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Stories/Op-Ed

NLL Stars Take the Field

For decades now, it has been understood in the lacrosse world that being a better box lacrosse player will only help increase one’s overall abilities in field lacrosse. Box Lacrosse is a faster, more physical game where you must rely on your teammates’ pick and rolls or defensive communication to find success over and over again. 

Since box lacrosse players started coming south of the border to compete in collegiate field lacrosse, the game’s creativity, speed, and IQ have begun to shift. Starting with players like Mike French, the Gait brothers and Stan Cockerton to modern era Canadian box lacrosse players like Brodie Merrill, Kevin Crowley and Josh Byrne to name a few. It is becoming more and more understood that having a lacrosse foundation built in the confines of a box, where IQ, quickness and physicality rule, will be of great benefit when cleats hit the vast turf, the game slows down a bit and you’re not concerned about the next cross check. 

This fact remains true when you travel to upstate New York in Onondaga, Western New York with the Secencas and Northern New York to Akwesasne with the Mohawks. Lacrosse is a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) game believed to be a gift from the Creator to provide medicine to the communities that play the game. The Haudenosaunee traditionally have played field lacrosse since the dawn of time, and it wasn’t until after the 1932 Olympics that the Haudenosaunee started playing box lacrosse. After the 1932 Olympics in a game between Johns Hopkins and the Haudenosuanee, the USA Lacrosse Association recognized Native players as “professionals”, in turn, barring them from competing at the National and International level.

Out of necessity the Haudenosaunee looked North of the border at this new Canadian game played in thawed ice rinks during the summer. The physicality, skill and level of compete inspired the Haudenosaunee to develop Box Lacrosse throughout the Six Nations and compete. From that point forward there have been several Haudenosaunee box lacrosse players who’ve transitioned to field lacrosse and been a dominant force in the NLL and professional field lacrosse: from early Haudenosaunee players like Oren Lyons and Russ George to more recent players like Brett Bucktooth, Marshall Abrams and Neal Powless. Some of the worlds’ best lacrosse players from the NLL to PLL include Haudensaunee players like Zed Williams.

Today there is only one Professional field lacrosse league, the Premier Lacrosse League, which recently merged with the MLL to form the 8 team PLL. In the PLL’s first two seasons some of the best to step on the field were NLL players. Once again, solidifying the fact that having a strong box lacrosse background can greatly benefit you when you’re given more time and space in field lacrosse. The hero in the inaugural PLL championship game and PLL season MVP was Philadelphia Wings forward Matt Rambo. In year two of the PLL, NLL’s very own Zed Williams of the Colorado Mammoth was named PLL Champion, MVP and attackman of the year. Alongside Matt and Zed receiving top accolades in the PLL are other NLL players like Tom Schreiber of the Toronto Rock, Blaze Riorden of the Philadelphia wings and Joe Nardella of the Albany NLL team. 

Having a box lacrosse foundation typically translates well to field lacrosse. This week on March 25th, the Premier Lacrosse League will be holding their 2021 entry draft. The talent pool is extremely deep with over 100 players entered and only 24 total picks. As previously mentioned, having that box lacrosse foundation in today’s field game is a huge asset and there are several NLL players vying for a spot in the PLL. From NLL staples like Mark Matthews and Challen Rogers to battle tested NLL veterans like Frank Brown, Latrell Harris, Ryan Lee, and Kyle Jackson. The coaching staff and general managers will have hard decisions to make. 

The Toronto Rock’s Captain Challen Rogers is a proven player in the MLL, helping Coach Sean Quirk and the Boston Cannons win the 2020 MLL Championship. Having personally played with Challen in the MLL and against him in the NLL, his competitive spirit, leadership and drive to win will be an asset to any team. With Coach Sean Quirk coaching the 2021 Boston Lacrosse Club of the PLL, it seems Challen will be an easy selection early in the PLL entry draft. 

Another NLL player who will likely go in the early rounds is up and coming NLL player Andrew Kew of Albany NLL. Andrew Kew out of Oakville, Ontario was named to the NLL All-Rookie team during the 2019-2020 season, leading all rookies in points. In the MLL with the Chesapeake Bayhawks, Andrew Kew became a force to be reckoned with. In his rookie season he scored the game winning championship goal and a year later scored 6 goals in his season opener. Kew is definitely trending upwards in the lacrosse world and will likely be selected in the 2021 PLL entry draft. 

Frank Brown is among the NLL players that are battle tested and has entered the PLL entry draft. Frank has grown up with a stick in his hand getting exposed to box lacrosse early in the Seneca Nation, playing throughout the Can-Am Lacrosse league. Frank Brown was also crowned 2020 MLL champion, which will help his stock rise in the PLL. With a big frame, great balance and good speed, Frank Brown will be a solid addition to any PLL midfield trio. 

As you know, the upcoming NLL season debuts December 3-4, 2021 with new NLL teams in Fort Worth, Texas and Albany, New York. You don’t have to wait until the winter to enjoy the top NLL talent play lacrosse and hone their skills for the National Lacrosse League season. You can catch your favorite players like Blaze Riorden, Zed Williams and Josh Byrne playing with a little more time and space in the PLL. 

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