University of Delaware urged him to give it a try. Under coaches Glenn Clark and Clem D’Orazio, who drafted him to New England, he scored 20 goals and 21 assists in 17 games.
In the NCAA, he was a powerhouse attackman. In five seasons, Kitchen finished second-all time in Colonial Athletic Association history in points, third in goals and fourth in points. He was a First Team All-CAA three times, and was the 2019 Offensive Player of the Year along with Brendan Sunday. With the Blue Hens program, he ranks third in program history in career points (239), fourth in goals (146) and fifth in assists (93).
“I had a good career,” he demurred. “I’m proud of it.”
Kitchen was in his senior year, just six games into the season, when the pandemic hit. It wasn’t the way he planned on ending his NCAA career.
“Doing all that training and mentally preparing yourself for your last season and then having that taken away from you was like losing your progress on a paper that was only half written,” he described. “I said goodbye to a lot of friends that I didn’t want to say goodbye to yet.”
Luckily, he didn’t have to wait long to plan his immediate future. Only a month after the 2020 season was cancelled, the NCAA announced that fourth-year athletes would be eligible for a fifth season. Kitchen knew immediately that he wanted to finish his career with his teammates at Delaware and never considered entering the transfer portal.
The only downside was that he was unable to get into his desired grad program, so he now boasts a minor degree in history in addition to his health sciences degree, with additional minors in business and public health.
One day he will put those degrees to use in the medical field, where his grandfather and brother also work, but is focused on lacrosse right now.
“I feel like you can have a future in whatever you want if you put your mind to it,” he said. “We’re going to be a winning culture in Panther City. TK preaches about wearing his heart on his sleeve. Bob’s presented that winning mentality since we spoke on the phone. They’re men of winning, and they don’t have plans to lose.”
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