Summer Ball

“Come on boys let’s get this W!”

“Picks coming open up!”

“Numbers push the ball!”

“Are you kidding me ref!”

I could be spending my summer weekends relaxing, but instead I’m somewhere in Ontario trying to fight through picks, getting chirped by the other team, crosschecking guys, getting slashed on every faceoff, and running around in a simmering hot arena. There is nowhere else I would rather be.

For the past two months, I have been making the journey every week from Buffalo, NY to play with the Brooklin Merchants in the Ontario Series Lacrosse league, otherwise known as Sr. B, and have gotten to see first hand how summer ball is some of the most competitive and intense lacrosse played anywhere in the world. Brad MacArthur, the GM of the Brooklin Merchants and of our Major Series Lacrosse (Sr. A) affiliate the Brooklin Lacrosse Club, explained summer ball to me like this: “In the NLL those guys are playing for keeps. In the summer everyone is playing for keeps too, but there might only be 50 people in the crowd instead of 10,000.”

Every looseball, every slash to the wrist, every fight, and every goal means more in summer ball. There is a big difference when guys get to play for their hometown teams and are playing for championships that are much harder to win. Winning a 5 or 7 game series to advance in the playoffs makes winning a Minto or President’s Cup so much more meaningful than the one and done playoff style in field or other box leagues like the Arena Lacrosse League or the NLL.

In a 30 second shot clock in a box game there can be more crosschecks, slashes, hard picks, chirps, trips, holds, amazing shots, and crazy saves than in an entire field lacrosse game. There is so much more going on that you have to play at 100 MPH (160 Kilometers Per Hour for the Canadians) in order to get any kind of edge.

Sometimes it gets so hot in these arenas that you feel like you are going to pass out on the bench and if you get hit you will slide along the concrete floor because you are covered in sweat. You might get slashed and crosschecked on the arm right where there is no padding and the only thing you can do is play through it until the adrenaline makes it stop hurting.

Courtesy of Tim Bates/OJHL Images

I think the look on my face in this picture says it all.

Sr. B in Ontario and across Canada is this interesting middle ground of lacrosse.

One game you could drive 3 hours to play against a team that has barely enough players show up and it turns into a blowout that usually includes a lot of penalties and probably a fight or two. The next game you could find yourself in Six Nations staring down NLL players like Warren Hill in net or defending Zed Williams and Johnny Powless as you have to deal with getting yelled at by an arena full of people on the rez and refs not making calls.

On the top 2 or 3 teams there could be a combination of current NLL players, younger players getting ready to get drafted to the NLL that are playing both Sr B and Sr A, veterans who have been playing on the team for 5 years or maybe even longer, and even an American trying to learn the intricacies of the box game like me.

The teams in Sr. B are spread out all over Ontario so long drives listening to a lot of podcasts and music are all apart of a typical gameday. On my team alone we have guys driving in to our home arena in Oshawa from London, St. Catharines, and even Windsor which is a farther drive than I have coming from Buffalo. Crossing the border at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo usually is the easiest part of my trip. It’s the Toronto traffic that has become the killer. The long drives after games where I’m sore and tired have given me a lot of time to reflect on my experience. Playing box lacrosse has been a great change of pace after grinding it out playing field in high school and college where the pressure to compete everyday in practice or prepare for games was sometimes too much. Every lacrosse player who has felt burnt out after college should play box because I know that it’s helped me to learn to love lacrosse again.

The Sr. B playoffs begin this weekend as I will be playing with the Brooklin Merchants against the Oakville Titans in a best of 5 games series. The Six Nations Rivermen play the Owen Sound North Stars in the other semifinal to see who will make it to the Ontario Finals.

Winning the Ontario Championship is only the first step to winning an even bigger honor. Kahnawake Reservation up in Quebec will host the battle for the President’s Cup from August 26 to September 1. With the winners from the eight different Sr. B leagues in Canada playing in a round robin tournament, the President’s Cup might be the hardest trophy to win in Canada.

I get chills when I watch the video from last year’s President’s Cup and think about what it would feel like to run on the floor celebrating and then raising that historic trophy. I cannot even imagine what it would feel like for my Canadian teammates who dreamed of winning a summer championship growing up.

The Road to the President’s Cup starts this weekend. Go Merch.

(Top photo: Tim Bates/OJHL Images)

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