(December 13, 2016)… Defenseman Mike Kirk announced his retirement from the National Lacrosse League this afternoon. The 34-year-old Orangeville, Ontario native played 10 seasons, spending five of them with the Rochester Knighthawks.
“I was blessed to spend the last five seasons with Rochester,” said Kirk. “I can honestly say the organization, city, and fans make it the best place to play in the NLL. I couldn’t be more proud to retire as a Knighthawk.”
During his tenure in the NLL, he played for four teams, making stops in Chicago, San Jose, Boston and Rochester. Originally selected by the Chicago Shamrox in the third round (27th overall) of the 2006 NLL Entry Draft, Kirk posted 16 goals, 46 assists and 564 loose balls in 156 pro games.
He arrived in Rochester in 2012 after coming over in the NLL Dispersal Draft. He was a mentor for a young team on the cusp of making history. One of those players that was just getting acclimated to the pro game was Dylan Evans. After playing in two games in his rookie season, it was Kirk who tutored the then 23-year-old defenseman.
“First, congrats to Mike on an amazing lacrosse career,” said Evans. “I owe a lot to Mike. He really showed me the ropes of playing in the NLL. He took me under his wing and taught me how to prepare, how to conduct myself in a professional manner, and how to execute week-in and week-out in this league. Mike went out of his way to learn a bit about each of his teammates. He was always team first. At the same time, he was always an intense competitor who believed we could always come out on top no matter the situation. I’ll miss Mike a lot and wish him all the best.”
With the Knighthawks, Kirk enjoyed his greatest success. The veteran became a key member of a defense that dominated the NLL. Kirk played in 76 games and collected 254 loose balls. More importantly, he was part of franchise and league history as Rochester won three straight Champion’s Cups from 2012-14.
“I always dreamt about winning a championship, but winning three in a row is something I’ll never forget,” he said. “It’s something only a small group of guys can say we accomplished together. No championship was the same. We won it a different way each time. I’ll never forget those feelings when the final buzzer went.”
Fellow defenseman Paul Dawson, who won the last two Cups with “Kirky”, praised him for his leadership on and off the floor.
“I’ve known Mike for my entire pro career and played with him in Boston and Brampton,” he said. “He was as steady as they come for a defenseman, nothing flashy but got the job done shift in shift out. As good as he was as a player, he was a great teammate. He helped me along the way when I was transitioning from goalie to defense and we have shared some great memories and talks over the years. We won three championships together, which is also a great way to describe him – as a winner.”
“Mike was a great lacrosse player and leader,” added Paul’s brother Dan. “He was the ultimate teammate who is always putting team first ahead of his own well being. He is a champion but an even better person. I am thankful I had the opportunity to play with and learn from Mike.”
Kirk was dependable and durable during his career, especially in Rochester. He played in 105 consecutive regular season games, which extended into March of 2013.
While wearing the teal and purple, Kirk achieved numerous individual milestones. The two-time assistant captain recorded a career-high 75 loose balls in 2014 as the Knighthawks captured their final Champion’s Cup. During the first Cup run, he scored his first career playoff goal in the East Division Finals in a 17-13 win over the defending champion Toronto Rock. That same season, he scored one goal and added one assist in his NLL All-Star debut. With so many of his accomplishments occurring in Rochester, it’s no wonder that he cherishes his time as a Knighthawk.
“I loved every minute during my time in Rochester,” he said. “We were always treated like true professionals and the only thing we had to worry about was winning. From our Wednesday night practices to team meals on the road, every little detail was always planned. Being a Knighthawk also brought everyone together. I knew everyone’s parents, wives or girlfriends and kids. That sense of family was one thing that made it so special to play in Rochester. I loved that my wife and kids, parents, family and friends had a chance to watch me play each week.”
After a stellar career at Dickinson College, Kirk broke into the NLL in 2007 with the Chicago Shamrox. He spent two seasons in Chicago before moving on to play in San Jose in 2009. In 2010 and 2011, he was a member of the Boston Blazers, where he played with future Rochester teammates Dan and Paul Dawson, Scott Campbell and Casey Powell. The following season, the Knighthawks selected Kirk in the first round of the Dispersal Draft of Boston players. The rest is history.
“Kirky was steady, a team first guy who was never flashy but always in the right position doing the right thing,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “The reason why we selected him fifth in the Dispersal Draft in 2011 was because he plays such a team game. It was great the way he worked with his teammates.”
Kirk loved being around his teammates and the routines he developed in the decade he spent in the NLL.
“The thing I’ll miss most is the entire process of what it means to be a professional lacrosse player,” he said. “I loved game days, but I loved the little things that got you there. The workouts on your own, road trips with the boys, team meals, shoot arounds, film and analyzing each play on the drive home. I loved every minute of it. Those are the things I’ll remember most.”