Editor’s Note: Our Rochester NLL Contributor Michael Cooper just wrapped up playing the North American Invitational (formerly LASNAI) where he was running his own team, the Rochester Bats. Here are his thoughts on the experience.
The NAI is one of the greatest tournaments in the world, which took place October 10th to the 12th for the men’s division, in the Onondaga Nation, just south of Syracuse, New York. I had the honor of once again putting in my tournament team, the Rochester Bats. We were one team out of the twenty four who played in the tournament which was split between the Onondaga Fieldhouse and the Onondaga Nation Arena.
With this being the second year the Bats were playing, we were looking to make a major run at the championship and immensely improve from our finish in the 2018 event (27th out of 32).
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Having our eyes on the championship, we knew we had to pick up some key guys to make that realistic. The Bats added the big guy Mike Triolo, the grinder Colton Armstrong, the tough and gritty vet Drew Candy, transition ace Adam Perroni, and the “rook” Joel Watson in the pipes.
Knowing each game would be broadcast live or streamed shortly after, each team was fired up to kick the tournament off. With our bolstered team we were beyond pumped to get off and running.
The Rochester Bats were moved up to the Gold division, meaning our first two games were going to be no walk in the park as we were facing two veteran teams that also had stacked rosters the Glasgow Clydesiders and the MegaSharks.
The Bats would come out on top of both games beating Glasgow, 4-3, at the Fieldhouse, followed by the MegaSharks 9-4 at the Arena. Going 2-0 on the day and in the division meant the boys earned a spot in the quarterfinals Friday evening against the Onondaga Fire. The winner of that game would play in the finals Saturday, and the loser would drop to the 8th vs. 5th place game and playing again late that night.
Both teams playing in the prime time slot and for the finals were pumped to go head to head in front of a packed crowd at the Fieldhouse.
Out of the locker room immediately burst Candy screaming his pre-game ritual, signifying the intensity that the game was going to have. The entire game was old school, real box lacrosse, with big hits, a ton of chirps, a goalie battle, and just a plain flat out war. With the score 3-2 in favor of the hometown Onondaga team at half, this was going to be no easy task for either team to win. But prior to half, the tensions rose as our goalie Watson was being chirped on his way to the bench. This led to a few pushing matches between myself and Colton Armstrong from the Bats, and the Fire’s Brian Phillips and Leland Powless. This eventually led to Powless ripping off the bucket of Kroy Arnold as he swung at him away from the initial scrum. Leland was tossed from the game. Back in the game though, Rochester and Onondaga each scored one goal in the final half to give Onondaga the 3-2 victory and sent us to the last game of the night that took place three hours later against the Akwesasne Bucks, the Can Am champions.
The Bats would battle but would fall short in the late game losing 4-7 to the Bucks, as the boys were flat out exhausted after the battle just hours earlier. The loss moved the Bats to play the Seneca Marksmen for the 7th place game on the final day.
The team was very upset with the loss to Onondaga still lingering, and wanted to go out with a win over the Marksmen. The Bats would get off to a 3-0 lead, and hang on to win 4-2, with the Marksmen grabbing a goal with just 3 seconds left. With this win the Bats finished 7th place out of the 24 teams in the tournament. A big jump for the team who placed 20 spots back just a year prior.
Mike Triolo led the Bats in scoring, with Colton Armstrong coming in second, and Tom Ribarich in third. But, most importantly, shout out to the keeps Joel Watson and Carson John who stood on their heads and were absolutely phenomenal the entire tournament!
The boys are already chomping at the bit to get back to NAI 2020 with many already reaching out to jump on this already massive line up! See you next year NAI!
Special shout out to co-organizers Connor Wilson and Scott Neiss, who put on an absolutely amazing tournament that is first class and the best! Truly hats off to those two beauties!