What Happens In Vegas: Box Lacrosse Style

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Sin City Box Classic las vegas box lacrosse
Photo: Mason Wright / Sin City Box Classic

I have a system. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s my system for now. I work a lot in the Winter, and I don’t work a lick during the summer. This year I was fortunate enough to be able to get the time off from both of my full time gigs to get on down to arguably the worst/best/worst place in the world, Las Vegas, for the 4th annual Sin City Box Classic.

Egregious work weeks at a ski resort in Park City, Utah keep me chained down until April, when I’m free to chase lacrosse around the world. While skiing at a world class resort is a wonderful perk that comes along with my employment, I start to miss lacrosse in the worst way.

I was able to make it two years ago, back when the SCBC was in it’s infancy with only 3 teams. Since then, Vegas’ premier box lacrosse event has enjoyed a venue change, a healthy 333% boost in teams in attendance, and a qualitative boost in the quality of team it attracts.

Making Moves

Believe it or not, I actually despise working. So when tournament organizer/good buddy Nick Peterson told me what was in store for this year’s event, I took the time off and booked a flight as soon as possible… and by as soon as possible I mean after wheeling and dealing trying to get the time off from both jobs and once I was able to find a respectably priced flight down to the City of Sin for three days.

I caught the first flight to Vegas on Friday morning, leaving Salt Lake City at 6:00am MST. The flight is all of 56 minutes direct to Las Vegas, but as with all short hop flights, I managed to pass out on the runway before takeoff and slept until wheels touched down in Vegas. Per usual, I had the irrational moment of panic that the plane was in the process of crashing and I had a good solid heart attack for breakfast.

Once I picked up my gear from baggage, I took a seat in my favorite little nook of McCarran International, where I’ve taken naps and waited during layovers before. The group chat started dinging and I had a teammate landing in thirty or so minutes, so I did as I do, and took another nap on the floor of McCarran International. Sprawled out with my head on my bag, hat over my eyes, and my hoodie covering me as a blanket, I caught an amazing forty-five minute nap.

Kicked Into Gear

Two kicks to the side of my gear bag quickly had me panicking and looking for shelter from whatever new Trump enemy was bombarding the McCarran International Airport baggage claim. My hat fell off my face and I looked up to see a familiar face smiling at me. I’ve been on several teams with Chris Kempton, and played against him in a couple games as well. A familiar face was a welcome sight. He scraped my carcass off the floor and we took a car into the city.

We met up with Jon Harris and Dirk Pohlmann for breakfast at the Stratosphere Casino/hotel. Dirk came from Germany for the tournament, arguably the furthest trek to play that I’m aware of. Jon, Dirk and I had played on the Menschner Men team for the inaugural Mencshner Cup in Prague this past September, and Jon and I played together for the Parker Rangers in this fall’s first ever series of the RBLL in Colorado. We were also joined by Desmond Bailey, our goalie. Des is the goalie for the CILL’s Chicago Outlaws, and ended up playing lights out for us.

Des Bailey vs. Las Vegas

The five of us sat down and crushed pancakes in a dimly lit, depressing casino diner, as you do. We had a ton of time to kill still, so we promptly headed to the tables and lost unspecified amounts of money. It wasn’t an egregious amount of cash, but it was enough losing and enough not-winning that it turned me off from the gambling the rest of my trip/life.

Desmond came to the realization that his backpack, with all of his clothes, was no longer with him. After we returned to the scene of the pancakes and confirmed that the bag had never been with him, he deduced that his bag was still in the car that dropped him off. He made a call, the woman said she’d bring it back in a little bit. While he waited, Des nailed a $55 slot machine, thus becoming the only one of us who won any money that day. I figure that leaving his bag in the car and winning money came out to be a tie of 1-1 Vegas vs. Desmond.

As we carried our bags out of the casino, Des’ goalie bag knocked over a large trash can filled with cigarette butts and ash. The thunderous boom attracted minor attention from the zombies at the slot machines, but I figure that put Desmond out to a slight 2-1 advantage over Vegas… because it was easily the funniest thing I had seen in quite a while. Having said that, we were in Vegas and the title of ‘funniest thing I’ve seen in a while’ was a bar that was to be set higher and higher in the coming 72 hours.

Home, Sweet Home

We took a car to the rink. It was raining. It was overcast and it wasn’t especially warm. Culturally, I think my Hawaiian t-shirt fit right in. However, as is tradition, I neglect to look at the weather report for the weekend. Stepping out of the car into the cool rain, the sight of the event was less than desirable from the exterior. We were surrounded by run down businesses and shuttered up windows. On our left was an “Alcoholics Together” establishment that sharing the building with an outpatient drug rehab shop.

