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The Shining Light Of US Box Lacrosse: Vermont Voyageurs

Few people are aware that the Vermont Voyageurs are holding training camp this weekend. Only a few more people even know who the Vermont Voyageurs are, but I’m hoping that this lack of knowledge fades, because these guys represent the future of US box lacrosse.

The Voyageurs are entering their seventh year of existence, and they play real box lacrosse against teams in Canada. Their senior team plays in the QSLL (Quebec Senior Lacrosse League) and they open up this season on May 17th against the Ottawa Axemen, at their home arena in Vermont. I still don’t know what real box lacrosse is exactly, but I do know that Vermont plays it.

vermont voyageurs

The team has had a number of American field players transition to the box game and see success, and the Voyageurs are really excited to see what former Merrimack (NCAA D2) star Greg Rogowski can do this year. Rogo is the all-time leading scorer for Vermont, and when paired with Ryan Hotaling (RIT  – NCAA D3) and Ethan Farrell (Lynchburg – NCAA D3), the trio could form a dangerous connection.

Defensively, Vermont utilizes athletic guys who want to learn and play blue collar lacrosse. A couple of current and former UMass players have played, or are playing, for Vermont and the Minutemen seem to represent the kind of hard-nosed player that will succeed in box lacrosse. Numerous Voyageur players have seen time in the Bowhunter Cup, including goalie and Salisbury (NCAA D3) grad, Joe Evans.

Now, back to the title of this post, and the reason I call the Voyageurs the “shining light of US box lacrosse”. I do this for a couple of reasons:

1) They have been around for seven years, are in it for the long haul, and show no signs of stopping or making excuses. It’s not about making money today, or even tomorrow. It’s about growing a legitimate program, and that takes time. The Vermont program has a history of success and longevity that no other group can boast.

2) They have an owner/operator who is dedicated, loves lacrosse, and knows how to manage a budget. I have been incredibly impressed with Jeff Culkin, his perspective, and his thought process. He’s a keeper, and the game of box lacrosse is lucky to have him.

3) They find the right guys, not the big name guys. Jeff McLaren is a perfect example of this phenomenon. McLaren played football at URI, transferred to D3 Wesleyan, picked up lacrosse as a sophomore, and has been hooked ever since. He is not a big name guy, comes from Vermont, and is a doctor. He also hits like a truck, plays hard nosed lacrosse, and can score on a breakaway. He wouldn’t be given a shot by other teams or leagues, but in Vermont he’s a baller. He would be anywhere, but the Voyageurs gave him a shot. I’m biased because I helped teach Jeff field lacrosse, but this only informs my perspective on just how far he has come, and continues to go.

4) They function more like a club, and not a professional franchise. Who thought it was a good idea to try pro lacrosse before club lacrosse? Seriously, I want to know the answer to that. Before the MLL, the USCLA existed. Before any working pro league, club sports existed. Clubs were in Canada for over 6 decades before pro lacrosse came around. Vermont knows this, and follows the Canadian club model. It’s not genius, but when everyone else is “going pro”, it looks like genius.

5) They travel to Canada for games because they can’t consistently get them in the US. Instead of putting together clubs off field players, or playing in the PLL/NALL/USLL, Vermont made the smart choice of joining an existing league in Canada that used the same club-over-pro model. I hope the Syracuse Stingers try to do something similar, whether it’s in Canada or the US. If a US league ever really gets going, I can see Vermont being involved, but for now, they are focusing on themselves, and growing their program. Now that actually is genius.

6) Vermont is starting a Junior team. SO SMART! You want a pipeline of players? Want to see the box game grow? Want to create more potential fans and supporters of the club? Want to create potential coaching jobs? Start a Junior team! It seems like a no brainer, but it isn’t done in the US often, so I’m all for it and ready to recognize Vermont’s efforts. Look back at the top Canadian club teams… this is often how they remain so good. Smart move, and it means anyone else starting a US box lacrosse club is already playing catch up!

Now, to be fair, there is plenty of box lacrosse action going on in the US, and it is concentrated in pockets. There is some in California, Colorado, Minnesota, and a handful of other places, but what’s happening in Vermont is special in my opinion because it represents a very real model for growth, especially in the Northeastern United States. There is no reason a similar club couldn’t form in Maine, and play against Nova Scotia. New Hampshire could join the fray tomorrow location-wise. Syracuse is ripe for something to happen soon and Neal Powless seems like an excellent man to make it happen.

syracuse boston vermont box lacrosse

And once you get past those areas, large cities start to open up. Maybe you can’t be IN Boston, Philly, and NYC, but the suburbs aren’t out of reach, and neither is Long Island. Philly already has places where box is played… the potential really is there. A group from Boston and the Voyageurs both travelled to Syracuse for games with the Stingers recently. A group from NYC (which I led) did the same thing the year before. Who knows, maybe this will become something real some day…

The fact is that a pro league will not sprout up out of nowhere any time soon. If it does, it will most likely fail quickly, as others have recently. The future is in clubs who keep their costs down, who look for the players who want to do it, and not the ones who do it for the paycheck. Plenty of guys would even pay to play, and for the first number of years, that is what it will take. Then you can start helping players out here and there. But it needs to build up to that first. Vermont has the right idea, and I hope more clubs pop up that mimic their model.

This weekend, the team hosts tryouts and training camp, and they are actually still accepting walk up registrations. Tonight there is strength and speed testing (from 9pm to 11pm) and Saturday and Sunday see three more sessions, with the final one slated to be scrimmage time. A $60 walk-in registration gets you insurance, a pinnie, access to trainers, and a chance to try out for the team. Leave work now and get to Vermont!

If you’re under 21, you can still try out for Vermont’s Junior team, and tryouts are later to allow more players the opportunity to get in. Junior players can tryout on June 21st and 22nd in Vermont.

For more on the Voyageurs, head to their website and check out all they have to offer.