There’s only so many places in the world where playing lacrosse truly means something. In box lacrosse, that number gets even smaller, despite it’s rich history in Canada. While America has “football towns” and up north they have “hockey towns”, both sides of the border are lacking in “lacrosse towns.” Without wealth and fame at the end of the line, most kids pursue the more recognizable sports in hopes of making it big.
Baltimore and Long Island are field lacrosse hotbeds, but it can often feel like the game doesn’t even exist in the majority of people’s lives. Ontario has Orangeville and Six Nations, where kids with sticks in hand are everywhere, but there’s also a town in British Columbia where being a lacrosse player comes with an identity, history, and so much more.
Of course, I’m referring to the town of Coquitlam. The city of roughly 140,000 inhabitants has made lacrosse its priority and it starts at a very young age. In Coquitlam, you live for the Adanacs, and you can compete in the same program from the day you pick up a stick, until it’s time to hang it up.
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What’s an Adanac? Really, it’s just Canada backwards. But, being a member of the Purple and Gold means much more than representing a mascot. It means living and breathing the culture from minors all the way to senior, box and field, around the clock. Guys aren’t trying to find a way out of Coquitlam (it’s a pretty great community in general). Instead, no matter where life takes them, they stay involved with the Adanacs in anyway possible.
“I think Coquitlam is a lot similar to what Orangeville is in the East. All the guys wouldn’t want to play anywhere else and more then anything, all the guys grow up living the game.” – Christian del Bianco
If you want to see for yourself how lacrosse is alive in Coquitlam, stop by the legendary outdoor Smith Box on any given spring or summer day. From the moment you arrive, you’ll find goalies suited up and taking heat from kids, juniors, pros…everyone. You’ll recognize faces ranging from legends like Geordie Dean and Chris Gill, to current NLL coaches like Curt Malawsky and Rob Williams, down to the current NLLers like the Cornwall brothers and Robert Church, plus so many future, current, and former stars of the game.
At this point, it’s easy for them. Great players become great coaches, pickup games are commonplace, and resources are seemingly endless. Yet, being an Adanac also means much more than receiving the best coaching the West can offer or access to great facilities. It’s like a massive fraternity and the networking goes along way inside and out of the box.
At least 20 players on this year’s NLL training camp rosters list Coquitlam as their hometown. This doesn’t include players that have competed for the Adanacs in at least some capacity. Just look at the Calgary Roughnecks preseason roster. Eight players all hail from the town, including all three of their goalies.
Coincidence? Absolutely not. Calgary is coached by Curt Malawsky, a Coquitlam native that has coached the Adanacs at just about every level. Malawsky stays glued to Smith Box, along with the minor and junior programs, constantly keeping tabs on all of the kids making way through the ranks. The Adanacs also win, a lot. At every level, the programs have raked in countless National Championships. Mintos, Manns, you name it.
“I’m not sure there’s another city around where you could say that is a regular thing. That’s what it means to live in Coquitlam and be an Adanac. Pride to wear the A. It’s a privilege.” – Jake Elliott
No matter how much I admire the Adanacs system, I will always be an outsider. I’ve been in Smith Box and all over town, but I’ll never know what it’s like to be a part of something so incredibly special. So, I reached out to a few folks that have lived and breathed Adanacs Lacrosse to clue us in to what it’s actually like to be a part of something so unique.
The Coquitlam Panel
Jake Elliott – Jumbo is the voice of the Vancouver Stealth, serving as their Play-by-Play announcer. If you’ve ever been around the game in British Columbia, Jake is the giant bald guy that seems to have an answer for anything lacrosse. I’ve learned a lot from Jake over the past few years, but aside from everything, he’s an Adanac first and foremost. He’s played the strong majority of his career there, field and box, and has gone as far to tattoo the logo on his calf. Want to see him smile? Go to an Adanacs game and wait for them to win something.
Garrett Ungaro – Garrett is a huge name behind the scenes in town. He currently serves as the President of Coquitlam Minor Lacrosse and Vice President of the Junior A Adanacs. He has shown me great hospitality when representing the program and has been a fantastic resource for learning what makes the town a one of a kind. When I have questions about Coquitlam, Garrett is one of the first I reach out to.
Christian del Bianco – If you don’t know him by now, you aren’t following the game close enough. The kid is Minto Cup winner, was drafted into the NLL at 18, is competing for the starting role in Calgary, and is simply known as the future of goaltending. He’s barely 20 years old, but a poster-boy for what Coquitlam can produce.
Talking Adanacs and Coquitlam Culture
What is it about Coquitlam that produces some of the game’s greatest lacrosse players?
“I think it really starts with the Minor Association in Coquitlam. It’s very progressive and always strives to push development with the kids from an early age. Some Associations under-declare teams and put them in lower tiers at young ages to try and win first. Coquitlam has a history of over-declaring, or pushing teams up to higher levels right from the Novice age group. Sometimes it’s tough for parents to understand why the Club Executive feels a .500 season in Novice at higher levels is a good result. Those same kids in Peewee, Bantam and Midget are better players and have a strong foundation. The other thing that Coquitlam has is very good coaching. We have been very lucky to have quality coaches who truly understand the fundamentals of box lacrosse and prepare our players very well. A great example of kids who came through Minor, went through Junior, won a Minto Cup in 2010 with Coquitlam are Matthew Dinsdale, Jeff/Travis Cornwall, Ben McIntosh, and Robert Church. It isn’t a coincidence that they are all together in Saskatchewan and won a NLL Champion’s Cup together.” – Garrett Ungaro
“I think Lacrosse and Coquitlam are just synonymous with each other. Growing up in Coquitlam, being an Adanac means something. It’s what you do when you grow up there. Play lacrosse. Be an Adanac. Most kids start very young, which leads to playing longer, which leads to being better. More kids you having playing the better chance to produce good players. So sheer numbers have a lot to do with it too.” – Jake Elliott
Eight players competed on the training roster for the Calgary Roughnecks alone. What makes a player out of Coquitlam marketable and appealing to NLL coaches?