Aesthetically speaking, we looked like we were in a dumpy strip mall in a dumpy part of town. However, there’s a neat little feeling when you walk into a rink for the first time. I remember feeling the same when I walked into the new Pavilion on the Onondaga Reservation. The first time I walked into the Essex Skating Rink when I played for Vermont. And don’t even get me started on approaching the box at Radotin for the first time.

This place wasn’t beautiful. But you could tell it was perfect for Vegas. Scuffed up glass and holes in the ceiling dictated that this old barn had seen war. The Calgary Gunmen were warming up on one end. The Total Lacrosse guys out of LA were warming up on the other. We (Sin City LC) were the third team in the group, so we wanted to catch this first game.

Let the Games Begin

Having three teams coming to Vegas from Canada is a treat all itself. Wanting to play box lacrosse is a step in the right direction in and of itself. Yet, unless your playing with guys who know what they’re doing against guys who really know what they’re doing, it’s just lacrosse with different sized goals/goalies. To have not one, not two, but three teams spread across the field gave every team a healthy dose of what box is supposed to look like.

This is by no means to disparage the American teams there. It’s good for the most skilled team to see how an actual crew of Canadian box players carries themselves on the floor.

Suicide Squad Sin City Box Classic las vegas box lacrosseTruth be told, the first day of games didn’t feature anything really worth writing home about. The parity between the top of the field and the bottom is quite the gap. It was a healthy warmup for the better teams and I hope those on the losing end learned something and took away some box education.

Day Turns Night

Day one went pretty predictably. Night number one was a little less so. We started out at a place I’d been before called the Gold Spike. There’s a giant outdoor backyard area for playing games like foursquare, ping-pong, and all sorts of other games. I’m not much of a fan of drinking games. I am a fan of having a beer whilst playing games. It was a little cold this particular evening, so we didn’t stay long. I do have a couple regrets this weekend. Chiefly I regret not being able to play foursquare as a grown adult until three am.

We went on a bit of a tour of the “old strip” that first night. We stopped in at a neat little establishment with a very small front end, that opened up into a larger back room playing bizarre music videos reminiscent of that stretch of time in the eighties where everyone was trying to make a stranger music video than the next guy. As long as you didn’t stare at the screens for too long, you were fine.

We were picked up by a party bus after a couple more strange-and-getting-stranger bars. The final stop was a prestigious and esteemed venue by the name of Sapphire, where the tournament had arranged free entry as well as a limited complimentary bar tab. To surmise the experience and to leave the rest to imagination I’ll simply say that it was arguably the hardest I’ve laughed and certainly some of the most fun I’ve had in Vegas all time.

Sunset, Sunrise

The following day is when the lacrosse got tight. The collision course for competitive group play games began in the early afternoon with the Airdrie Mohawks giving it their all against the three-peat champion Cali Bucs. Canadian box lacrosse was toppled by limitless scoring power from the Bucs, but the first solid game of the tournament had been played, and it was all instant-classics from there.

We were up next. Our Sin City LC would take on the Calgary Gunmen out of Alberta. We had an equal number of Canadians on our team as we did have Germans (1). I was pretty much counting this as a test of Americans against a Senior B/C team born and raised playing box. We did have three native dudes from Onondaga playing with us. In addition to our Canadian, and Kyle Baker, our most experienced American, the five made our primary offense.

We played an awesome game. The Gunmen played an awesome game. Ricky Popplestone is a long time Megamen player I’ve known for years of playing in the Ales Hrebesky Memorial. Instead of playing with the Lasersharks in Vegas he opted to play for the hometown boys for once. It was pretty fun getting a chance to really bang around with these guys. There were three lead changes that I can think of, with an awesome finish of 7-6 at full time. This was the first one-goal game of the tournament, but the Sin City Squad would have plenty more barn burners coming up soon.

Pool’s Closed

The last great pool game with playoff implications featured the Lasersharks and the Corn Crackers of the Langley, BC, area. Back and forth action up and down the floor led to dozens of close range shots. But lights-out goaltending on both ends of the floor kept the 42 minute game to just 10 goals. At the final buzzer, the Lasersharks took 6 of those scores to the Corn’s 4. Those two teams would advance out of that “A” pool. I was pretty sure (and correct) that both teams would advance to the playoffs later that day.

