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Gloves Off: Matt Hossack

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. 

Given the choice, Matt Hossack would rather be in the woods. It’s a kind of a safe-haven for the Saskatchewan Rush defender, away from the hustle and bustle of the everyday world. The woods are full of happy memories from childhood; they’re still full of adventure.

Hossack, the 27-year old defender from Port Perry, Ontario, fondly remembers portaging trips with his family to Algonquin Park, one of Ontario’s biggest campgrounds.

Portaging isn’t just camping; instead of making one campground and staying put, the Hossack’s would traverse from river to river, carrying their supplies – canoe included – with them the whole way.

“Our shortest trips were three days; that’s really the minimum to have enough time to get at least one day where you’re not travelling with full gear,” he said. “The food barrel ends up being about 100 lbs. for a group of four.” Add the food to the weight of the canoe, to the tents and to everyone’s pack with their supplies for a 3-5 day trip. It’s a lot.

The family had two canoes; Hossack would share one with his older brother Graeme (of the Halifax Thunderbirds) and their dad would share one with younger brother Gavin.

They’ve enjoyed areas around the Kawartha Lakes where there’s a large number of portaging trails connecting multiple rivers and lakes, but Algonquin is the favourite.

Located near Canada’s capital city of Ottawa, Algonquin Park is almost 7700 square kilometres (or 3000 square miles) and it includes 2400 lakes and 1200 km of river. You can camp, canoe, bike, hike, swim, ski, snowmobile, fish or almost any other outdoor activity you can think of. The park is significant for its natural and cultural history.

“We’ve seen moose, beavers, we come across snakes every once in a while. Osprey and all kinds of birds. We see bald eagles off in the distance occasionally. We always fish and catch some trout. Having fresh trout over the campfire is a real treat,” Hossack said.

He’s never come across any bears while portaging, but has seen one or two while day camping.

Once, Graeme found a snake in his boot after the group had taken off their footwear to let them dry on a beach.

“Why is there so much shoelace here?” he asked, before realizing. Luckily it was a harmless garter snake. It was a good lesson to learn.

But now, the family is scattered.

“Before the pandemic I wasn’t the type of person to check in with my parents on a regular basis but since things have been shut down I’ve tried to call them every week or two to stay in touch and see how they are,” Hossack said.

It’s harder to plan trips these days, with Matt living in Buffalo and Graeme in Orangeville, where he teaches at The Hill Academy. They’ve been missing the opportunity to portage during the pandemic.

“My parents have most of the gear,” he said sadly. “There’s also not much portaging infrastructure in New York. The trails aren’t quite as well kept and you need to do a bit more bushwhacking through the unkempt trails. It can be a bit more difficult.”

He and his fiancé Jess did get outdoors, though, hiking through the Catskills, including Slide Mountain. She’s been on portaging trips before, too.

“Jess takes the brunt of the bugs when we’re out,” Hossack laughed. “They always flock to her, so we’re happy to have her with us.”

Hossack said he and Graeme would love to plan a longer trip for just the two of them. There’s a river on the north side of Algonquin Park that includes whitewater that they want to try.

A solo trip isn’t out of the question, either. “It’d be really cool to say you did a solo trip. I think I would enjoy the challenge. It can be dangerous, so part of the challenge is staying composed the whole time.”

Hossack was drafted 14th overall in 2016 and has played his whole career with the Rush so far, helping them win the 2018 NLL Cup. In 51 games over four seasons, he’s scooped 216 loose balls and contributed 38 points.

Hossack grew up in the Whitby minor lacrosse system, starting at three-years-old. He joined older brother Graeme falling in love with the game.

“If Graeme was doing it, I had to do it,” he said.

Younger brother Gavin, however, wasn’t a fan of the sport and only lasted a year.

“He didn’t enjoy it,” Hossack chuckled. “When it was his shift, he’d go on the floor and then go stand right at the back door until the shift change came.”

When the boys had a tournament to attend, the family would choose to camp instead of staying in a hotel.

“We always had a big group when we were travelling to tournaments across Ontario. Everybody would bring their fishing gear and bikes so we’d always be busy between games. I always enjoyed that aspect of it. Our whole team would end up camping together; bonding around the campfire is a great experience. There are fewer rules than in a hotel, too, so you have that freedom to go play mini-sticks and be loud.”

Hossack played for the powerhouse Jr. A Whitby Warriors in 2013, winning the Minto Cup alongside not only his brother, but the likes of future NLL stars Dan Lintner, Reilly O’Connor, Austin Shanks, Mitch de Snoo, Alex Buque and Chad Tutton, as well as current Rush teammates Mark Matthews, Curtis Knight, Ryan Keenan and Jordi Jones-Smith. Derek Keenan was also the coach of that Whitby team.

Hossack said it has been difficult to be away from the game and his teammates for so long.

“With the season being cancelled so suddenly, we didn’t realize it was the last time we’d see each other. If we knew it was our last night, we would have stayed up together the whole night.”

He’s been keeping in shape by playing wall ball, but is looking forward to playing at a competitive level again.

“Being back on the floor and seeing everyone will be exciting. We’ll have a very good looking team, a very familiar looking team, come the 2021-22 season.”