It is often said that age is just a number. In sport, however, that number can potentially hold an abundance of importance regarding a player or team’s championship-contending chances.
This past off-season, the Vancouver Warriors saw four of their long-term fixtures retire and watched another head to their West Division rival, the Saskatchewan Rush.
Ian Hawksbee (38), Chris O’Dougherty (35), Joel McCready (33) and James Rahe (27) all decided to hang up the jerseys and ride into the sunset. Matt Beers (31), the preceding captain of the Warriors, went to go play in the prairies in Saskatchewan.
Collectively, up until this season, those five men had played 49 seasons in the NLL, with 35 of those years being with the Warriors (formally the Vancouver Stealth). Beers and O’Dougherty actually played each and every one of their 10 seasons with this one franchise. Rahe also never suited up for another team during his short four-season career.
Now, this is not to say the Warriors/Stealth were winning NLL Cups left and right during their tenure – they made the playoffs twice over the last 10 years. But, Beers and O’Dougherty were bright young faces during the Washington Stealth’s Champion’s Cup 2009-10’ season and the team’s cup runner-up years in 10’-11’ and 12’-13’.
Yet, experience isn’t just measured by your trophy cabinet. It can be measured by one’s impact on the next generation and their future successes. With all of those veterans now gone, the question for the Warriors becomes: Who will teach us now?
The Warriors officially labeled their leadership group last week. The team has named the championed veteran newcomer, Brett Mydske, their Captain, along with their scoring champion, Mitch Jones and their second-most senior player (by only 18 days) Tyler Codron being named Assistant Captains.
Warriors Head Coach Chris Gill sounded hopeful though that this year’s team could have many leaders on this team – beyond the ones who have been labeled as such – despite the team’s roster losses.
“We’re losing some leadership in the room, but that’ll give other guys the chance to step up into those leadership roles,” Gill said. “It gives the younger guys a chance to prove that they want to step up and play in this league, show that they’re hungry. It’s kind of the evolution of sport. You have leaders that get older and produce, and at some point, they decide they don’t want to do it anymore, then young guys come in.”
It won’t just be up to the youth on the team to fill the line of empty shoes. There are still many veterans that can step up to the plate and guide this roster to the playoffs. It could even be argued that this season’s Warriors have more potential leaders on it than any other recent year.
They still have Tyler Codron (35) and Jordan McBride (35) and a host of other younger players who have become leaders themselves.
On the active roster, the Warriors have five players who are 25 or younger, including their highly-touted first-round draft picks from the last two years: Reid Bowering (23) and Adam Charalambides (25). The Warriors also have six other players under 30, including Assistant Captain Mitch Jones.
Adding even more depth to the roster of potential leaders are newcomers in their early 30’s, Matthew Dinsdale and Mydske, who bring their championship pedigree to Vancouver.
According to Bowering, through training camp, Mydske was ready and eager to impose his knowledge of the game and of winning across the entire roster – a belief that is felt by much (if not all) of the organization.
“Brett Mydske has been a great leader for everyone,” Bowering said. “He’s been able to use his past experiences to give all the guys, not just the rookies, tips.”
Codron, who will be working with Bowering and Mydske on the back end, agrees that the former Rush defender will be invaluable to the team.
“Adding Mydske to the back end of the floor is huge,” Codron said. “He brings his championships and all of his knowledge and experience from Saskatchewan from all his years there.”
Codron added that he and other veterans can help the youthful Warriors come together and play their best lacrosse.
“I think it’s all about helping guys keep an even keel on the floor,” Codron said. “We all know lacrosse is a game of runs – there are highs and lows throughout the game. It’s important to keep level-headed, and I think that’s what we veterans will try to do. We want everyone to be focused on the same goals and everyone to be on the same page.”
The long layoff from the game has made it more difficult than usual for teams to build cohesive units, as they have had very little time over the last year and a half to train or play together. It will be difficult at first for all teams to find their mojo again, but hopefully, training camp has provided ample opportunities for that.
For the younger Warriors on the finalized active roster such as Bowering, training camp was a necessary time to ask questions, analyze game strategies and pick up any tricks and tips from the veterans who have been around the league for some time.
“Whenever I have a question, I know there are so many resources where I can get help,” Bowering said. “It’s been a great learning experience so far, even in the short time I’ve been with the team.”
After all the training and dress rehearsals, the time to show what the Warriors have been able to put together during this lacrosse-less hiatus is almost upon us. Opening up the NLL season on Friday night, the Warriors will face the San Diego Seals, who have undergone quite a few roster changes themselves.
Who will step up for the Warriors? Will it be the ambitious and exuberant youth or the savvy veteran presence? If the Warriors can use their range age and experience to their advantage, this new-look squad is poised to lead themselves to their first playoff appearance since 2017.