For Mark Cockerton, finding consistency in his professional career has been elusive. While looking at his resume as a whole, it seems to include nearly every accolade you could think of. But in one of the most turbulent offseason professional lacrosse has ever seen, he is in a spot where he can thrive, and is looking to turn that into an MLL Championship this weekend.
Cockerton’s interest in lacrosse came honestly and through a means seen often in the sport: his father. Stan Cockerton was multi-year All-American, part of the first ever Canadian field lacrosse world championship team, and is the reason the world indoor championship trophy is named the “Cockerton Cup”. To say he is heavily involved in the sport would be an understatement. This is why Mark started playing lacrosse, specifically box, at the ripe age of four years old before graduating to field at 10.
For Mark Cockerton, his road to the professional ranks started modestly by just playing for his local team in both field and box. Things really picked up as he made the Canadian U19 field team in 2008 as a 17 year old, and was on the club circuit in recruiting tournaments with Edge Lacrosse. All this culminated in a No. 3 recruiting rank for his class, behind Nicky Galasso and Tom Schreiber, making him the No. 2 attackman.
Once at UVA, he joined a pretty loaded team, but was still finding some time in the starting lineup as a freshman. UVA is also where he had his first major setback. Early in fall ball, he had an injury that required surgery. He missed the rest of fall and all of the preseason, getting cleared the same week as their first game. But that year would end with a truly great ending: an NCAA Championship.
From there, he played midfield for his sophomore season before moving back to attack for his final two college season. While all this NCAA play was going on, he still found time to get back inside the box in the summer, playing with the Whitby Warriors en route to a Minto Cup. This was a big reason why the beginning of his professional career was slanted heavily in one direction.
When Mark Cockerton graduated college, the predominant thought was box players had less value since the were likely to choose the NLL over the MLL. This set him up as a first round draft pick by the New England Black Wolves of the NLL, but a 7th round, 56th overall pick by the Rochester Rattlers. But his NLL career has developed into only two seasons with considerable playing time. In outdoor, he saw plenty of time in his rookie season in Rochester, leading the team in goals despite only playing in nine games, and even helped them to a championship appearance.
But his NLL commitments made his sophomore season a tougher second act, and he played in only three games before winding up on the Ohio Machine, where he would appear in two championship games, winning one. But despite strong production for a championship team, he still didn’t quite have the best fit with a midfield heavy group. When his 2018 season started a little slow, he was traded to Boston where he now calls his lacrosse home.
His arrival in Boston made it clear he was an instant fit and was able to fulfill a role that they desperately needed: a true finisher. Despite only playing seven games with them, he was just five goals short of leading the team. He had the best shooting percentage of any offensive player.
But 2018 wasn’t all great for Cockerton. It was also when he was part of the Team Canada group that lost the gold medal game to USA in heartbreaking fashion. But since we are currently on the heels of another dominant Canadian performance at the world indoors, where they haven’t lost a game, it seems worth asking how important is the field gold medal to him and his fellow Canadian lacrosse players. “With field, it’s possibly even bigger because it’s always a battle with the US. It’s a lot more competitive. We want to prove to the rest of the world that we’re the best country in both versions. I think in some ways it might be more important than the box championship.”
The summer of 2018 also led to another major decision point: the PLL. As Paul Rabil was luring players over to the upstart Premier Lacrosse League, it put some players in a tough spot. For some, the decision was easy to move from the MLL to the PLL and they haven’t looked back. But Cockerton was one of the players with the option in front of him that chose to stay in the MLL.
“It was an easy choice for me. Building the camaraderie with the players and coaches, the front office…you can’t ask for much more than that. They treat you the way a professional should be treated. For me personally, it was the right choice.”
And this underscores two big themes for pro lacrosse this summer. One is that every player had their own set of reasons for making the decision they did. The other is the importance of the team. The four MLL teams left standing and squaring off in Denver for a championship this weekend are also the four that kept the most players from a year ago. Even New York loading up with talent was not able to gain any traction this season. Over in the PLL, the two final teams left standing had the most established identities as Maryland and Notre Dame alums.
Mark Cockerton will now have to lead his Cannons against the defending champion Outlaws in Denver for a chance to win the MLL championship right afterwards. Out of the four teams left standing, truly any one of them could win. It will come down to who shows up to play, and who can really play as a team. Despite Cockerton have a career year in terms of point production, that is secondary to helping his team reach their full potential. He is playing for the city he wants to play for on the team he wants to play for. He has found his fit and would love to be hoisting a trophy when it’s all over. Or, as he says: “All four teams can win. But with one and done, it’s going to be tough. But, why not us?”