“I get asked quite often why so many guys who come through Coquitlam Junior get selected as draft picks or who make NLL rosters. I think it comes down to a few things. First off, Coquitlam Junior A’s take pride in having the best coaching available at the Junior ranks in Western Canada. Our Head Coach is Hall of Fame Pat Coyle who is also the bench boss of the Colorado Mammoth. Assistant Coaches are Vancouver Stealth’s Kyle Sorensen and Colorado Mammoth Scout Jason Bishop. When you are a Junior player, having current NLL coaches running your systems and coaching you on what it takes to succeed to win, I think that is a huge factor when teams are looking at our players. They scout our Junior games and they comment on how the offense or defense are running the exact same plays/systems that their team is running. That player can drop right into an NLL team and know what he needs to do. The other factor is a culture that is built in Coquitlam on the Junior team. The Ccaches demand confidence and even after a win, if there is something that they saw that shows them a lapse in that confidence, they make sure to address it in the dressing room right after the game. I have witnessed the coaches losing their minds and ripping the team after a win because, regardless of the win, something broke that confidence.” – Garrett Ungaro
“Specifically to Calgary, Malawsky is also a Coquitlam native who has played Jr and Sr for the purple and gold and has coached at just about every level along the way. He has seen these players grow up in front of him. The man watches a lot of lacrosse and at the Jr and Minor levels, the A’s win. Everyone wants a winner. Lastly, coaching surely helps. These players are usually lucky to have some pretty great coaches as they come up.” – Jake Elliott
“Having 9 guys from any city will bring some pre existing chemistry to any team. From a player’s stand point, it just brings some familiarity and comfort to your game playing with guys you’ve known most of your life.” – Christian del Bianco
When it comes to goaltending, it seems like the town is a factory for incredible net-minders. Back to Calgary, they took three big names from the town (Del Bianco, Scigliano, Richards*) to training camp. What was special about their upbringings that make Coquitlam goalies so elite?
“I think most guys and goalies that come out of Coquitlam are a byproduct of how competitive our teams are. I think that same competitive instinct we all have will push the three of us to get better.” – Christian del Bianco
“We certainly have been blessed with some great goalies who have come from Coquitlam. I think it comes from a few different areas but the common thread is coaches who see what they have and working from the goalie out in their team systems. Del Bianco is a phenom and can tell you what type of shot any player he is playing against will use. It probably isn’t a coincidence that his coach through Minor was Pat Coyle. Pat’s son and Christian are the same age and Pat would coach that age group during his Minor years. Pat was very tough on Christian and forced Christian to do things that he wasn’t happy doing in Minor, but I think if you ask Christian today who helped shaped him into a future NLL star goalie it would be Pat. Scigliano grew up with Dinsdale, Church, McIntosh and the Cornwalls. They had great coaching every year in Minor and won Provincials almost every year as a group. Had Frankie stayed with Coquitlam Juniors, I’m pretty confident we would have won at least one more Minto Cup. T-Rich obviously has had a great NLL career and also played for Team Canada in the 2011 World Indoor Box Championships. Lacrosse in Coquitlam is cult-like and we have been lucky to produce some really great goalies in the process.” – Garrett Ungaro
If you could give advice to other programs hoping to match the Adanacs success, what would you tell them?
“It’s an over-used term, but really grassroots is the area I believe the strength comes from. Teach the kids the fundamentals properly and don’t get hung up on winning records. USBOXLA Coach’s Matt Brown and Shaydon Santos are perfect examples of embracing this. They bring teams to our annual Trevor Wingrove Tournament in Coquitlam each year at every level, plus they bring U18 kids to play a series of exhibition games against our Intermediate “A” teams in the area. These teams used to get wiped out with huge blowout losses, but they never focused the team on the loss or the score. They always told the kids look at what you did, you just played against some of the top Canadian box programs. Learn from it and we’ll get better. This past year, one of the USBOXLA Minor teams challenged for a Bronze medal and the U18 team ended up winning some games against some top programs up here. Next year, I bet one of the USBOXLA teams medals in our tournament. Coach Brown and Coach Santos know the formula and are doing the right things. Top level coaching and exposing players to the highest level of competition early.” – Garrett Ungaro
Why do you think a team like Calgary was so aggressive when pursuing guys from Coquitlam?
“Like I said above, I honestly believe it comes down to Coaching and the program we are running. Obviously, Curt Malawsky lives in the area and comes to most of our Home Games to scout players in the Junior A league. He’s always asking our Coaches about our players and other team’s players. We’ve had tremendous success since 2009 and having players who have played their entire Junior career with Coquitlam and have gone to consecutive Minto Cup finals, you get to see those players develop far more than players who don’t have that same experience. A player like Tyler Pace has been to three Minto Cups and won one in 2016. He had the team on his shoulders as the Captain in 2016 and battled through injuries and a tough Ontario squad. That experience is what NLL teams value so much. I also think the proximity is a huge factor. Commuting from the West Coast to the East is a killer so getting players who are a 1 hour flight away is pretty key also.” – Garrett Ungaro
Thanks to Jake, Garrett, and Christian for their reflections of Coquitlam Lacrosse. We’ll be dropping back in with more past and present Adanacs for more tales from the Coq in the future!
*Tyler Richards was released from the Calgary Roughnecks Active Roster on 11/17