The 4th Annual Jr. NLL Tournament at Toronto Rock Athletic Centre in Oakville, Ont. is in the books after the Jr. Toronto Rock clubs earned a sweep with titles in all three age levels. More than 400 youth players competed across the 27 teams in Peewee, Bantam and Midget divisions, which made for a memorable weekend and experience for all involved. National Lacrosse League pros were on-hand to coach and support their teams, including participating in the first-ever Skills Challenge during Friday night’s Welcome Ceremony along with interacting with the attendees with autograph sessions on Saturday.
Players at the event included Ryan Benesch, David Brock, Kevin Brownell, Tim Edwards & Dhane Smith (Buffalo Bandits), Jeremy Noble & Dillon Ward (Colorado Mammoth), Kiel Matisz & Drew Petkoff (Georgia Swarm), Kyle Buchanan & Shawn Evans (New England Black Wolves), Dan Dawson, Brad Gillies, Quinn Powless, Brad Self & Andrew Suitor (Rochester Knighthawks), Chris Corbeil & Adrian Sorichetti (Saskatchewan Rush), Damon Edwards & Nick Rose (Toronto Rock), and Brandon Clelland, Travis Cornwall, Jordan Durston, Curtis Hodgson & Ryan Wagner (Vancouver Stealth). NLL.com caught up with several of the pros to get their thoughts on the Jr. NLL tourney.
Dillon Ward (Colorado Mammoth)
Q: What are your reactions to your first day here?
A: It’s awesome, we’re here with the Colorado Mammoth and we have three great teams all based in Denver here this weekend. They’re all taught box by Matt Brown, Jamie Shewchuk, and John Grant, Jr., who are among the best lacrosse minds around. This is a great opportunity for the kids to come out and play at a high level and stay in every game. The talent level is extremely high.
Q: How important are competitions/events such as this to the development of the game, specifically in non-traditional box lacrosse markets?
A: It’s a great experience for these players (From Denver) to play against lifelong box players and understand what it takes to get to the next level. They’re holding their own against these players and they are able to understand how they can implement the box style into their game. They’re loving the play because with all of the action and physicality, it is so easy to get hooked on the game.
Q: Is there anything you’ve learned from the kids that you’re taking into next season?
A: These kids are having so much fun and enjoying their time together. I’ve seen some things from the goalies that I haven’t tried before so maybe I can use that. It really is about the friendships that are built in sport.
Shawn Evans (New England Black Wolves)
Q: What does and event like this mean to you guys as players?
A: This is my first Jr. NLL Tournament, it’s fantastic with players from all over coaching teams at different level. It’s a competitive tournament with Americans learning the box game and players seeing different styles of play.
Q: Do you wish a tournament like this was around when you played minor?
A: Absolutely, it gives players an opportunity to understand from professionals what it takes. When you played minor hockey or youth basketball, you wanted to end up in the NHL and NBA. It’s the same with the NLL, it’s getting bigger and going to become a full-time sport. These players are experiencing these possibilities right now as they participate here.
Q: Is there anything you’ve learned from the players themselves?
A: I’ve learned a lot from these guys, they’ve gelled as a team and have learned to listen and learn together. They’re using everything they’ve learned on the floor in games and that’s great to see.
Nick Rose (Toronto Rock)
Q: What do you think about the growth of the game through this event with both participants and more pros involved?
A: Working here, it’s great to host an event like the Jr. NLL Tournament. As the years have passed, the tournament has grown with additional pros involved and seeing new players as well as returning ones. Even without having pro teams, Edmonton and Philadelphia have both brought teams which shows how much this tournament means to the league and the grassroots development.
Q: A big push from the league has been around grassroots growth, so how has the combination of American and Canadian players at this tournament worked out?
A: Once the new players have a taste of the NLL play, they really love it. We need to grow the game because this is the future of the league in front of us. If we want the sport to succeed, it is about them.
NLL Productions was on-site with Mia Gordon interviewing pros and players about their experiences (WATCH).
“For us, it’s special because growing up we didn’t have this. So to be a part of it, to give back and share some knowledge of the game is a very rewarding thing and hopefully the kids are having a good time.” – Ryan Benesch (Buffalo Bandits)
“You don’t see this type of thing in football, hockey or baseball where these young men are being coached by professionals.” – John Gallant (Colorado Mammoth)
“I heard it was going to be pretty big! It’s grown every single year and with big names like Dhane Smith coming out to coach teams, the kids are going to show up.” – Travis Cornwall (Vancouver Stealth)
Matthew Psenicka contributed to this report. Photo courtesy of the Toronto Rock.