Recently, the Boston Box Lacrosse League completed their session which spanned the fall and winter of 2015-2016. I was able to catch their league semi-finals in person, which you will hear about in just a few paragraphs.
To many people, the end of the BBLL season went without much fanfare as it was just another weeknight league which had finished up. There’s indoor lacrosse being played all over and it isn’t even pro, so what’s the big deal with Boston?
What is it that makes the Boston Box Lacrosse League different?
Prior to living in Massachusetts, I was born, raised, and lived in the Central New York area surrounding Syracuse. Finding an old man lacrosse league to play in after college around there was no big deal. The company I was working for at that time was even able to string together enough guys to field a team for a league, which a nearby indoor place was running. All my thoughts about how great CNY lacrosse was were rapidly confirmed when we showed up for a game and there was Casey
As time went on, I became accustomed to seeing NLL, MLL, and top NCAA players on the other bench, or sometimes going into pickup games on the same side as them. Depending on where one played, you might even wind up facing off against a team comprised almost entirely of Onondaga Redhawks players. I knew I wasn’t playing in the NLL by any stretch, many of the games were pretty lighthearted (but tempers could flare for sure), but when it came down to it, I was playing box lacrosse, and it was good!
I was pretty convinced that with the local talent level, this was pretty much the best box lacrosse you could find short of any league with direct ties to Canada.
So when I finally moved out to the Boston area, I reached out to a lacrosse player from my High School that I knew was active in the local lacrosse scene. I had been playing with some of the best players in the world, so what was the best that Boston could throw at me? My buddy, without hesitation, pointed me in the direction of the Boston Box Lacrosse League, and the two guys who ran the league: Chuck Jaffe and Randy Fraser.
I wound up getting into their summer session, which tends to be more of the college-players-back-from-school-and-want-to-see-what-box-is-all-about affair. I think my first team had 6 former Duxbury players who were now dispersed across the NCAA at Syracuse, Hopkins, and several other great programs. I ordered new shoulder pads, grabbed some kidney pads and got ready to play.
The first week was an optional session where Chuck and Randy gave you the box lacrosse basics and how to not be a “fieldy” followed by a ton of scrimmaging. After all, this league was founded with the purpose of educating and developing box lacrosse players under the guidance of the NLL’s Boston Blazers, of whom Fraser was an assistant coach during their operation.
I was hooked from that moment on. They actually had full offense and defense shifts, real box picks were used, cross checks galore, and you learned quickly why playing with one hand is an advantage. I could already see how different it was from what I was used to. As much as I could, I would talk with Chuck or Randy before and after games and just keep picking their brains about the game. They kept on saying (somewhat ominously), that if I enjoyed this, just wait until the fall session.
Once the fall session rolled around, I was able to squeeze into one of the last spots on a team. That’s one of the great things about this league… it is really run like a real league! You don’t have games where only 5 guys show up and a handful from the previous game stick around and switch their pinneys. Each team has a single person responsible for it and they need to maintain an actual roster. The players are assigned numbers on real box sweaters and have to check in with the scorers each game where full stats are kept.
This all combines to create a stronger team-first environment than I have ever seen outside of your classic school-based teams. Teams are constructed based on how many defenders they have. How many defenders will stick around and be true transition players? How many lefties do you have at forward and how many righties? Do you have or need a FOGO? All these things are considered when looking at teams and it allows the ability for players to even serve as role players as needed. Can you read a defense and set picks? There’s a spot for you.
Now in these non-summer sessions, the real box players start showing up as well as the other field guys who live in the Boston area. The speed and intensity of this group was unlike anything I had participated in before. This was not old man lax where a case of beer is next to the water bottle. Communication on defense, understanding transition, using picks properly and moving the ball would all decide if you were going to win that night or not.
With all the talent on the floor, nobody had the ability to just take over a game like I had seen everywhere else. The defenses could collapse on a ball carrier in an instant and the ball could be going the other way just as fast. Trying to clear the ball by the sub box was a sure fire way to wind up on the ground trying to figure out which direction you were running from and where the ball went. Behind the back passes were used when they should be used, not because it seems like a fun idea at the time.
It was really real box lacrosse!
A large core of the players in the fall and winter are from the Vermont Voyageurs of the QSLL, the two former New England NALL teams, some NLL players, several MLL players, and some team USA (indoor and outdoor) members, in addition to a few other international squads. The rest comprise mostly former NCAA players who have truly embraced the box game. Many of these players are also who played in exhibition games against the Syracuse Stingers and for the Vermont Voyageurs against Team USA leading up to the WILC (where they won one game and lost the second).
As Jaffe said to me regarding the mix of players, “nearly all of the players in this league have come to actually enjoy playing box over field.” He even points to players like Will Manny who used this league to work on specific skills that will improve their field game.
The particular night that I was in attendance, there was a trip to their league championship on the line. The top seeded Blazers were facing off against PrimeTime while the MegaWhales faced Bullseye. The Blazers scored a solid 15-7 victory behind a highly potent offense and great goalie play from Joe Evans. The Blazers offense was what you want to see out of a box group. They had crisp passes, used on and off ball picks to perfection and fought for every loose ball inside.
At times they were operating at a completely different speed and in perfect unison. Their leading scorers on the night were Greg Rogowski and Marty Bowes, with Brandon Dube, Garrett Naimie, and Randy Fraser all chipping in multi-point efforts. As good as their offense was, their physical defense did an excellent job keeping PrimeTime’s shooters away from Evans and limited second chance opportunities.
The second game between Bullseye and MegaWhales was an excellent example of how extra possessions can help a team. Bullseye’s Joe Nardella was nearly unstoppable in faceoffs and picked up 20 loose balls in that game. With those posessions, Chris Breiner, Greg Lally, Alex Zomerfeld, Ben Smith and Billy Pires all chipped in to carry the team over MegaWhales 14-10.
(Check out the LaxAllStars YouTube Channel for more great video!)
The next week saw the Blazers top Bullseye for the league championship. Jaffe had 28 saves for Bullseye, but with was the Blazers’ Joe Evans who took MVP honors with his 39 saves after Bullseye was pelting him with 49 shots. By comparison, that shot total is not far from what you will see in a full 60 minutes stop time NLL game. Evans saving nearly 80% was very impressive. With the win, the Blazers get to hold onto their title through the summer session until these teams all suit up again next fall.
That’s really what makes this league great: these teams will be back again. Each team will probably see a few new faces next time around, but the session to session turnover is not huge and players learn each other’s tendencies once they’re back out on the floor together. These are not just groups of players grouped together for a game. They are truly teams.
The competition will once again be high, the box skills will only continue to get better, and the Boston Box Lacrosse League will keep on with its mission of growing the game south of the border.