Suicide Squad Sin City Box Classic las vegas box lacrosseThis isn’t to say there weren’t other good games being played. I was actually quite impressed with the Washington Wolves team. Some of those guys were pretty good box players and there really was a cohesive team unit from what I saw. I was also glad to see the Brooklyn Dodgers out on the road in Vegas. It’s good to see teams develop into an actual club. To me an actual club is an organization that is strong enough to travel. Sure, I don’t believe the Dodgers enjoyed all the same strengths they did at the LASNAI tournament in October. What matters is they’re competitive and earn their goals as a team.

We believed the stage was set for playoffs, with Sin City playing the Corn Crackers in semifinal number one and the Bucs seeing the Lasersharks on the other side of the bracket. We went home to take a crucial nap between games, thinking we were on at 8.

Back to the Box

Once again woken up to frightful alarm, someone in the house was yelling that our game time had been changed to an hour earlier. It was time for the boys to rally and move out. I’m still not sure exactly what happened as far as the reseeding edit. In some shocking scenario where a lacrosse player did some incorrect mathematics, there was an error. When properly adjusted, the playoffs pitted the Sin City LC boys against the reigning champion Cali Bucs. The matching semifinal would give the Corn Crackers another shot against the UncommonFit Lasersharks that had just dealt them a loss.

If I was a gambling man in a gambling town, looking at the field I might have bet on the safe repeat of another Lasershark win, as well as I’d probably bet against the Sin City LC when seeing them matched up against the returning champions who’ve been pouring on goals against every team they’d met so far in the tournament.

Why Brian Doesn’t Bet

A) I would’ve lost my shorts betting on my Packers to beat Atlanta.
B) My two-way parlay of a Cali Buc/Lasershark Championship rematch from last year would’ve been a double flop.

Our earlier than expected matchup with the Cali Bucs proved to be one for the ages. We (Sin City) were behind for the majority of the game, only taking the lead late in the third period. A heated contest was highlighted by tons of penalties resulting in powerplays for both teams. A couple of absolutely deserved ejections for absolutely unnecessary conduct changed up strategies for both teams, but the game ended as every game should with the winner and the loser shaking hands like men.

A 7-5 Sin City lead was cut to 7-6 with roughly a minute remaining, with an excellent opportunity to tie it up being stopped short by Desmond with less than thirty remaining. I won’t forget this one anytime soon.

Corn Ballers

In an awesome back and forth contest, the Corn Crackers came back from an early deficit that had many thinking it was over before the end of the second. Taking advantage of some big time power plays the BC boys flipped a switch. Stinging a couple off angle corners elevated the Crackers to a one goal win, sending them to the finals.

Sin City Box ClassicWith nothing against my friends the Lasersharks, I was not-so-secretly hoping for a Corn Cracker win. Even less so a secret now. Once we had signed our ticket to the final, I wanted to see a Canadian opponent for the Kings Cup. The Lasersharks deserved to be there just as much, and it would’ve been a great game to be sure, but you only get so many opportunities to play against guys from BC, an area synonymous with top notch box lacrosse.

Pre-Celebration Celebration

Before we could be champions on the floor, we had a night to preemptively celebrate like ones at Marquee nightclub. I don’t like clubs. Clubs aren’t for guys who like sleeping on the floor of McCarran International Airport’s baggage terminal. While I don’t like clubs, I do like the guys I was playing with, and so I put on shiny shoes and the shirt I wore the night prior, and away to the club we went.

As far as clubs go, this one was pretty fun, but I/we most certainly did not belong. The place was nice, the crowd was slightly older and thus wealthier. Drink prices were extravagant, and when I don’t like the price, water sounds just fine to me. As part of the tournament, Nick arranges all the table reservations and all that bottle service stuff for the teams who want to attend the tournament sponsored event. Some teams did their own thing. Some guys just sat at tables and gambled. That’s Vegas. Do whatever you want.

More Regret

My second biggest regret came at this nightclub. There was a pristine swimming pool just next to our table that was beginning to run out of alcohol. I wanted nothing more than to jump in that pool. My body hurt from playing, and thus I was tired. I figured if I swam to the middle, none of the bouncers in their monkey suits would come in after me for quite a bit. When I asked the server what happens to people who jump in, she simply said they give you a towel and kick you out. The kicking out I expected. It was shocking that you aren’t arrested… but a towel to boot? It was getting more and more tempting.

We left before I was able to take the plunge, which is probably for the best. The decision was made to just walk around the strip into the wee hours of the morning. Sin City had earned a spot in the championship, and thus didn’t play until the mucho amazing time of 3pm on Sunday.

