Beware, this week’s HOT POT is opinionated!
The Boston Blazers don’t have an arena to play in for the 2012 NLL season so they have suspended lacrosse operations for the year as they try to broker a new deal, in Boston, Greater New England, or even some other part of the country. This means that they give up players like Casey Powell, Dawson, Ryan Powell, Sanderson, Cosmo, Rubisch, Buchanan, Downing, Reid… well, it means they’re giving up everybody. I can’t actually say that Boston has folded, because the business entity still exists, but the actual team itself is no more. They don’t have a place to call home. And in a few days, they won’t have any players either. And once again, Boston is without a pro indoor lacrosse team.
I grew up going to Blazerz’ games back in the original Boston Garden. We’d take the commuter train in, walk a couple blocks, and then make our way into the Garden to cheer on the guys in black Jofa hockey helmets; green, orange and black jerseys; and black spandex for shorts. When they left originally it was sad, I was a real fan back then. And when they came back, I was excited to see a fresh take on the NLL in Beantown. Unfortunately, the fans of Boston BoxLa didn’t get that. They got boring jerseys, had a team that played games in a too-large Pro arena they couldn’t fill, imported more players than they needed (there are actually some talented locals!) and tried to big-time it in a City whose cost of living is through the roof. It was almost like trying to run a team in Madison Square Garden right from the start: RISKY.
As a lover of Boston lax, I do hope the Blazers make a return to the area. But they could use a new approach, and maybe even look back on some of the things they DID do well, to illuminate the future path to success.
At one point in the NEW Blazers brief history a number of guys all lived in Boston, and a good number of them even lived together. The team was building itself up, keeping costs down, and giving local guys an honest shot. The only problem then was not selling enough tickets to their games. I say it was their only real problem, because for a relatively new team (2009 and 2010), they were actually doing pretty well in the wins and losses category. Then 2011 came and the Blazers dropped some local guys, and brought in players from all over the country. And these weren’t just “other” lacrosse players… they brought in BIG name players, but it was already the beginning of the end. One season of hype couldn’t turn the team around, and when the Blazers failed to win the NLL title, it was clear that there were deeper problems.
Moving forward, I’d like to see the Blazers get back to their old ways in terms of player selection. Once they lose all the big name players they had last year, and assuming they re-start the team next year, they will need to create a new team, and it will not be easy. But it will be possible. They’ll need to once again find local guys, and not in the sense that they are FROM Boston, but that they live in Boston NOW. Try to help these guys find a way to LIVE together again.
The team will also need an arena to call home, and it’s clear that the Garden just isn’t going to work out. But Boston is hockey town USA, so there is no excuse not to find a suitable new home in the area. Boston College, BU, Northeastern and even UMass-Boston all have rinks that are used much less than the Garden is used. There are even rinks for smaller minor league hockey teams in the area that could be suitable matches. The point is that the opportunity to play in Boston is clearly there, so it’s up to the Blazers to find that new home and make it happen.
But it’s not ALL about the rink itself. It is also about the rink’s location, and how it serves the fan base best. Rinks at Northeastern and BU are great, and if a lot of Blazers fans came from urban areas, I’d say those two would be the front runners. But I don’t get the feeling that the urban young professional is their key demographic. The key demo is kids, teams, parents, coaches and families. And those kind of fans need stadiums accessible by car as well. And when you think of it that way, Boston College just leaps to mind. It is settled nicely in the suburbs west of Boston, accessible by public transportation and has more parking than any NLL team would ever need. BC is in Chestnut Hill, which is a part of Newton, MA (sort 0f) and Newton has TWO public HSs with lax teams. I grew up in Weston, which is right next door. They have a State Championship HS lax team. Wellesley is nearby, and so is Waltham, Brookline, Cambridge and more. It’s an easy trip to make. Even UMass-Boston could be a good venue, although it is a little small. But it could better serve both the North and South shores of Boston (where lax is BIG!) and has plenty of parking.
Or they could head to Providence, or Worcester, or somewhere else in New England, and try to use a smaller “big time” arena. That might work too, but of course then you risk alienating your Beantown fan base, so the question there is, can you draw local support? Personally, I don’t think Worcester, Providence, Springfield or any of the other smaller NE cities would be able to sustain the team. So it’s got to be Boston… or bust.
Now the players on Boston’s roster that are being dispersed are an extremely interesting bunch. Dan Dawson will probably be the most sought after player initially. He’s got a number of good years of lax still ahead of him and is dedicated no matter where he goes. I think Kyle Rubisch will also be a highly sought after player as he rapidly became one of the best defenders in the NLL in only one season. He’s got youth, legs and a super bright future. Cosmo is a keeper to valuable to not get swooped up by someone early on as well. Casey Powell, Ryan Powell, and Sanderson are also tempting players to take but each has their drawbacks.
Casey got really banged up in the MLL Finals, and is pushing up there in age. That being said, I’d still take him on my team in a heartbeat. But I could see why some teams may be hesitant to invest in him at this point. Someone will though, and the other teams will just end up kicking themselves for it. He’s an old man now but he can still straight up ball, and he’ll make any box team better. Ryan Powell is more of a question mark for me. He came back to play with Casey, but if they aren’t on the same team, will he be interested in the NLL anymore? It’s hard to say. Sanderson came into Boston with a great reputation, but has left it a little different. He’s not the same guarantee he used to be, but it might have just been his surroundings. I guess we’ll just have to wait for 2012 on that one!
For players like Buchanan (who will find a home somewhere), Reid, Durno, Downing, Queener, and a host of others, the future must be much more questionable. These guys are all talented, but the depth of skill in the NLL is at an all-time high right now, and contraction did not help their cases. Making a team now will be more difficult than ever, and the talent left out watching will be a formidable group of available players.
In the end, Boston shuttering their operations for even one year is bad for the league. It’s bad for the players who will now be out of work. It’s bad for the NLL’s reputation because teams come in and out so often and so quickly. It’s bad for the game of lacrosse because it makes us look like strict amateurs. It’s bad for Boston lax because people in the area don’t trust their franchise. And it’s bad for me because I have one less team to write about.
Hopefully, the Blazers can get their heads on straight, and make 2012 a great year in the Boston area for box lacrosse. But when judging from past precedent, the more likely result is that they will move to a new area, stick around for a year or two, and then fold for good. I’m hoping it doesn’t happen, and would love nothing more than to be proved wrong, but sadly, nothing I have ever seen from the Blazer management makes me think differently.
LACROSSE IN THE NEWS:
– Hope College and Calvin College to add Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse. Grow The Game, baby! | Grand Rapids Press
– Langley Thunder and WLA have been getting good attendance numbers (SEE NLL? It’s possible!) | Vancouver Sun
– This is why fighting in the NLL is stupid. Guys don’t fight their own battles, thugs do. | Hockey Journal
– More on the upcoming (Friday) NLL Dispersal Draft | TSN
LACROSSE BLIND ITEMS:
We’ve got your Blind Item right here!
LACROSSE VIDEO OF THE WEEK:
Unequal EXO Skeleton seems like a really interesting product! I love how they cut it up and place it in areas that arm pads don’t cover. Check out this video, and then tell me you don’t want a sheet of this stuff! Imagine covering up a bruised shin or thigh or forearm with this stuff and creating a small, extra piece of padding. Or imagine making your own pads! Seems totally possible with this product. I’ve emailed these guys already to see if they’ll send some over for us to test out! We’ll keep you posted. Looks cool though!