Vancouver Warriors forward Keegan Bal is third on his team both in points (31) and goals (13) this year. Playing with top players such as Mitch Jones, Logan Schuss and the emerging Jordan McBride, Bal is one of the top scoring options for a Warriors team that, at 3-6, sits in the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Pretty good for a guy who was out of the league last year, played in three games in 2017 and eight in 2016.
At one point, Bal’s career totals could have looked like this: 11 games played, six goals and 28 points. 11 games over two seasons and done.
Bal started his NLL career with Vancouver in 2016. He played in eight games and totaled 16 points. In 2017, he played in three games for the Warriors before being cut and then signing with Colorado. The next summer, he was let go in training camp without ever playing a regular season game for the Mammoth.
“There was definitely frustration, but those frustrations were to do with myself and my own play and no one else,” said Bal. “I don’t put the blame on anyone except myself.”
“It’s always disappointing when you want to play and it doesn’t actually work out. That took sitting in front of the mirror and seeing what I needed to do to get to that level.”
So, Bal did what any athlete who loves playing their sport does – he continued to play, but in a different league.
Having moved to Alberta for work, Bal played for the St. Albert Miners (Senior B) of the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League. There, he rejuvenated his game, leading the league in points back to back years (70 in 2016 and 123 in 2017) and winning three straight President’s Cups. He won the league MVP his first year and set the all-time point record in his second year.
Bal said there wasn’t a moment or stretch where he regained his confidence. He did, however, credit one of the St. Albert coaches for his resurgence.
“Todd Lorenz (the offensive coach for all three years) had a lot of influence on me,” said Bal. “He helped me with a little bit of everything in my game. A lot of shooting and decision making stuff – pretty much every part of my game. Both on the floor and mentally.”
“We created a very loose bond and to this day he’s still there for me.”
On June 21, 2018, three days after it was announced that Canucks Sports & Entertainment purchased the Vancouver franchise, Dan Richardson was introduced as the club’s new General Manager. With the team way over the salary cap and no first round pick, Richardson had his work cut out for him in building a roster for the 2018-2019 season and trying to improve the club from its 2-16 finish a year ago.
He would have to find players let go by their previous teams that either weren’t given a fair shot their first time around in the NLL, or that had never before played in the NLL.
Enter: Keegan Bal.
“I don’t think he was given a fair chance, whether it was with the Stealth or the Mammoth,” said Richardson. “What I saw in him and still see in him was the guy that has lightning fast speed and someone who is not afraid to go in those dirty areas.”
Richardson was the General Manager of the New WestMinster Salmonbellies of the Western Lacrosse Association while Bal was on the team for three years before moving to Alberta.
“The kid can play,” said Richardson. “All he needed was a bona fide opportunity and that’s what we were giving him.”
“If you believe he can play, you have to give him an honest chance and that’s more than one exhibition game. You have to show some belief in him. I felt, for whatever reason, he wasn’t given a fair shake where you put him in a spot where he could succeed.”
When Richardson expressed his interest in signing Bal, he could sense hesitation from Bal in playing in the NLL again. It wasn’t a quick phone call between the two of them. There was a longer discussion.
“I told him ‘You’re going to get a fair shake. Bring your A-game and you will be given a fair shot,” said Richardson. “I assured him we’d be doing things differently and he’d get his fair share of playing time and he’d be able to show the coaching staff what he was made of.”
Maybe it was the relationship the two had formed with the Salmonbellies. Maybe it was Richardson’s no-nonsense approach. Whatever it was, Bal could sense the Warriors would allow him to prove his worth.
“When he called me, it felt good,” said Bal. “I trust him. He’s a straight shooter and it ended up working out.”
On September 24, 2018, Bal signed a one-year contract with the Warriors.
In back-to-back games earlier this year, Bal posted three goals and four assists and two goals and four assists. On Friday in Vancouver’s 14-6 win over San Diego, he had the best game of his career with six goals and four assists.
Bal credits his time with the Miners playing with top NLL talent such as Ryan Dilks and Aaron Bold for keeping his lacrosse game in tip-top shape.
“I was fortunate enough to play on the team,” said Bal. “We had about at least three, sometimes five NLL defenders on our team every year and we had (Aaron) Bold as our goalie this past year. Having those top players, it helped my game a lot.”
Bal was one of the first free agents Richardson reached out to. The General Manager’s gamble has paid off.
“He’s a classic example of – and we have 3-4 of them on our team – that weren’t given a solid chance in the NLL,” said Richardson. “And he can play. He has speed, doesn’t mind going to the goalie area and he’s a very smart intelligent player. It was a no-brainer. We had to find guys like Keegan and he was right on the top of the list.”
“I kept working at my game and knew it was something that would be there if I kept working hard,” said Bal. “I learned to stay positive and to have a different approach when things don’t go your way. Instead of getting down and upset, just switching your approach and looking at areas where you can improve.”
You can catch the Warriors host the Saskatchewan Rush this Saturday at 10 pm EST on B/R Live. Follow the NLL on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.