Superbox Sunday

Waking up was no easy chore, but we strolled into the rink at a respectable noonish hour to catch a majority of the placement games. More notably, an awesome game between the Airdrie Mohawks and the Washington Wolves proved to be one of the better contests of the day. Neither team was discouraged into that typical “Sunday of a summer lacrosse tournament” attitude which plagues tournaments. Both teams came to battle, and I loved it. The Brooklyn Dodgers stood up to the Calgary Gunmen, but overwhelming box lacrosse experience proved too much for the ever-improving Dodgers.

As far as actual clubs go, the Lasersharks and the Dodgers have been two of the better traveled teams over the past two years, and I just want to give a shout out to these boys. One of my longer-term dreams would be to found and operate a club that would be able to travel with a core group like these clubs are able to. Keep it up.

Laser Sharks Las Vegas fans Sin City Box ClassicThere was only one game that went into overtime the whole tournament. As the universe would have it, that game would be the championship game between the Corn Crackers and the Sin City LC.

The Grand Finale

The Corn Crackers opened up with a pretty simple goal roughly a minute into the game, and I’ll admit I had an “oh shit, here we go” moment. However, we pulled it together as a squad and put the next four in the back of the net. At the first buzzer we were up 4-1 and the momentum was with us all the way.

I believe we coughed up the next two, and if I’m not mistaken the score after two was 4-3. Our side went on to let up the next three as well, making it a dismal 6-4 for the Corn. Pulling off the improbable two goals with roughly two minutes remaining, we were off to the single greatest place in sport: overtime.

We had the first opportunity. The Corn had the next. I believe we had a botched clear, followed up by a tremendous save and an opportunity for a transition goal, only to be turned away by the amazing goaltender that the BC boys had brought to the City of Sin. When the Corn Crackers marched on down the floor, it would be for the last time. Despite making two saves in that final stand, the third opportunity was the charm for the Corn Crackers. A perfect passing pattern that moved laterally back and forth across the floor opened up a righty shooter. Guess what? The son of a gun promptly placed the ball off the short glove side.

That’s It, That’s All

Game over. Tournament set. The Corn Crackers are now the only team alongside the Cali Bucs on the Kings Cup.

We shook hands. We took pictures. Contacts were exchanged and we said our thanks and goodbyes. I met up with Bruce Pirie, Ricky Popps, and a number of the other guys. Of the hundreds of ways there are to say goodbye, my favorite farewell is apt for this particular pack of guys.

This lucky few, we get to say goodbye with the phrase “see you in Prague!” It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up from time to time. I’ll see you on the other side of the world for this crazy sport because you’re as crazy about it as I am, and I guess that means we’re not so crazy if there’s more of us.

Speaking of Crazy…

A certain member of the team had been on Tinder the night previous. For those of us not aware what Tinder is (Hi Dad!), Tinder is an application on your phone where boys and girls can thumbs up, or down, potential suitors, and if both parties give each other the thumbs up, they can communicate, and subsequently meet up in the real world… for coffee.

Anyways, this guy on our team had been talking to this Tinder girl, and low and behold, she showed up to watch our game. While that’s not all that riveting, this girl also drove three of us back to the house, saving us cab fare. This is hysterical and obviously should be pursued as a new and cheaper mode of transportation. It got even better when she agreed to drive us back to the airport. Especially when she wasn’t my Tinder date and most certainly wasn’t my co-traveller Chris’.

After having a hearty chuckle at how comically fitting this last chapter in the Vegas story had gone, we headed into the airport only to find that pretty much everything was delayed because some monster rainstorm had pounded LA. Our flights were all delayed by hours, and it was once again time to retire on the floor of the McCarran International Airport.

My flight ended up getting into Salt Lake after two in the morning, only to find that my bag had not made the trek. 7 am was going to come quickly. Wouldn’t you know it? Brian was on the work schedule to be present, bright-eyed and bushy tailed.

Another Great Story

Thinking back on last weekend, I didn’t like every second of it. There were frustrations. There were complications and setbacks and irritating moments. That said, I loved it. You can’t love scoring goals and winning and not love the costs your body and wallet pay to get you there. You can’t love the story if the story is just “yeah we went to Vegas and we played and we won and we went home”.

That’s a terrible story. Great stories have problems. Great stories have people laughing at your expense. The greatest stories have you laughing in the end when you stand over all the shit that tried to get in your way. One’s where you can point, laugh and say…

“Ha! You might have all my money, my body broken, images in my mind I can’t un-see, and have given me a championship loss in overtime, but dammit, Vegas… I WIN!”

Time has expired countless times in games where my team has less goals than the opposition. Some people call that losing. By definition, I guess they’re right. But as long as we keep playing. As long as I’m able to keep coming to awesome events like the Sin City Box Classic in Vegas, I am so far from losing. So very far. We can’t lose.