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Indigenous Roots of Lacrosse to be on Display for Game of the Week on TSN

It’s a truly special Tkaron:to Tewa:araton tilt on Saturday night as the Toronto Rock host the Albany FireWolves on Indigenous Heritage Night at FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton.

“It’s a special night, and a special opportunity to be a part of it,” says Rock captain Challen Rogers.

Toronto will celebrate the origins and roots of lacrosse and honour Indigenous culture during the contest in part by wearing Haudenosaunee-inspired jerseys, which can be seen on the NLL Game of the Week on TSN (7 pm ET; ESPN+).

“We were given the opportunity to play this game because of Indigenous peoples, and to have the opportunity to play the game we love while paying tribute to the creators of the game, it means a lot,” Rogers says.

This season the league continued to raise awareness about residential schools and the Indigenous origins of lacrosse with its second annual Every Child Matters campaign as part of the ongoing NLL Unites initiative.

“I think the NLL over the past couple years has made a giant effort in celebrating the roots of this game, and I don’t think that happens without the Indigenous players we have in this league bringing it all to light,” says Rogers, whose grandfather was a residential school survivor. “I’m proud of the Toronto Rock and the NLL, and the celebration of the roots of this game.”

The Rock jerseys, designed by Haudenosaunee artist Tracey Anthony from Six Nations ON, feature an Eagle Clutching Lacrosse Sticks logo on the front that represents the Creator’s Game and the Medicine Game, a Hiawatha belt similar to the Haudenosaunee flag, and a four-colour diamond motif of red, black, white and yellow. You can read the full description of the uniforms here.

The jerseys are white with purple trim and the designs. Toronto wore similarly designed dark jerseys, purple with white trim, during last season’s Indigenous heritage night.

“I love them,” Rogers says. “You play for something greater than yourself, and when you put that jersey on you feel it.”

The Rock captain recorded three goals and five points in the dark Indigenous Heritage night jerseys last season against Halifax on April 16, a 15-7 Toronto win.

This season the Rock’s game-worn jerseys, shorts and helmets are up for auction until March 14 with benefits going to the Downie Wenjack Fund.

“Last year’s design was truly amazing and I didn’t think it could be topped, but this year’s jersey design is something else,” says Rogers. “I may be bidding on some jerseys because of how much I like them.”

Albany hosted its Indigenous Heritage Night last weekend against Georgia and the FireWolves also wore special jerseys, designed by Haudenosaunee artist Jordan Thompson from Akwesasne NY, which included an homage to lacrosse’s origins on the front, the Creator’s Game and Turtle Island legends on the sleeves, and the Haudenosaunee clans and flags on the bottom of front and back. The game-worn jerseys are also up for auction.

“It was definitely a special feeling playing that night,” says Albany forward Hiana Thompson, who had a season-high five assists and points in the 9-8 overtime loss to the Swarm. “I try to look at it like any other game day, but to see and feel that sense of respect, it’s hard not to think about it.”

Unfortunately, Georgia’s Thompsons got the better of the battle as Hiana’s youngest brother Lyle scored the OT winner and older brother Jeremy moved into third all-time in career faceoff wins at 2,098. Younger brother Miles is also on the Swarm roster but is out this season recovering from injury.

Last week Hiana, Lyle and Jeremy were named to the Haudenosaunee Nationals roster for this summer’s world lacrosse championship in San Diego.

“It’s always amazing to play against or with my brothers, but I try my best to ignore that part and just play the game,” says Thompson. “I’ll still run through them if they are in my way. It’s never a nice feeling losing in OT.”

Thompson also recognizes the importance of playing against Toronto on Indigenous heritage night. “It will be special just to be apart, even though it’s not our team,” he says. “Just knowing and feeling that this league, which has a ton of great Indigenous talent, continues to show respect to the roots and where this game came from is special.”

Both the 2-8 FireWolves and 9-3 Rock are coming off losses last week, Toronto falling 11-10 at Philadelphia on Monday night after beating Rochester 9-8 at home on Saturday to run its win streak to eight straight.

“We just want to be better than the last time we were together,” says Rogers, who had a goal and four assists against the Wings (13 goals, 32 points and 75 loose balls overall this season).

“Coming off a loss, we want to get back to form and improve on the things we need too. Our game against Philly, we could have made excuses being down goals multiple times in that game, but we kept fighting till the end and I think that’s a major positive for us. We didn’t quit, this isn’t a group that quits. We want to get back to the winning way, and this weekend is another opportunity for us to do that.”

Heading into Saturday, Albany has lost six in a row.

“They are going to come out hungry after a loss,” Thompson says. “Every game from here on out is the most important one. We just need to come out firing and play like we are in the playoffs.”

Thompson, who won the 2017 NLL championship with Georgia alongside Lyle and Miles, is on pace to set a career-high in goals this season. He currently has seven, his previous best was 10 with Buffalo in 2015.

“I just feel really comfortable out there,” says Thompson, whose career-high in assists (29) and points (37) came in 2017. “We have a great group of guys where it doesn’t matter who scores and who does this or that. It’s always nice to have that at this level. I am just out there having fun.”

Despite the disparity in win-loss records, the Rock are not taking the FireWolves lightly.

“Albany is a young team who is finding their identity and they compete hard,” Rogers says. “You never want to overlook a team in this league, they’ve got a goalie in Dougie [Jamieson, 52 saves last game] that can stand on his head and make any game into a close one, so it’s all about playing our game with our speed and pace.

“It’s never really about our opponent, we focus on ourselves. We need to make them work, all over the floor, defensively speed them up and give Rosey [Toronto goalie Nick Rose] shots that he wants to see, and offensively we need to be constantly moving and hit our shots when we have the chance.”

The teams face each other again in a few weeks on March 25 at Albany, and Rock captain Rogers is preaching continual improvement.

“I think it’s important to set the tone, but every game is different,” says Rogers, who had career-highs in goals (21), assists (28) and points (49) last season. “We want to go into this game and be better than our last, and hopefully the next time we play Albany, we are better than we were the last time they saw us.”