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Gloves Off: Shawn Evans

Love him or loathe him, you can’t deny that Shawn Evans makes an impact in every single game he plays.

On January 14, 2006 – his second game as an NLL pro – he scored three goals and racked up 17 penalty minutes in a fight with Rusty Kruger of the Toronto Rock. He’s kept that pace for 15 years. He sits tenth ALL-TIME in goals scored, fifth in assists, sixth in total points and third in penalty minutes. He’s been having a Hall of Fame career since he was a rookie.

The 36-year-old hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, yet understands the time to retire may come sooner rather than later. He’s been lucky, having avoided major injuries. But, pro sports is a young man’s game, and the daily wear-and-tear of the athletic grind often starts catching up with you in your thirties.

I didn’t specifically ask Evans about retirement. Watch him play and you don’t see a man anywhere near ready to stop playing the game he loves. We just assume that when a player hits their mid-thirties, it might be on their minds, and it’s clear from the way Evans speaks that it has at least been in the back of his.

“Now that I have younger kids I want them to see their dad play as best he can. If I can’t give 100% then it’s time to look the other way,” he says. “Right now I still have that drive so I’ll keep on going.”

Evans played for the Rochester Knighthawks for the first six years of his career, and after stops in Calgary, New England and Buffalo, spent the beginning of the 2021-22 season back in Rochester.

On returning to Rochester, Evans says that it felt like coming full circle late in his career. But it didn’t last; he was traded to the Halifax Thunderbirds in March.

“When you get traded, adapting to a new team is always a bit difficult. [Halifax] wasn’t what I expected. I played a few games, sat out a few games… I don’t know what’s in store for this upcoming season. I’ve talked with a couple teams and the doors are open. I’m hoping to make a splash my last couple years of playing.”

When he decides it’s time, it will be a giant loss for the league. Evans is a scorer and a leader, but he is also one of the league’s best ambassadors for the game. He teaches the game to the next generation and he’s generous with his time for fans.

Shawn and his cousin Turner Evans are co-owners of Nationwide Lacrosse, where they run camps, leagues and school clinics. Business has been slow for two years but they’re hopeful that changes as omicron ebbs and Ontario becomes safer.

“Continuing to grow the game of lacrosse in the city that we grew up in, with a background of lacrosse players that taught us, is a great opportunity,” he says. “We’ve been to about 100 schools and taught around 20,000 kids this year. Our summer camps are in full swing with 60-80 kids a week. We’re seeing a lot of new kids and returning kids that have stayed involved with lacrosse.”

Evans started the business with Brad Self, but handed the reins to Turner when Self moved to Colorado to become the Mammoth’s General Manager.

“Turner is not only family, but a great lacrosse player and great ambassador for the kids,” Evans praises.

On the floor, Shawn Evans gets under a lot of people’s skin, and he knows it. He relishes it. It makes him a better player.

“My style of play has shown for itself over the last 16-17 years,” Evans says. “I have a love-hate relationship with a lot of people. People on my own team love me, and our fans love me. Sometimes other fans boo me and other teams hate me. It’s part of the sports world of giving and taking.”

It is never boring watching him play.

A lot of his 585 PIMS are taken in defense of teammates. Evans isn’t one to let others be bullied on the floor so if he sees an opponent taking liberties, he’s going to get involved.

“It’s my respect for my brothers,” he says without hesitation. “If my brothers are getting hurt then I’m going to step in and do something about it. I’m not afraid to get in there. I have three older siblings; taking a punch and getting hit was just something I got used to growing up. I know what I’m getting involved with when I step in and take those first couple of punches.”

Former Knighthawks’ teammate Thomas Whitty, who now plays with Evans in the summer for Major Series Lacrosse’s Peterborough Lakers, says that “Evans is a tough guy and can stick up for himself and if he needed to he wouldn’t hesitate to jump in to help a teammate.”

Though they play at opposite ends of the floor, a teammate like Evans is beneficial to everyone on the roster.

“His leadership comes in a different fashion than most leaders I have looked up to,” Whitty says. “He has a carefree approach to shooting and his creativity with the ball has opened my eyes to new angles and approaches to the game. He is never shy to tell you how he feels and his expectations of teammates allows them to excel and benefits the rest of the team.”

And who wouldn’t want the sixth all-time leading scorer on their team?

“My hard-nosed play and hate-to-lose attitude boils over in me when I play and that competitiveness comes out when I step on the floor,” Evans says.

Evans has played the exact same way his whole career, winning the league’s MVP award in 2013 and 2015. The only thing new this past season was the addition of a meaningful design on his gloves.

“My children’s birthdays are on the top of them with the Knighthawks logo, and each glove has 25 hawks on it to represent the players on our team,” he tells me. “It’s not about one person.”

His second pair was covered in X’s and O’s, which symbolize “what we’ve been brought up learning,” he says. “It starts in practice and runs into the game.”

After being traded, he was able to use a neutral pair of white gloves that still had his children’s birthdays on them.

That his children’s birthdays are on the gloves speaks to how family-oriented he is. Though he missed lacrosse during the height of the pandemic, he was able to spend more time with his wife, Kayla, and children – 13-year-old Paityn, 8-year-old twins Ella and Emery, and 4-year old Rhett. Turner, not only his cousin but also his best friend, also moved in down the street last year, so their kids can play together more frequently. Family is what drives him in life and lacrosse.

“I carry that with me: the path through lacrosse from where I started to where I am now.”

Both his love for family and the practical need for work led him to apply for a position as an Ontario Special Constable early in the pandemic. It was a perfect opportunity.

“Lacrosse is my passion, and I want to be the best I can be in the sport I love. But with me getting a little older, I have to start thinking about my family and the future,” he says.

It was a rigorous application process with both mental and physical fitness testing, but Evans credits his sports background with helping him successfully complete it. He was then hired by the Peterborough Police.

For Evans, it was a natural extension to become a special constable to protect his community and use his leadership skills to help those who need it, including inmates on their worst days.

Evans currently works on a platoon that transfers inmates to and from court appointments.

“It can be pretty intense,” he acknowledges, but credits the leadership and communication skills developed through a lifetime of lacrosse as his strengths on the job. “Some people, yeah, you see them at a low which is tough, and I just try to be there for support. I talk them through it, and be truthful with them. The last thing you want to do is lie to them about what’s going to happen to them. Be truthful and respectful.”

It helps that his co-workers and staff sergeant are supportive.

“Coming from lacrosse my entire life it’s nice to get into a job that has that team atmosphere of people working together and having each other’s backs.”

Right now Evans is happy playing for the Lakers as he helps his hometown team prepare for a run to their fourth straight Mann Cup championship.

“It’s nice to explore a different role,” he says, “but I am still playing lacrosse and willing to do both right now, and raise my kids as well.”