For Queen and Lax – Continued
As we last left off in Part 1, Team England box lacrosse program had just finished 5th at the 2011 world championships in Prague, Czech Republic. Upon returning home there was a reignited interest amongst the players to attempt to bring more legitimacy to box lacrosse within the UK.
Not for the Faint of Heart
Coming home from Prague, having just finished 5th in the world, management and players alike wanted to come up with something to boost the program’s image and build some momentum for popularity in the sport. As anyone would agree, there’s no better way of doing that than a fifty shades of lax photo shoot with chains and sunglasses. It was an “all or nothing” push for notoriety in the UK for member Andy Downing and as teammate, John Beadle, is clearly trying to convey in the photo, the program was committed to “unleash the beast.” (The beast, one would hope, being the sport of box lacrosse in the UK and notBeadle himself, who is in fact, a beast.)
Now as good as it is to be able to laugh at yourself, the fact remains that an effort was being made not seen by the program before. Guys were taking an invested interest in the success of the program beyond it’s founders, Jamie Tasko and Peter Dunits. UK native and team member, Joe Darkins, joined the ranks of management in Prague and while managing the London Knights, he knew it was important for grass roots members to help make it a success for the next World’s in Syracuse and beyond. Former Captain, Alan Keeley, established the country’s first ever Box Lacrosse tournament, the Tasko Cup.
Interest was growing and players were getting involved. It was heartening to see that the importance of the program was reaching UK born players. Players like Darkins & Keeley wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves and ensure the lasting success of box lacrosse in England. The Canadian founders, who did it all for the love of the game, were now able to take a small step back and watch as their idea began to grow roots.
England Box – The Tasko Cup
With 3 years having passed since the last worlds and the Hrebesky tournament in Prague only happening once a year, guys weren’t getting their fix of the box lacrosse game. Enter Allan Keeley and his idea of seeing the UK host a tournament of their own. With the desire to run a league in England since 2007, due to the lack of infrastructure, players had to travel to Slovakia and the Czech Republic for the ELL (European Lacrosse League) to get their taste.
It wasn’t until 2013 when a rink built for roller hockey became available and Keeley took the opportunity to get something started. Knowing the game still wasn’t large enough for a league he determined the best way was to run a tournament. “I called it The Tasko cup because JT was the one who originally invited me to play for the Knights and he was, in my mind, the godfather of Box lax in England; he was also moving back to Canada.” Czech Republic’s, LCC Radotin, the best club box team in Europe accepted an invitation to play and right away raised the profile of the tournament. They also delivered England’s first set of legit box goals and shot clocks to help the game after the tournament was over. There have been two tournaments so far but unfortunately the rink went out of business and the Tasko Cup has had to take a break.
Fortunately, a new arena has been located and another Tasko Cup is right around the corner. The tournament raised the profile of the game in the UK. Teams like the Heaton Hornets and Gin & Juice appeared from the North while Dreadlax Box Lacrosse appeared in the South, regularly touring Europe for the next box tournament. Most recently there has been a drive to create an entire league in the North to further strengthen the skill and popularity of box lacrosse in the UK. Whatever ends up happening, the game was proving to have finally come a long way from that small pub in London almost a decade ago.
Our Greatest Defeat
As things were starting to move forward for the English program, tragedy struck the lacrosse community on both sides of the pond. With the world championships in Syracuse right around the corner and preparations well on their way, the England Box Lacrosse team lost not only their head coach but a pillar in the lacrosse community. After a 4-year battle with cancer, friend and hall of fame coach, Chris Hall, passed away on December 21st, 2014 at the age of 64.
You will never meet a member of this team who has anything but the kindest words to say about our coach, Chris Hall. The man was a legend.
He’s 3rd all time in NLL wins (85), 4th all time in playoff wins (11), and only the second coach to win a title with two different teams (Stealth, Roughnecks); Chris was more than just his accomplishments. A long-time friend of founder Jamie Tasko, he stepped into the head coaching role of an unproven program without question and brought it success. He was a mentor to everyone he encountered, full of stories and experiences most couldn’t have in a lifetime. You can’t help but admire the man for his seemingly endless knowledge of the game. A coach like Chris will never be replaced in the English program. He was the teams first coach and whether we were in a battle against the rival Czech’s or getting wiped by Canada, he didn’t stop coaching and made sure we didn’t stop playing. It’s only fitting that even in death, ‘CH’s’ lasting mark on England Box Lacrosse would influence the decisions made for the future of the program.
