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Stories/Op-Ed

Wes Berg Dropping Jaws in San Diego

Wes Berg has emerged full blast into the spotlight of pro lacrosse superstardom from out of the game’s shadows with a breakout NLL season in sunny Southern California full of electrifying moments.

This season, the 28-year-old San Diego Seals forward, once perhaps a bit overshadowed and underappreciated, is now his team’s leading scorer and a solid league MVP candidate

“Maybe overlooked a little bit, but I don’t worry too much about that,” says the 6-2, 210-pound Berg, who has 53 points in 10 games so far this season. His 27 goals, many of them highlight-reel worthy, are tied for fifth-best in the league with 2020 NLL MVP Shayne Jackson of Georgia.

“Playing in the West there’s not as much media attention as back east,” says Berg, who was drafted fourth overall in 2015 by Calgary and played three seasons with the Roughnecks from 2016-18. “For the most part, teams with great players don’t worry about that. It was like that in Calgary; it’s the same story with the Seals.”

Great players also make great plays, and Berg set the lacrosse world on fire with an ice-cold sequence in San Diego’s 9-4 win over Calgary on March 4 at Pechanga Arena.

At 8:13 of the second quarter, Berg, a right-handed shot, created instant magic with a diving, around-the-world reverse backhand goal after corralling a wild, bouncing loose ball, shrugging off two Roughnecks defenders near the boards and then outfoxing two more on the way to the Calgary net, while fending off multiple slashes to his arms and hands, bodychecks and near-holds. Watch it here.

“I was on the wrong side of the floor,” Berg says. “I think the goalie thought I was going to go far side, and [I] just kind of wrapped it around and it went in. It was a good feeling. I was pretty gassed there, and I was happy to see it go in.”

The spectacular scoring effort would be the No.1 highlight on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 that night, and the NLL has an electric frontrunner for goal of the year.

Last week for an encore, with the Seals at home trailing Saskatchewan 9-4 in the third quarter, Berg started a dramatic comeback by either scoring or assisting on five of the next six San Diego goals, including the helper on Jeremy Noble’s game-winner with 1.3 seconds left.

Berg’s breakout 2022 season includes recording five or more points in eight of 10 games, and three or more goals in seven of 10 games. As a team, the Seals have flourished offensively and are third in the league with 11.8 goals-for per game. San Diego is also sitting first in the West, and second overall in the NLL, at 8-2.

“We have a really dynamic offence,” says Berg. “We don’t care who scores. We just want to win. Every game is different, with different guys contributing. It’s offense by committee.”

For the most part Berg has been paired up this season with fellow right-hander Noble on the Seals’ left side. The two were NCAA teammates at Denver. There’s also rookie righty Tre Leclaire.

“It’s been a good year finishing the ball,” Berg says. “I’ve been fortunate playing with Noble. There’s been some great chemistry there with the two-man game. Off-ball, he’s such a smart player. Leclaire has adapted really quickly. He’s getting better and better.”

San Diego added right-handed offensive depth at the trade deadline, acquiring veteran goal-scorer Brett Hickey from Philadelphia in exchange for the Seals’ second-round selection in the 2024 Entry Draft.

Hickey, 31, has 190 goals and 328 points in 99 career NLL games with Philly, Toronto, and the Vancouver and Washington Stealth. At 6-2 and 225 pounds, Hickey will provide another big body on O as well as playoff experience (10 goals, 27 points in seven career postseason games).

And then there’s San Diego’s left-handed shooters, which include a couple of savvy veterans as well as Austin Staats, Casey Jackson and rookie Mac O’Keefe.

“The [lefties] are legends in the league, [Dane] Dobbie, [Zack] Greer,” says Berg. “We are tough on teams when we swing the ball. We have to keep ball moving the way we have been. But we can still be a lot better.”

Defensively, it has been much the same for the Seals. San Diego’s defense, led by captain Brodie Merrill, is the stingiest in the league, giving up just 8.7 goals-against per game and 44.4 shots-against per game. Cam Holding, an assistant captain along with Berg, transition player Tor Reinholdt and Patrick Shoemay are key contributors, and goalie Frank Scigliano has the NLL’s lowest goals-against average at 7.89.

“The long-term goal here in San Diego is to build a contender,” Berg says. “Even though we’re just couple of years into it as an expansion team, the goal is winning championships. We’re also trying to build a fan base, which is easier to do when you’re winning games at home, and grow the game through the Junior Seals program.”

