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Six Nations of the Grand River Will Beam With Pride During the NLL Finals

With the 2024 NLL Finals Presented by AXIA Time upon us, the great state of New York is preparing to serve as the undisputed epicenter of the lacrosse universe, as the franchises from the Empire State’s second largest city and center of government will duke it out for the right to hoist the new, Indigenous-designed NLL Cup high above their celebratory shoulders.

While the municipalities of Buffalo and Albany will be emotionally invested into every minute of the best-of-three festivities, an Indigenous reserve 70 miles straight west of Buffalo will share a vested interest in many of the players taking the field with championship dreams.

Six Nations of the Grand River is the most populous First Nation in all of Canada. Located in southeastern Ontario (in close proximity to the cities of Brantford and Hamilton), the autonomous territory is home to six Haudenosaunee nations, which include the Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, Tuscarora, Cayuga and Onondaga peoples. The 183 km(70 square mile) expanse is the setting of a rich history of culture and tradition, along with a spiritual devotion to the beautiful bastions of land that surrounds the reserve.

Six Nations is also the backdrop for one of North America’s most vibrant and talented lacrosse communities, and five of its citizens will don either a Bandits or FireWolves uniform when play commences Friday night in Albany.

The Buffalo side of the equation is represented by Tehoka Nanticoke and Adam Bomberry while the Albany squad boasts of goaltender Doug Jamieson and forwards Travis Longboat and Marshall Powless. The Bandits’ Frank Brown is a member of the Seneca Nation near Allegany, NY.

Jamieson (Mohawk, Bear Clan) and Longboat (Mohawk, Wolf Clan) wholeheartedly believe in the healing powers of lacrosse and the indelible place the sport holds in the heritage of Indigenous people.

“Growing up everyone plays it. You’re taught that it’s the medicine game. It’s said to be a source of peace and healing. For me, if there’s something I’m dealing with I get to go on the floor and forget about everything else. That’s how I’ve always looked at it,” explained Jamieson.

“Lacrosse is something my culture has been given,” denoted Longboat. “We consider it the medicine game. Since birth I’ve been involved with lacrosse. It’s very special to me. It helps me through any personal troubles. Helps my mind when I’m down and keeps me out of trouble.”

The Six Nations-based friendship of Longboat and FireWolves teammate Marshall Powless (Mohawk, Turtle clan) dates back to early childhood, when the future NLL stars established a lifelong bond set to the unified backdrop of family and sport.

“I grew up with Marshall,” Longboat said. “One of his brothers and I are the same age. Our families are related. Whenever we were at their house for birthdays, or over the summer, we always played lacrosse, whether it be two-on-two or three-on-three. We’d invite different friends over and have games all the time.”

Colorado at Albany 2.17.24, Travis Longboat jumps onto Marshall Powless to celebrate a goal. (Photo: William Madely)

The 26-year-old righty later delved into how truly extraordinary it is that two little boys who first met in the early 2000s are now on the same NLL team competing for their sport’s ultimate prize in the year 2024.

“On our travels we sit and chat, discussing how neither of us ever thought this would happen, playing professional lacrosse together. Overcoming every obstacle we’ve been though during our careers. It’s a long road, but this is a really special moment for both of us.”

The 23-year-old Powless shares an equal feeling of joy when imagining what may lie ahead.

“In our family, you’re born into it,” he said. “At one point in time, everyone in our family has had a stick in their hand. Travis and I are excited and really looking forward to it. If it’s something that we can accomplish together it will be really special.”

Last season, the FireWolves struggled their way through a brutal 3-15 campaign, finishing at the very bottom of the NLL landscape, never dreaming that a mere one year later the organization would be competing for a championship.

Being on the forefront of one of the most shocking turnarounds in recent North American sports was just as much of a surprise to the Albany players as it was for those who follow the box lacrosse game via a seat in the arena or while relaxing on their couch.

“It’s amazing. After not making it to the postseason, during my first two years in the NLL, I was just hoping to make the playoffs,” explained Powless. “Since we clinched pretty early I got even more excited. After getting past the first round, it felt like we actually had a chance of winning this. It’s a lot of emotions. I’ve always dreamed of playing for a championship.”

Despite possessing one of the best vantagepoints in the house from his crease, Jamieson remains in disbelief regarding the level of play put forth by his upstart collection of teammates.

“It’s been surprising even for us. Coming into the season I knew we’d be better and competitive, maybe sneak into the playoffs. I would’ve considered it a good season if we made the playoffs. We had the good start and rode that into the postseason and then caught fire at the right time.”

With the schedule makers establishing a 12-day layoff between the conclusion of the Semifinals and Game 1 of the title clinching round, the Albany players have taken full advantage of the opportunity to heal the body, further hone their skills and prepare for an uber-talented Bandits club seeking their second consecutive NLL crown.

When the question of which team would serve as the FireWolves’ ultimate Finals opponent, the Six Nations trio was absolutely unanimous when it came to their response.

“You want to beat the best if you want to be considered champions. The Bandits are the gold standard right now, notably Matt Vinc, Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne. I’m so excited, I just can’t wait to play. It’s important to know the moment, but don’t let it consume you. Be ready, but don’t be psyched out,” conveyed Jamieson.

Powless communicated a similar feeling of admiration for the colossal competitors from Buffalo.

“To be the best, you need to take out the best. They have a great team and fan base. But if we want to be the best, we need to take them out.”

Longboat, whose Game 2 hat trick represented the margin of victory in Albany’s 13-10 Semifinals triumph over the San Diego Seals, brought the discussion full circle when beautifully summarizing his feelings regarding his native land’s place in the incredible display of lacrosse that is about to take place.

“The NLL Cup is so embedded in our culture. Everyone has somebody in their family who plays lacrosse. Many of the kids look up to us because we’re playing at a high level, wishing they could do this someday. I hope they feel that it is special what we’re doing.”

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