As Arizona continues to grow the game, some might be surprised to know that our state once has an NLL team. The success of the Arizona Sting ignited a fire for the growth of lacrosse in the state, but at the height of their achievements, the organization vanished following a suspended season in 2008.
I reached out to Bob Hamley, the former Arizona Sting head coach and GM and current GM and VP of Lacrosse Operations for the Panther City Lacrosse Club, along with former Sting forward Matt Brown (now the Denver University men’s lacrosse associate head coach) and had the duo share their experiences, memories, and perspective from their time with the Sting.
As a fan who cheered on the Sting during that time, it was interesting to learn about their last dance in 2007.
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Remembering the Arizona Sting
Arizona Sting Head Coach & General Manager Bob Hamley
Bob Hamley was a professional lacrosse player in the 90s, capturing two NLL championships with the Buffalo Bandits. His coaching career began as an assistant with the Albany Attack in 2001, and after a successful season, he was named head coach and general manager of the Columbus Landsharks in 2002. The Landsharks later transitioned into the Arizona Sting, and Hamley stayed on.
With the Sting, Hamley saw great success, earning NLL General Manager and Coach of the Year in 2005 while also leading the team to two NLL championship games. After the team ceased operations, Hamley continued to coach in the NLL and later became the Director of Box Lacrosse of Georgia and Texas Director for 3D Lacrosse. He was recently appointed as General Manager and VP of Lacrosse for the newest NLL expansion team, Panther City LC.
Back in 2002, Arizona was by no means a hotbed of lacrosse. How did you feel about the organization relocating from Columbus?
Hamley remembered when the Arizona Sting hosted their first event in Jobing.com Arena on Dec. 26, 2003.
“It was really exciting for all of us to be apart of that history,” he said.
The team was traveling back and forth, but in March 2004, some of the players stayed for about a week.
“We really got to know the landscape a bit better, and you can see lacrosse was in its infancy and there were a lot of people like your dad, Bill Casey, and others who were trying to elevate the game to the next level,” Hamley explained.
Hamley said he’s proud of the growth of lacrosse in Arizona and feels that the Sting have made an impact.
Did the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NLL and Players Association ultimately cause the Arizona Sting to fold, or were there other factors?
“At the end of the day, we had an issue with the CBA,” Hamley said.
The organization had disagreements with the CBA, which gave the owners an easy out to exit partnership with the Sting.
“We weren’t selling a lot of tickets, just like the Coyotes struggled as well,” he said. “The bloodline was the ticket sales.”
There was a great organization on the field that hoped to continue the successes they were accomplishing, ticket sales were the end game. With uncertainty after the 2007 season, the Sting folded, with their roster being disbursed after the 2008 campaign.
In your opinion, do you feel that if the Sting won the 2007 NLL championship, the team would have been able to continue in the NLL?
“I don’t think so,” Hamley explained. “I think the issues in Glendale are well documented … A lot of factors – ticket sales corporate sales, the arena deal, the Coyotes struggling as well – it all came back and bit us in the butt.”
What are some of your fondest memories from your time in Arizona coaching the Sting?
“Our success on the floor, with a lot of people you care about,” Hamley explained. “The characters we had on the team and the coaching staff, spending a lot of time together.”
The Arizona Sting had three Western Conference Finals appearances, two conference championships and two NLL championship game appearances with a lot of great guys, Hamley said.
How did your experience with the Sting help you with your lacrosse career?
“Over time, you learn from the experiences, and I look at Panther City Lacrosse Club like the Sting,” he said.
Hamley expressed that he learned from the mistakes he made in the past, grew on the smart decisions from when he was GM and coach of the Sting, and stated that they’re growing Panther City from the ground up, the same as they did in Arizona.
Fort Worth will have a special night on Dec. 10 when Panther City will play its first game.
Arizona Sting Forward Matt Brown
Matt Brown was selected No. 5 overall in the 2005 NLL Draft by the Arizona Sting, where he played in all 18 games and amassed 40 points. Brown also spent his first two summer playing for the Denver Outlaws in MLL, scoring 63 goals. He transitioned to coaching as a volunteer assistant in 2007 for the DU Pioneers. Since 2011, he’s served as an associate head coach for Denver men’s lacrosse, capturing a national championship in 2015. Brown is also one of the founders and directors for the Denver Elite Box Lacrosse Program and a founding member of USBOXLA.