The Seals have NLL championship ambitions for this season.

“You never know,” says Berg, who won an NCAA national championship with Denver in 2015 and a Minto Cup Canadian junior championship with Coquitlam in 2010. “When you look at our roster, our coaching staff, our entire organization, it’s an important year for us. [17-year NLL veteran] Brodie Merrill hasn’t got one yet. This is the year we really want to win it for him.

“It’s a tough league to win in. Every game is a new challenge. It’s about winning the next one. A huge part of it in the NLL is having depth and hoping your core gets hot at the right time. Having the right guys. Making sacrifices. Everybody coming together and hitting their stride at the right time.”

Berg has indeed hit his stride and has shown clear improvement each season during his career, with his points totals rising year over year.

In his first NLL season in 2016 with Calgary, Berg made the league’s All-Rookie Team after recording 67 points. His totals would then go up in each of the next two seasons, with 79 points in 2017 and a career-best 86 in 2018.

In 2019 Berg was traded to San Diego, and he led the Seals in scoring with 58 points in 12 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

This season Berg is noticeably scoring from both inside and outside, and is making the hard plays look easy. But while the offence might be coming easily, Berg is more worried about playing a complete game.

“I’ve always played this way, getting loose balls and playing a bit of defense,” Berg says. “I was really lucky to grow up in Coquitlam. Growing up playing box, until junior, I was playing both ways. It helped me in college when I got to Denver. I did whatever I could to get playing time.

“It helps me a lot even in San Diego, cutting off transition, off-ball opening things up for yourself or other players. It’s a huge part of being a complete player.”

And while the highlight-reel moments are many, Berg’s focus on playing a complete game has not gone unnoticed by NLL insiders and observers.

“Underrated? I don’t think so. He’s an upper echelon goal-scorer, a legitimate No. 1 go-to guy,” says one former NLL assistant coach closely familiar with Berg. “He’s as advertised. He does the extra stuff that you don’t see often from O guys.”

Says another former NLL assistant coach and GM who is currently a scout for a Western Conference rival: “He thinks the game well, has a high lacrosse IQ. He’s an all-round offensive player who fits into any role: feeder, picker, scorer. Big, deceptively quick and fast. He’s able to do a lot of things well.”

Berg’s game has benefited from a long relationship with lacrosse equipment manufacturer, Warrior. Berg has used Warrior sticks and equipment since his minor and junior days in Coquitlam, then at college in Denver. The partnership has continued into Berg’s pro career.

“It’s been pretty awesome,” says Berg. “It’s a great organization. It’s been a pretty cool journey I’ve had over the years. I used Warrior equipment growing up, and we were sponsored by Warrior in Denver; it was the same stick I’d been using.

“Right now, I’m using the Evo QX offensive head and Fatboy shaft made of composite. It can take some damage but not too heavy. Warrior has the best gloves and elbow pads out there; I switch back and forth between Evo and Burn. And New Balance is one of the only companies who make shoes that fit my wide feet.”

Berg had a research and development job at Warrior headquarters in Detroit after graduating from Denver.

“It was a dream job out of college with them doing stuff I’m passionate about, like how to make equipment better,” Berg says. “I worked on composite shafts and the Warp [head] project, which was really challenging and interesting. I also got to work with Zach Currier, and play with him too in Calgary.”

Now as Warrior, founded in 1992, readies to celebrate its 30-year anniversary the relationship has evolved into one where Berg does promotional work like representing the brand in Southern California.

“In San Diego, it’s more endorsement stuff,” says Berg. “We were shooting something recently for their 30th anniversary.”

Ah yes, the life of a pro lacrosse star in sunny SoCal: Shooting commercials and practising among the palm trees at the league’s only outdoor practice facility, Knockaround Field, while chasing an NLL championship.

“We’re pretty lucky out there when it’s January and February,” Berg says of the warm winters on the outside turf. “We’re pretty fortunate.”

And fortunately for emerging superstar Berg and his title-contending Seals, sometimes you create your own luck when it turns to spring and the postseason nears.

Wes Berg and the San Diego Seals host the 6-4 Colorado Mammoth, second place in the West, at Pechanga Arena on Saturday night (10pm ET on ESPN+/TSN).

NLL