Whether you believe in God, Allah, Vishnu or Jesus Christ, I guarantee he is going to be pissed if you, at some point in your pathetic, meaningless existence, do not visit Vancouver Island and admire His handiwork. With rugged coastlines, soaring mountains, amazing rainforests it is truly the hidden jewel of the West Coast.
The largest city, Victoria, lies at the southern tip, and makes no attempt to hide its British Colonial history. With daily high tea at the Empress Hotel, the stately British Columbia Parliament buildings and walking gardens everywhere, if you can’t score with the wife in Victoria, you’re not trying.
But while we’re interested in scoring, the Missus and I have come here hoping to see crosschecks, hard picks, and crisp passing as well. Because tonight the Victoria Shamrocks and Nanaimo Timbermen square off for a great game of box lacrosse.
It’s hard to describe the level of fanaticism that the indoor game attracts in Western Canada. Sitting in a foreign country on a Friday night, surrounded by 3000 rabid strangers, all screaming at violent contests happening out on a concrete floor, there’s a little bit of a feeling of cockfighting here. And it doesn’t feel wrong.
You heard me. Concrete freaking floor. Just when I think the guys in the NLL might be the toughest Lax Bros I’ve ever encountered, here’s a game being played on concrete. There is no shortage of Y chromosomes in this barn. These guys would love to finish a game with just a few rugburns, but it doesn’t happen in this league. Canadian Box is a game created by men, played by men and worshipped by men. Heck their championship trophy’s even called the Mann Cup. (which, by the way, should be sponsored by NuttyBuddy.)
As we find our seats ($17 US, five rows from the glass) the game’s about to get underway and there’s lots of backstories here between the ‘Rocks and Timbermen. Nanaimo’s coach returns to Victoria for the first time after leading the Shamrocks since ’78. A blockbuster offseason trade sent Lewis Ratcliffe to Nanaimo, having played for Victoria since he was 17. Both these guys and several players on both teams are also members of the NLL’s Champion Washington Stealth. The Stealth muckety-mucks are here with the NLL Champion’s Cup, giving autographs and pictures to their faithful fans, many of whom regularly trekked the four hours down to Everett, WA for Stealth games during the NLL season. All of sudden it feels much more wholesome than a cockfight.
The ball drops, the game begins and all is right with the world again. The fast pace, the contact and the unbelievably crisp passing of the indoor game is truly a thing of beauty. I love the outdoor game as much as the next guy but there’s something to be said for players who can make three passes within a 200 sq ft zone filled with six players and score on a goalie whose pads seem to cover 85% of the net. Oh yeah, and did I mention they play on concrete?
We’ve just been watching box for a few months, having experienced the Stealth’s inaugural season in Washington as season ticket holders. I can’t pretend to comprehend the game. But what I’ve observed is that box is really a game of rhythm and runs. It’s no more evident than tonight, when Nanaimo grabs an early 6-2 lead in the first 10 minutes, led by Lewis Ratcliff and his younger brother Cayle, and seemingly owns this game. But then, unexplainably, superstar Rhys Duch and the ‘Rocks reel off eight unanswered goals, and Nanaimo looks like they’ve never played together before tonight.
In an effort the quell their opponent’s runs, both teams swap out goalies, which feels more like a superstition thing than a real strategy. I know nothing about being a box goalie, but I can’t imagine there are logical reasons why you yank a starter with a .828 save percentage and replace him with the backup sporting a .812, each of whom takes up the same 85% of the cage. Whatever; the strategy worked for Victoria and didn’t for Nanaimo. The Timbermen can’t seem to get the ball past the new keeper and their offense flames out.
Going into the last period the ‘Rocks lead 12 – 8, and Nanaimo starts its run back. They pull within two at 12-10, as their goalie, Matt King, finds Lewis Ratcliffe for a full court assist. But then they stall as their newly acquired henchman, George Westwood, takes a penalty for illegal crosse-checking. (I was stunned to learn that there is an illegal kind of crosse-checking in this game, it looks like everything is legal!) The Timbermen never seem to get the wind back in their sails, as the ‘Rocks kind of coast to a 15-10 victory. Ryan Benesch ends up with 5 goals for Victoria, and the Ratcliffe brothers each score a hat trick for Nanaimo.
There’s a great air of familiarity as we return to our hotel. We feel like we’ve somehow managed to steal away one more good time like we had during the Stealth’s Championship season. It’s like finding an extra M&M in the bottom of a bag you thought was empty. Or in lacrosse terms, it’s like finding a Keystone Light that rolled under the couch when someone dropped the case. Whatever, we’re happy, we’ve had a great night, in a great town, on a great island in a great part of the world.
I’m sure God/Allah/Vishnu/Jesus Christ was pleased.
About the author: A longtime NW Lax observer, Barbarosa brings you a look inside the High School scene of The Evergreen State, otherwise known as Washington. Check out his other posts here.