Onondaga Nation & The Creators Game
In 2015, lacrosse returned home. The Native American community of Onondaga Nation invited the world to play their game, on their land. It was the first time a world championship of any sport had been hosted by an Indigenous community. The boys in red, forced to move on without the only coach they ever had, found solace in the fact that another decorated and experienced coach decided to take the role and continue Chris Hall’s legacy. Mike Hasen, (a man who will, without a doubt, finish his career with more rings than fingers) signed on with his Rochester Knighthawks staff, Pat O’Toole and Chris Driscoll. With the knowledge those three had to impart, it was a no brainer to ask them to lead the team.
England wanted to return to the tournament and reclaim their 4th place world ranking or break bones trying. Fate chose the latter. (Beadle unleashed the beast too much and blew his knee out, while I retain the fact that I was gooned by an Aussie in pre-tournament action which caused me to play the tournament on a busted ankle but I’m not bitter…). With the likes of Andrew Suitor gone from the team to recover from knee surgery, the only pro on the roster was Toronto Rock stand out goaltender, Nick Rose. This guy earned every save he made and there was a lot of them.
With Tasko earning a long overdue Captaincy nod, he led a team boasting a crew of new and returning Canadian born talent, some destined for the NLL, as well as a very eager and talented group of UK born players excited to show just how far along they came since their first appearance in 2007. With a new schedule format for the tournament, England found themselves playing against all the worlds best in the round robin.
Playing tight games against Iroquois and Canada until about the 5th minute of each game, it was the game against the USA that caught the attention of the tournament. Having dropped a nail biter to the Czechs the game before England had no choice but to do everything they could to beat the Americans.
They gave USA a game they didn’t expect. Keeping it tight all game, with “Rosie” coming up huge shot after shot, England provided the fans with a back and forth affair that rivaled the excitement of a game between the big three (Canada, Iroquois, USA). Eventually the Americans managed to slip away but not without England earning their respect. USA thought they would roll over England and instead England dropped the game 13-9; our best result against USA in tournament history.
Unfortunately, having dropped all round robin games, Team England was unable to compete for bronze and had to beat the Australians to play a positional game against growing program Ireland to retain 5 th in the world. The guys managed to win both games and the tournament ended but not without showing a lot more about the world of Box Lacrosse beyond North America.
Changing of the Guard – What’s Next?
The game of box lacrosse has spread all over Europe in the past decade and the strength of competition continues to grow. Israel, being the youngest team in the community, is the top ranked “European” team, Czech Republic boasts the largest box program outside of Canada and by far the best tournament in the world. England is doing it’s best to remain ahead of the curb and keep bringing in success.
With the first European Box Lacrosse Championships coming this July in Finland, Tasko, Dunits and Darkins have taken a step back for Dave Cluney (member since 2007) and Jon Arthur (member since 2015) to take over management and build a team prepped for Gold. With an experienced coaching staff including long time friend and protégé of Chris Hall, ex-NLL coach Walt Christianson; accompanied by a very long list of experience and accomplishments himself. Assisting him will be UK resident, ex-pat and former Victoria Shamrock and NLL talent, Brian Potter running things on the floor leading up to the tournament.
It took a long time to get to from a pub in North London to the prominent organization that claims 5th in the world and 2nd in Europe. We tip our hats to the men that made it happen and the players that will continue to keep it going. They put the game ahead of themselves and it spawned success on the international level. As co-founder Peter Dunits said when discussing where it all began, “the rest is history.”
The team is primed for a successful run at gold but not without the efforts of everyone behind the scenes working on making sure we can get to Finland.
If you would like to be involved in the future success of the program you can find us on Twitter or Instagram at @englandboxlax – we have packages available that we’d love to talk about!
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