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Gloves Off: Connor Kearnan

Ah, New York City. The Big Apple. The home of Broadway, thin crust pizza, and the New York Riptide. Well, sort of. The Riptide are NYC-adjacent, an hour away from the city’s core out on Long Island.

Unfortunately for Connor Kearnan, he hasn’t seen much of either.

But, he has had the pizza, and that’s most important.

“My brother, Brady, was about 45 minutes away from Long Island at school and the family of his roommate and best friend owns Rico’s Pizza joint on Long Island, about five minutes from the arena,” Kearnan explains. “They actually sponsor the Riptide. Brady’s whole lacrosse team came down to see our home opener and we had a celebration there. It was incredible. Good people, good food. It was traditional New York thin crust.”

Brady was drafted 20th overall by the Georgia Swarm this year.

Kearnan was new to the Riptide for the 2021-22 season so he can be forgiven for not having explored the area yet. He was acquired in a trade with the San Diego Seals in August of 2021.

San Diego and New York are vastly different, but there was no culture shock for the third-year player. New York has a similar climate to his hometown of Clarington, Ontario – lots of cold and snow.

“I got to live out in San Diego in my rookie year,” he says. “You can’t beat the weather out there. It rains like 10 times a year and the rest of the time it’s 24° (Celsius, that is, the man is Canadian. 75 degrees for those on Fahrenheit) and sunny. You can wear shorts in the winter amid the sun and palm trees. New York definitely has different vibes.”

Both were big city experiences for Kearnan. Clarington, he says, which is on the outskirts of Durham Region, which is on the outskirts of Toronto, is a small “kind of country-farm-hick town. There’s no downtown or core, only a couple of standard restaurants like McDonalds or Tim Hortons.”

Clarington is actually a municipality made up of a number of small towns and hamlets. A Popeye’s opened up by the highway just a few years ago, so the municipality is growing.

Driving through Times Square in an Uber last season felt “just like the movies,” Kearnan says. “I’m not a big city guy, but it’s pretty cool to be able to say you were there.”

He recommends that everyone visiting New York “go to a Riptide game! But if it’s the offseason, then Times Square.” He also lists a New York Rangers game as high on the priority list of NYC to-dos.

“Where we are, at Naussau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, it’s New York still. It’s hustle and bustle. There’s tons of stuff going on always. I just can’t speak to it because I haven’t seen enough. I’d like to go down there and stay for a week and take it in.”

But, the newcomer to the Empire State understands why the city is revered. As such, he paid tribute to the city of heroes with the gloves he wore.

“They’re called the Liberty Gloves,” he says proudly. “They’re blue and orange with the Statue of Liberty in white coming up the middle of the glove.”

He says team equipment manager Nick May pooh-poohed the original design, which was a pair of all-white gloves with the Statue of Liberty in its traditional blue-green colour, because they didn’t match the team jerseys.

A good team culture is important in lacrosse, and the Riptide have that in spades, Kearnan says.

“Our 6-12 record wasn’t indicative of our play. We could easily have been around .500 if not higher. The key is keeping the morale high in the locker room. The back half of the season went a lot better than it did at the start. We started finding our groove on offense. I think we’re bringing everyone back that was on the active roster so next year we’ll get off to a hot start with the chemistry there.

“Obviously we’re all competitive guys and it sucked seeing our season come to an end without a championship. But I can’t express enough how close a group we are. We’re always there for each other. We kept in touch this summer and are getting ready for the season. The comradery is going to be massive this season.”

That’s the attitude that head coach Dan Ladouceur has instilled in his group and they’ve taken it to heart, keeping things light and loose in the locker room.

“We’re always together; always laughing,” Kearnan says. “We’re a free-spirited team. We like to play loose. You can see how it translates on the floor: guys do anything for each other. Blocking shots, putting it all on the line and that’s all you can ask. Having fun and being loose with each other is just the best recipe for success. If you’re not having fun, what’s the point?”

Kearnan finished third on the team in scoring with 34 goals and 28 assists during the 2021-22 season. He went on a tear at the end of the season which he says was due to the creativity and firepower of his teammates.

“The big thing was a change of scenery,” he explains. Coming over from San Diego gave his confidence a boost. “Obviously I give credit to the guys around me. Playing with Jeff Teat – world class player; Crawford, world class player. Foxy, McArdle, Sundown, the number of guys on this team is insane and they make it easy. My job is to get open and they’re giving me the ball when I get open and that’s all I can ask for.”

Kearnan played for Ladouceur with the Jr. A Whitby Warriors and says that coming back to him was a breath of fresh air.

“He’s a beauty and a great coach and better person. He’s a pretty free-spirited coach, which is surprising for the big man.”

He was also reunited with Jake Fox, who is his roommate on the road. The two have a bit of an enemies to buddies story, having been rivals in both minor and junior lacrosse before they both ended up playing for the MSL’s Brooklin Lacrosse Club during the summer and became good friends.

“He broke my thumb in my major midget year in a tournament.” Kearnan recalls. “In Jr. A he played in Peterborough and I was in Whitby and our last year we were both captains of our respective teams. He plays hard; I didn’t blame him for the thumb.”

The pair are both easy-going and joke around with each other, and even share some pre-game superstitions, though Kearnan says that of the two, he is much more superstitious. It’s left over from his time as a minor hockey goalie.

Among the things he must do before the game:

  • Chipotle. “Usually in the States there’s one around. When we played in Hamilton, I had to go to Burrito Banditos. It was pretty good. It was no Chipotle but I made do.”
  • White Monster energy drink. “I will sip on it in the locker room leading up to warmup and second warmup and pre-game.”
  • Everything goes on the right side first. “Arm guard, wrist guard, shoe, etc.”
  • Pre-game shower. “Foxy goes first and I go second. I play the same two country songs in the shower then get out so I’m on the same timeline every game.”
  • Music. “It’s techno house music on the way down to the bus.”
  • He holds the coveted spot of locker room DJ and makes sure that the same songs play every pre-game, although it’s okay if they aren’t in the same order. The team worked on the playlist together, so it’s a mix of everything except pop and country.

“We draw the line at that for pre-game,” he chuckles. “But we have rap, heavy metal, screamo, techno, house… it’s a variety pack.”

Interacting with fans is part of the pre-game ritual as well.

“After the second warmup I do my final shot and then I grab a bunch of balls and I always give them to the fans. Then I’ll ask a fun question to anyone that’s standing there by the walkway, all the kids and stuff. Ask them a trivia question and whoever gets it right gets the ball.”

Kearnan’s lighthearted manner has endeared him to many fans in both San Diego and New York, and in fact, one family from San Diego still keeps in touch with him. During a post-game meet and greet in his rookie season, he met an adorable little girl named Macy.

“She asked me for my autograph which I gave her, and then she asked me to draw her something. I’m not very creative but I said I could probably draw a pig, so and it ended up being a pig. And ever since then she’s been my super fan and I’ve been her favourite player,” he says with a big smile. “Even now that I’m in New York, the family reaches out. They even sent me and my girlfriend Mackenzie a housewarming gift.”

The Riptide host Kearnan’s former team, the San Diego Seals, on Saturday, December 3rd in their 2022-23 home opener at Nassau Coliseum. See the full NLL schedule here.