The weekend preceding the Ales Hrebesky Memorial, a much smaller and qualitative gathering of teams takes place in the same rink, and it’s known as EBox.
EBox, formally known as The European Box Lacrosse Invitational, is an annual gathering of programs that are more focused on getting practice and introducing newer players than they are with winning trophies and tournaments. It’s a serious event, but it’s about improvement, and not so much the wins and losses.
While there’s nothing quite like the Ales Hrebesky Memorial, (speaking in a purely quantitative manner, there really isn’t another box lacrosse tournament in the world that can stack up and match the annual tournament in late April), and while that tournament is amazing in the sense that it brings the biggest and best to compete head to head every year, one possible critique is that is ONLY bringing the biggest and best.
When you’re playing for keeps, you’re going to bring your top guns and there really isn’t nearly as much focus on development for younger programs. Even if you COULD join the Memorial, you’d just be feeding yourselves to the wolves, and with the same 21 teams coming year after year, that really isn’t even an option.
A major part of growing lacrosse in Europe/the world is welcoming in the newcomers. Introducing the game to neighboring cities/nations isn’t just ethical, it’s practical. Instead of trekking the 14 available guys across the continent, how nice would it be to bring the whole team across town or just across the border?
The general idea is that this is a national team training camp/practice camp. For 2017, and with the European Box Championships rapidly approaching, a big push was made by a number of nations to get their ducks in a row and really get the gears running smooth before the games in Turku, Finland this July.
I was fortunate enough to make it out to this event the first year they held it as a player, and the past couple years since I’ve tried to make it out just as a spectator. It’s pretty relaxing to sit in that Radotin Springtime sun with a schnitzel and a pivo and watch players and teams getting better before your eyes.
This was a year I actually got to catch the majority of the games. I changed up some flights on my way over from Hong Kong and was actually able to only miss a couple games. Connor Wilson, Joe Williams (Throne Lacrosse), and a number of other AHM regulars showed up early to watch as well, and the stands filled up nicely for big games.
Sitting and relaxing around the rink I had three clear-cut takeaways that marked this event as a success in my mind. Obviously there were many more than just three good things that happened, but there were three big ones that encompass a hundred additional good things.
EBox = New Teams
Quite obviously the biggest addition to this year’s event was the attendance of Austria, Norway, and Serbia. While the Vienna Monarchs have been a long established team in the Memorial, this was their first strictly national team event that I’m aware of. Serbian lacrosse has been developing quickly, and I’m happy to see them making more and more strides in the game. To the best of my knowledge, the Serbian program has doubled down on box, and I’m looking forward to seeing their program move forward.
Norway had a stellar showing in GODOOLLLOOOOO this past summer for the Euro field championships, providing upset after upset in a super-efficient clean team offense, and I’m elated to see them trying out some box lacrosse. They showed up with a good number of players, but nobody really to coach or run the door. Having a guy on the substitution door is always a plus, so I offered to help out and give a couple points, and they accepted. Every guy was all smiles. They made mistakes, they scored some goals, and they loved it. The game I worked the door, the guy who was next up to sub smiled and looked over at me and said “we’ve never done this before, but this is great!”
Knowing that a bunch of guys had a blast in their first ever taste of box lacrosse is a huge plus for me. Going back to a hockey-playing country (facilities) with great game-growing neighbors like the Danish can ONLY mean AWESOME things in the future of box lacrosse for not just the Norge boys who attended, but the country’s lacrosse scene and the region as a whole. Sweden was also there playing in EBox, and with the potent Finalnd program added in Scandinavia is looking a lot stronger in general.
New Players on Established Teams
With the addition of the European Box Championships, we’re now seeing a championship tournament just about every year. Whether it be U19, field, box, or otherwise, you’re seemingly ALWAYS in championship gear and that can often shift the focus away from development. I’m not accusing anyone of ignoring development intentionally, but when it’s time to take the boys to the big dance, you’re focused on those 20-25 fellas and you’re on the hunt for hardware. This is only natural.
A couple of the smarter programs saw this exhibition event as the perfect time to introduce some new blood to their benches. A couple programs that 100% stood out in this regard were Israel, Ireland, and the Polish.
Not that I know everyone involved in either program, but I’ve seen them play in world/European championships enough to recognize new faces when I see them. They might not be new to lacrosse, but they were new to me, and I really enjoyed seeing some fresh faces getting to play some high-quality box lacrosse in one of the coolest environments on Earth.
Once you take that trophy off the table, then you can let go of this must-win notion and you can really embrace that must-improve attitude instead. I believe Austria and Germany had some unfamiliar faces as well, but I really can’t be certain.
Appropriate Qualitative Scheduling
European Championships. July 2016. In GODOOOLLLLO, Hungary. If you are a weaker or relatively new program, you’re still in a grouping with heavyweights like England, Germany and the like. Explain to me how it is productive or even cost effective to get blown out or (or to be doing the blowing-out) for four games, get reseeded, and then your remaining two games are actually opponents with similar strengths. Individuals on teams like Slovenia, Italy, and France paid a ton of money to make it to the Euros, but didn’t get to play each other until the last two days.
What I really loved at the E-Box was the fact you’re getting all the bang for your buck. The Czech National team played a banger of a game against Finland’s National team, and we saw 33 goals in a heated contest that got me all sorts of excited for the EBLC this July. On the other side of the spectrum we saw teams like Serbia getting a quality game against the Plzen Old Dogs, barely dropping the game by 1 goal to an established Czech club.
The freedom to draw up ideal matchups is something you don’t have the luxury of doing in championships or tournaments. Switzerland and Sweden, two of my absolute favorite up-and-coming programs in Europe, had arguably the game of the weekend in an 11-11 tie. Israel and Finland tied as well 6-6, although it looked to me that the Fins came out a hair on top in a friendly rock-paper-scissors after the game because IN REAL SPORTS THERE ARE NO TIES.
I really do love this event. I almost said “this little event”, but it’s not “little” or “less”, it’s just different, and with a different focus. One could honestly argue that it has more weight in terms of growth and development than any progressive tournament or championship.
I love this event.
I want to see more of these types events. Come on out, we’ll set up some quality, fair, appropriate games and you’ll have the opportunity to play awesome box with awesome officiating in arguably the coolest venue on Earth. Ok, I’m in.
Events like these are harboring and investing in growth. Championships are nice, and it’s always fun to see new teams come out for the big dance, but it’s events like the European Box Lacrosse Invitational that are doing the real work in terms of encouraging growth and inclusiveness. For that reason, we’re huge fans! Keep it up!