A rag tag group of box players and converted (or converting) field lacrosse guys travelled up to Syracuse, NY to play the Syracuse Stingers at the Oncenter War Memorial Arena last week, and few of us had any idea what to expect. What transpired might just have been the best box lacrosse game of all-time.
Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo – Coyote Magic Action Shots
I am certainly not claiming that this game was the best, or even just good, because of the score. The Stingers jumped out to an early 5-0 lead (maybe it was more) before we scored our first goals, and they never looked back, even when we narrowed the gap considerably, later in the game. The Stingers just went on another run and put us away for good, 19-8. Yup, that’s an old fashioned thumping. So how the heck was this game so great?
It was good for the Syracuse box community. There were well over a thousand people at this game, and they paid to get in. Many bought tickets at the door, and the line to get in was hundreds deep at times. The fans were loud, and interested in the game, and when a fight broke out (I’ll get to that later), the fans absolutely erupted with cheers. Pretty goals, big hits, great saves… all of it was rewarded with boisterous applause. It was an honor for us to play in front of such enthusiastic and welcoming (for a visiting team anyway) fans.
I now know how Reg Dunlap felt when the Bulldogs hit the ice against the Chiefs. If you haven’t seen Slap Shot, you have no idea what I’m talking about. When Brandon Francis was announced during introductions, all I heard was Ogie Oglethorpe. Add in names like Powless, Schindler, Bucktooth… you get the picture. These are lacrosse legends, and we were playing against them.
It was good for the Stingers. Syracuse showed us their skills, and their toughness, and I think they made it abundantly clear that they are ready to play in a serious league with their presentation at the Oncenter. It wasn’t cheesy, or overdone at all. It felt professional, and ran smoothly. I felt like I was at a real sporting event, and as the coach of Team LAS, I felt underdressed in a shirt and tie but no jacket. It was the real deal experience, and the Stingers organization proved, at least to me, that they are ready for the big time, and the next level of pro box lacrosse.
It was good for our guys who got to play! I’m willing to bet the Stingers had fun out there, but for us, or at least the NYC and LAS regulars, it was a totally different experience. First off, Dan Hardy, Dan Holdridge, and Randy Fraser all played with the LAS team. I can now say I have coached those guys, albeit poorly, and the guys on the team have played with them. Great experience right there. And then you throw in the fact that a number of our guys had never played, and I hate to do this, “real” box lacrosse, and it just got better, as this was a crash course in the game.
Having the chance to go out and play against a team of guys who practice together, and have played since they were little children is the type of learning experience few box converts get. I literally saw guys turn into much better box lacrosse players during the game. Our second half team would have killed our first half team. It was surprising, but exciting, and by itself made the trip worth every minute.
Drew Geiger and Scott Barratta both evolved considerably as the game wore on. George Rohonczy turned into a whole new player. Billy Nguyen showed he will literally go toe to toe with anyone… what kind of a 160 pound lunatic fights Brandon Francis? To see guys making these leaps before my eyes made every single second of work I had put in seem like nothing. The payoff for us, losing 19-8, was huge, and every single person who has contacted me since has beamed about their experience.
I can talk about fighting more intelligently. I’ve argued with a number of people about fighting in box lacrosse, and for the most part, I’m against it. This game did nothing to change my perception on that. There was a fight in the game, which honestly almost escalated to something more. Brandon Francis was at the center of it all, and he played a tough physical style all night. Maybe it was just spectacle, as the crowd certainly ate it up, I can’t be certain.
I will say this about the outcome: Francis is one man wrecking machine. I’d pay him $1M a year to be my bouncer if I owned a bar. One other thing I know, is that after both players were ejected, the game took on a better flow, and the intensity of the play on the floor didn’t suffer at all. Maybe the Canadian Lacrosse Association has it right after all with their recent changes?
It made me think about box lacrosse in NYC. I’m not saying we’re starting a pro team here… but something was definitely stirred in the guys who made the trip, and if it sticks, the NYC league could start to really take a more definite shape. The first step is finding a venue that isn’t a miniature concrete roller hockey rink and where we don’t have to play outside in the Winter.
The next step is taking the physicality up a couple notches and playing with real creases. Then we reassess, and take it from there. But this game could be the spark we needed to vie for the next level, and that’s exciting if it leads to organic growth.
It made we want to play more. We had 20 guys, and no coach. So I coached. I was bummed not to play and still nursing an elbow injury, but I felt like I missed out. I guess that just means we’ll have to do it again. Oh no.
Overall, it was a great game, and every single person on our bench learned a thing or two, and got better. Syracuse proved they are ready for the big time as a franchise, and the Syracuse box community showed how much they love the game.
We’ll have some incredible video, and a ton more photos from the game in the coming days and weeks!