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Gloves Off: Kyle Buchanan

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. 

Gloves Off is a 13-installment series that peels back the layers of our 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. 

For the last 20 years, Kyle Buchanan has travelled across the lacrosse world. The 33-year-old started playing the game at age 10. He’s won and lost national championships; seen pro franchises come and go.

Buchanan signed with the Buffalo Bandits last summer, and says it was weird being able to sign with a team so close to home but not suit up with them, due to the pandemic.

“I was honoured to be offered a position playing in Banditland,” he says. “It’s such an exciting environment. Buffalo would be a great place to win a championship, and at this stage of my career that’s my goal. My friends and family can all make the trip.”

Buchanan started his pro career with the Washington Stealth, who drafted him in the sixth round in 2012. He says he went into the Stealth’s training camp with a chip on his shoulder after falling in the draft. He lived in-market but only got into half the games that season and was released when it ended.

He moved to Philadelphia after signing for the Wings for the 2013-14 season. He planned on staying there permanently, bringing his wife Natalie with him, but the powers that be had other plans and the Wings became the New England Black Wolves.

It was exciting starting fresh in Connecticut. He says the crowds could be small but the fans  were incredibly dedicated. He spent four years there improving his game to the point that he’s now one of the league’s smartest players.

“I don’t know if you you’ve noticed, but I’m not the biggest guy,” the 5’8” loose-ball vacuum chuckles. “I need my IQ and my first step to be successful. For guys that aren’t necessarily big strong athletes, you need your mind to make decisions before things happen. Then when I bump a little pick it’s maybe not pushing a guy three feet, it’s more bumping and taking those first steps to the middle or beating a guy to a loose ball. A big part of my game is causing problems for the opposition.”

He’s valuable on faceoffs, gobbling up every loose ball he sees. In every year save for his rookie season, he’s scooped at or over 100 loose balls, big numbers for a forward. Additionally, he’s scored 436 points in 127 games.

Most recently, he spent two seasons with the San Diego Seals. He was a member of their inaugural team and moved with Nat and daughter Adley, then 10-months-old, to San Diego for the year.

“They wanted a veteran guy in-market. Nat was on maternity leave, so it was perfect timing for us. Adley learned to walk in San Diego, on the beach. To be part of a franchise with management like Joe Tsai and Steve Govett, people who knew what they were doing and what they wanted, that was one of the best experiences I will ever have, to live in southern California playing professional lacrosse.”

Buchanan is happy to now be just an hour away from Buffalo, as he includes being part of the community as part of his everyday NLL experience.

“It’s a cool experience being part of the community you play in, and seeing how things work behind the scenes. I like to interact with the fans, or media, or whoever, because in lacrosse the world is so small and there’s a lot of accessibility to the players. I like to do that for each team I play for.”

The journey to a solid NLL career was a winding one. Growing up in Nepean, Ontario, just outside of Canada’s capital of Ottawa, competitive lacrosse was hard to come by, though that’s not the case anymore. Buchanan says it was often difficult to find coaches that had played the game before, with minor teams often relying on parents to lead the way.

Personally, he was lucky to have former Ottawa Rebel coach Gerrard Cowie as a coach. But they did have to travel to compete in any tournaments, and the closest centre was three hours away in Peterborough.

“Ottawa is such a hockey city,” Buchanan says. “I grew up in a hockey and baseball family. But, the love for the game has grown a lot.”

When it came time to get serious about junior lacrosse, Buchanan laughs.

“I was a bit of a suitcase during those years,” he says. He suited up for five different teams over five years, including stints with Nepean, Peterborough, Ottawa and Akwesasne. He also spent a year playing in British Columbia for the New Westminster Salmonbellies, and made it to the Minto Cup semi-finals where they lost to a Cody Jamieson and Shawn Evans-led Six Nations team in a buzzer beater.

Buchanan and his family now call Waterdown, just outside of Hamilton, home.

“My office in Hamilton is next door to First Ontario Centre,” he says, the new home of the Toronto Rock. Having both of his daughters be able to watch him play is important, and with both the Bandits and the Rock close by, they’ll get to grow up seeing him live out his passion.

While he’s played for two new franchises in the NLL, he’s also played for two of the oldest and most storied franchises in Canadian senior lacrosse, the Brooklin Redmen and Peterborough Lakers, who compete in Ontario’s Major Series Lacrosse over the summer months. The winners of the MSL compete against the winners of the Western Lacrosse Association in British Columbia for the Mann Cup. Buchanan’s Lakers have won the last three.

He started by playing under Pete Vipond in Brooklin, but then spent a year playing Sr. B in St. Regis with Miles and Lyle Thompson where they won the 2012 President’s Cup. After some time off and a call from Tracey Kelusky, Buchanan joined the Lakers in 2017.

Also on that “three-peat” Lakers team are fellow Bandits Matt Vinc, Bryce Sweeting and Nick Weiss. To win the Mann Cup is a dream shared by all young lacrosse players in the north. They were planning to go for a fourth when the pandemic hit.

The first win came in New Westminster, where Buchanan lost the Minto Cup 10 years prior, so it was a special win.

“I was almost over-nervous in that first one. Winning in New West, in that historic building, there was some kind of energy there. I say to people who don’t watch lacrosse that I understand why the Stanley Cup is so coveted. You see guys absolutely drained after winning it, they almost can’t even celebrate but they’re still so fired up.”

The second came at home in Peterborough in front of his entire family and many friends. The third was in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia and a jewel of the Canadian landscape.

“What other three venues would you want to win in?” he asks.

The third was also special because the team had added Mark Matthews and Mike Poulin to the roster that summer, and it was their first Canadian championship.

“We wanted to win it for them,” he says.

That’s the kind of teammate Buchanan is. Not only valuable on the floor, he’s also a leader in the dressing room. He won the NLL’s Sportsmanship Award in 2015 and was nominated again in 2020. He also won the 2019 NLL Teammate of the Year Award. In summer lacrosse, he was named the Lakers’ MVP in both 2017 and 2019.

So while he’s missing his teammates and travelling the lacrosse world, right now Buchanan is focused on being an MVP at home. Adley is now three-and-a-half, and last year Nat gave birth to another daughter, Austyn, who will be celebrating her first birthday soon.

Buchanan loves being a father so being at home with his girls during this time is no sacrifice.

“It’s an age where they need a lot of attention, so it’s been a challenge to keep things fresh and keep us all entertained. We’ve done lots of painting and crafts,” he smiles.

They’ve also got Nova, a golden retriever puppy, to help keep their hands full in case two kids under four wasn’t enough.

He’s been working from home after transitioning from teaching to a position as a project manager for tech company Q4.

“There’s a certain reward that comes with teaching, seeing kids reach their goals is something I love seeing, and coaching lacrosse is in my future, so I miss it but my days are now consistent.”