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“Gut-wrenching decision” sees Curt Malawsky head home to Vancouver

For over 15 years, Curt Malawsky’s heart had been split in two. He’d been a lucky man to call two places home. But this week, he made the gut-wrenching choice to pick just one of them.

Deciding to join the Vancouver Warriors as their new Head Coach and General Manager was the most difficult lacrosse decision he’d ever faced.

Both Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, and Calgary, Alberta, have been considered home, and that’s how his family sees it, too.

“I want to thank the [Calgary Roughnecks] organization,” Malawsky said.  “John Bean, Mike Moore, Mike Board, all of the players, all of the staff – It’s been 16 outstanding years for me.”

Malawsky gave everything to Roughnecks: as a player, executive and coach. There were high-highs and low-lows (no 15+ year career with a team will ever be perfect) and moments he will never forget.

Malawsky first joined the Calgary Roughnecks ahead of the 2008 NLL Season. He played his final two NLL seasons with the team before retiring from playing in the National Lacrosse League. In 2009, Malawsky’s last season as a player, he and the Roughnecks won the NLL Champion’s Cup (now NLL Cup).

Only a couple of months after Malawsky decided to retire, the Roughnecks hired him as one of the team’s associate coaches and also gave him the assistant general manager job. He held these positions until 2012, when he was promoted to head coach, taking over for Dave Pym.

In 10 seasons as the Roughnecks’ head coach, Malawsky won 90 games – he is only the eighth head coach in NLL regular season history to reach 90 head coaching wins – and captured his first NLL Cup as a coach in 2019.

The Roughnecks would have won an NLL championship sooner, but they narrowly lost to the Rochester Knighthawks in the 2014 NLL Finals. Malawsky has called that finals defeat one of most brutal losses to stomach in his lacrosse life.

However, when this past season ended with a playoff loss, and there was an option to explore free agency after his contract expired on July 1st, Coach Malawsky took it. Coming off a season where his team exceeded win-loss expectations, which ultimately earned him the NLL’s Coach of the Year Award, he needed see what interest other teams had in him.

The Vancouver Warriors’ ownership, Aquilini Group, jumped at the opportunity to entice the local lacrosse product away from Calgary. When they met at Rogers Arena for an initial meeting, the Aquilini’s made a lasting impression.

“Their commitment to winning, their commitment to growing lacrosse in British Columbia, the commitment to putting a good product on the floor and creating a winning culture was something that really jumped out to me,” Malawsky said. “The big thing of being part of that family, part of that group – once you’re in the family, you’re in the family. That really resonated with me.”

“They stick to principles I believe in: hard work, commitment, dedication, loyalty and trust. All those things I learned a lot about in Calgary, it’s on the same lines here in Vancouver.”

As much as Malawsky and his family love Calgary, they are still based in the Metro Vancouver area. That was not going to change. After an emotional few days of discussion and deliberation, the man they call “Mouse” made the gut-wrenching choice to leave Calgary for Vancouver.

“Leaving Calgary is very difficult. But, to have my family close and to be able to see my son play hockey on Sunday, which is something I haven’t been able to do for the last 16 years or so, me and my family need to have this time together.”

Malawsky is still processing his feelings about his decision, which isn’t stopping him from developing big plans for his future in Vancouver.

“I’ve got a vision of what we need to add to what’s already there,” Malawsky said. “There are some good pieces there right now. We’re going to try and add some pieces around them and evaluate the talent that we have. We’re going to look around the free agency market to see who we can bring in that makes sense, and obviously, just like I did in Calgary, I’m a big build through the draft guy.”

The Warriors’ new head boss spent all of his formative lacrosse years working through the Coquitlam Adanacs youth system. He coached the BCJALL’s Jr. Adanacs to a Minto Cup victory and won two more Minto Cups coaching the BCJALL’s Burnaby Lakers. He also has been a long-time coach in the Ridge Meadows Minor Lacrosse system. Growing the game of lacrosse in British Columbia was a key selling point to taking these new gigs.

“I’ve grown up as a BC boy, and I know there’s been some troubles with growing lacrosse in British Columbia, and I want to be part of the solution,” Malawsky said. “Not to say it’s been awful, but hopefully, myself and the Aquilini group can help lacrosse in British Columbia. It’s so important for the young kids that there’s a good product, a good team to look up to, and for the young people to aspire to be Vancouver Warriors.”

CALGARY, AB – MAY 13, 2023: Colorado Mammoth versus the Calgary Roughnecks at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday night (Photo by Angela Burger/Calgary Roughnecks).

As for the future of the Warriors, with Malawsky at the helm as the bench boss and GM, it will be interesting to see how many of BC’s top talents come over to play for the Warriors. British Columbia has produced dozens of elite players over the years, and plenty of them are free agents this summer. Will Malawsky be able to lure key players in, and if so, what impact will they have on the team?

“I’ve coached a lot of guys in the NLL, whether in junior, minor, or at the NLL level,” Malawsky said. “I’ve got a lot of great relationships with a lot of great players from British Columbia, and truth be told, I’m going to try and tap into those. I’ve had a lot of success with a lot of great guys. We’re hoping that having the ability for guys to come home to play in their market and play in front of family and friends nine or more times a year will make this an exciting place to be.”

The toughest decisions a person makes can often be the most rewarding. The difficulty of this moment will pass for the 2023 NLL Coach of the Year and former NLL champion.

This move by the Warriors has the potential to be one of the most consequential NLL coaching hires in a long time. Malawsky has a unique opportunity to change the NLL landscape and make a long-lasting impact in his community.