Spring is starting to bloom and for a group of athletes that means it’s time to put the skates away and grab a lacrosse stick.
The Thunder Bay Lacrosse League is gearing up for their new season and has started holding evaluations and clinics at the Grandview Arena this week.
Interest in participation in the sport has been growing over the past decade, and president George Elvish says the league has nearly 300 members, ranging from three to 21 years old.
“It’s such a great sport,” Elvish said on Saturday. “It’s a lot of fun to play and a lot of fun to watch. It’s a nice change from the nine months of hockey.”
One of the biggest appeals of indoor lacrosse, which has fans across the continent due to the National Lacrosse League, is the speed and frenetic pace of the game.
Stoppages are few and far between and the play is kept flowing by a 30-second shot clock.
“It’s the fastest game on two feet,” said Matt Ray, 16. “There’s a lot of intensity. Somebody is always getting hit and the ball is always moving. You have to always be aware of what’s going on around you because things happen in a split second.”
The indoor variety of the sport gets compared most often to hockey, due to having five players per side plus a goaltender and the arena setting with boards and glass.
However, a closer look at the gameplay shows that lacrosse resembles a different sport.
“The game is played much more like basketball where you have the systems of offence and defence rather than the individual positions,” Elvish said.
Graeme Sutch, 17, says lacrosse is a very intellectual game that requires players to anticipate how a play is going to develop. Players are always moving and executing picks to create opportunities rather than sticking to specific spots on the floor.
One of the most common question Elvish hears involves the perceived violence of the sport.
Most spectators are accustomed to the rules of hockey, where any use of the stick against an opposing player will result in a penalty. In lacrosse, stick work is the most often used method to slow down the opposition.
Elvish says the label is a misunderstanding and emphasizes the need for more awareness about lacrosse.
He added lacrosse equipment is designed specifically for players to receive slashes and stick checks.
“When we teach them how to play the ball and how to play the checks, there is no real danger to the players at all,” Elvish said.
“If we can dispel the myths, give them some education and tell them about the opportunities available to the kids it will help grow the sport.”
With every passing year the quality of the game has also been able to substantially improve. Coaches are developing more sophisticated and complex game plans every year and the players attend various camps to hone different skills.
With that development, players are getting the opportunity to play at a higher level.
“This is another opportunity for young athletes,” Elvish said. “This gives them something else to shoot for. The game is growing at such a rate in the United States and Canada that there are universities who can’t keep up with the demand for more players.”
Sutch is one of those players getting that opportunity, having signed a letter of intent to play for Missouri Valley College in the NCAA after attending camps in the United States and catching the attention of coaches.
He is following in the footsteps of five other local players who have gone on to play at the collegiate level, but is one of the first to head south of the border.
Sutch says he consulted with those older players to see if that was the route he wanted to go, and is hopeful that as more Thunder Bay products play collegiately that opportunities will continue to open for younger players.
The league season runs until the middle of June at Grandview and Delaney Arenas and then rep teams play through the summer.
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