NLL UnBOXed is going to change the landscape of lacrosse in a significant way. It’s a groundbreaking initiative.
On Monday, the NLL launched UnBOXed, a new grassroots youth participation and fan engagement initiative designed to bring the NLL’s fast-paced lacrosse game play to more young boys and girls in more communities across North America.
Nine new “NLL UnBOXed Lacrosse Communities” will join the 15 existing NLL teams for the 2024 launch of the multi-tiered campaign: Baltimore, Charlotte, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Montréal, Ottawa, Salt Lake City, Seattle, St. Louis, and the Tampa Bay area.
If you’ve been following the NLL since its inception in 1987, a handful of the nine new UnBOXed communities will be familiar to you. That’s because six of the nine communities have previously been the home to an NLL team.
Here is the history of those six cities:
In 1987, the league was known as the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League. Baltimore was one of the EPBLL’s original home cities, and the Baltimore Thunder were one of the NLL’s original teams. The Thunder were also the league’s very first champions, winning the EPBLL Championship in 1987, beating the Washington (D.C.) Wave 11-10 in front of over 7,000 raucous fans.
The Thunder existed as a franchise for 13 seasons until 1999. By then, the Thunder and the original Philadelphia Wings were the only remaining original clubs. Over their 13 seasons in the league, the Thunder thrived as an organization. They played in four league championships (1987, 1991 and 1998).
Here’s a fun fact for you: the Thunder are the only team in league history that played a championship game in the NLL when it was the EPBLL, the Major Indoor Lacrosse League (MILL) and the NLL.
During the team’s 13-season stretch, a few NLL Hall of Famers played some of their historic careers with the team, including Gary Gait, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, Dan Stroup, Bob Watson, and Steve Dietrich.
Baltimore is, and has been, one of the hottest hotbeds for lacrosse for a long time. It’s been 24 years since those Thunder days. There is no doubt that the Baltimore community is hungry for more lacrosse to come to Charm City.
Charlotte, North Carolina has seen a lacrosse boom in recent years. It has been the host to many lacrosse events and colleges have been adding lacrosse as a spring option. Duke University and the University of North Carolina have had successful D1 lacrosse programs for generations. But did you know that in 1996, for one faithful season, the NLL (then MILL) had a team in Charlotte?
The Charlotte Cobras was the league’s team in 1996 – they were a new franchise that season. The year unfortunately did not go as planned. Despite the excitement of the thousands of fans that showed up to Independence Arena to cheer on their new team, the Cobras failed to win a game that season.
Notable players included NLL Hall of Famer Pat McCready, who led the team with 14 goals and 25 points that season, and goaltender Dwight Maetche, who is currently the Vancouver Warriors goaltending coach. With this lacrosse boom happening in North Carolina, Charlotte is primed for more lacrosse.
St. Paul & Minneapolis
Most NLL fans will remember that is was not that long ago that the league had team in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area. From 2005-2015, the Minnesota Swarm made a significant impression on the Midwest.
In fact, in December 2004, the Swarm hosted a pre-season game at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, and set a pre-season attendance record of 14,084 fans. A month later on New Year’s Day, the Swarm became just the third expansion franchise to win their inaugural game.
From 2005-2015, the Swarm would be the home of many of today’s active stars, including Callum Crawford, Ryan Benesch, Zach Higgins, Kiel Matisz, Zack Greer, Jordan MacIntosh, Logan Schuss, Shayne Jackson, Greg Downing and many more.
The Swarm would relocate to Georgia in 2015 and became the Georgia Swarm. Two years after moving to Georgia, the team would win the franchise’s first NLL championship. That 2017 championship was formed thanks to many of the moves made that included the famed Minnesota players.
Minnesotan fans of the NLL have been clamoring for box lacrosse to return to the St. Paul-Minneapolis area ever since the team left eight years ago. Expansion of lacrosse from east to west makes this area a simple choice to return to. NLL UnBOXed brings lacrosse back to a community that is waiting eagerly for an NLL team to return.
Lacrosse will always be The Creator’s Game, shared to us by the Indigenous people of North America, but the modern version of the game was born in Montreal, Quebec. Montreal native George Beers is often referred to as “The Father of Modern Lacrosse.” Montreal is also the home of the very first lacrosse organization, the Montreal Lacrosse Club (started by Beers in 1856).
In 2002, the NLL introduced the Montreal Express to the world. They were only the third Canadian-based team in the NLL – the Ontario Raiders/Toronto Rock and the Ottawa Rebel were the first two. The Calgary Roughnecks and Vancouver Ravens also joined the NLL in 2002.
This was a year of tremendous expansion in Canada, the home of box lacrosse. Going back to the roots of the modern game was a choice that made sense then and makes sense now.
That inaugural season, the Express and the Roughnecks made history. In each of the club’s first games in franchise history, they combined for 49 goals in a game that finished 32-17 Roughnecks. Unfortunately for the Express, the 32 goals allowed are still the most goals given up by a team in a single game in NLL history.
The Express existed for only one year, but a handful of members of that historic team are very much still present in the NLL, including Panther City Lacrosse Club head coach Tracey Kelusky, Toronto Rock assistant coach Bruce Codd, and New York Riptide assistant coach Jason Crosbie. Kelusky led the team in points with 94 and Codd led them in loose ball recoveries with 197.
The NLL has not been back to Ottawa, the capital of Canada, since the Toronto Rock and Saskatchewan Rush played an exhibition game in 2015.
Before that, however, the Ottawa Rebel were the NLL team based in the city, arriving in 2001. The Rebel formed after the Syracuse Smash were sold and then relocated to Ottawa to play in the Corel Centre. In their inaugural season, around two-thirds of the roster were rookies.
In 2002, the Rebel were still comprised of players with less than three years of experience. Of the two dozen players that played at least one game for the Rebel that season, 12 were playing in their first season of NLL action.
The Rebel only existed for three years, but they improved their home record year-over-year. They grew as a young team that played hard for the city. Chris Konopliff was a signature multi-faceted player that took most of the draws and scored most of the team’s goals over that three-year period.
With existing clubs like the Toronto Rock, Buffalo Bandits and Rochester Knighthawks already established in the surrounding areas and fellow NLL UnBOXed team in Montreal, the southern Ontario/northern New York Area is sprawling with many box opportunities.
In particular, Ottawa’s Jr. B Nepean Knights were Founder’s Cup champions in 2022, and the region has produced many stars, such as Callum Crawford, Jake Fox, and Brett Dobson.
The Seattle Metropolitan Area was home to one of the most successful teams in NLL history. The Washington Stealth, based in Everett, were a dominant team during their four-season existence. From 2010-2013, the Stealth played in three NLL championship games and won it all in their first season in Washington.
To be fair, unlike many of the other teams listed above, the Stealth were already an established franchise when they arrived in Washington in 2010. Before being the Pacific Northwest’s box lacrosse team, they were the San Jose Stealth from 2004-2009, and before that, they were the Albany Attack from 2000-2003.
During the team’s championship-winning run in 2010, they were coached by NLL Hall of Famer Chris Hall and had elite and notable players such as Rhys Duch, Lewis Ratcliff and Kyle Sorensen.
Those Washington Stealth became the Vancouver Stealth and are now the Vancouver Warriors. Few franchises have had such a long and complex history, but everywhere the team moves, no one forgets the successful days in Washington.
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