What was it like transitioning from college ball to professional play in the NLL & MLL?
“There are no weak links in either game,” Brown said. “Those years developed me from a skill standpoint, but maybe more importantly, from an IQ standpoint.”
He explained that he was able to learn from some of the best players who ever played.
“It was tough and challenging but also exciting,” he said. “It really challenged you to elevate your game to new levels.”
Growing up in Western Canada, Brown said he had always dreamed of continuing his lacrosse career, especially playing in the NLL.
When drafted, what were your expectations of the Arizona Sting?
Brown said he didn’t know Hamley at the time of the pre-draft process but was familiar with some of the players and had history with the team.
“(Sting captain) Peter Lough,” Brown explained. “Peter’s dad, Dave Lough, was my coach and a wonderful role model for me growing up playing lacrosse in Burnaby. He coached the Burnaby Junior A Lakers, and some may say he was the architect of the dynasty that we had there.
“I also knew (teammate) Curt Malawsky, who was my coach in 2004 when we won a Minto Cup,” Brown added. “So I knew the character and type of leadership we would have in the locker room.”
Brown continued to express he was thrilled, because he was aware of the integrity of the program. His experience in Arizona far exceeded his expectations and cherished the opportunity to be apart of a roster like the Sting.
What’s your best memory being a part of the Arizona Sting?
The Sting won the Western Conference in 2007 and faced the Rochester Knighthawks out of the East. Arizona anticipated not having home-field advantage, but with scheduling conflicts with the Blue Cross Arena, Rochester couldn’t host, placing the game in Glendale.
“I think our run in 2007 that was definitely the best memory,” he said. “It could have been better – we didn’t play our best that championship game.”
His experience with the Arizona Sting was more than that, though.
“Overall, the greatest memory was the locker room,” Brown explained. “The people I was able to meet, some great friendships that have continued through my lifetime. It was just a hardworking, egoless group that played team lacrosse. I couldn’t have asked for a better group.”
What was the environment on and off the field?
Brown said the Sting provided him with some of the best memories of his lacrosse career.
“Egoless and connected,” he said. “Most importantly, it’s the leadership that starts from the top down. Having leaders like Bob Hamley, Peter Lough, Dan Dawson, and Brucie Codd, it was easy to follow. The culture was very welcoming.”
In your opinion. what made the Arizona Sting fold?
“At the end of the day, everything is a business,” Brown said. “I think at the time, there was uncertainty with the Arizona Coyotes that played a factor with the Arizona Sting.”
He added that the fans in Arizona helped make his time with the Sting special but also mentioned that at the time, the “odds were against them” as Glendale was underdeveloped.
“Sad to see it leave, hoping that it comes back, because as we know, Phoenix is growing,” Brown explained. “I’ll tell you what, it’s not a bad place to be playing lacrosse in the winter months.”
Were the players aware the 2007 season would be the conclusion of the Sting?
“I don’t think we did,” Brown said. “There was some rumbling about a possibility, but in 2008, we were just in pause. The Sting didn’t officially fold until after the 2008 season.”
An expansion draft in 2008 loaned out the Arizona Sting players to other organizations. Then, when the Sting officially folded, there was another draft that took place to disburse the roster.
“There was hope we would come back, but that didn’t end up happening,” Brown remembered.
The Colorado Mammoth picked up Brown for the 2008 season. He was then drafted to Portland LumberJax in 2009.
Arizona Sting Eulogy
Our state was privileged to have great people like Bob Hamley, Matt Brown, and many more from the Sting to represent Arizona lacrosse. With humble beginnings in 2003 and uncertainty of the road ahead, the Sting went on to have many successes in their four seasons of play.
A Sting game was the first-ever event held in Jobing.com Arena, and the team captured the 2005 and 2007 Western Conference championships. It was the first professional sports franchise to raise a banner in the Glendale arena.
The Sting will be remembered by their 2007 campaign, which ended in Glendale with a championship run. With fond memories of professional lacrosse, the community hopes they will one day make their return.