Player Spotlight highlights the finer details and elements while supplying insight to the fans on what a player's thought process may be pertaining to a certain play, game or situation. It brings the intensity, passion, and inner most thoughts of the individual player that otherwise may not be felt or heard.
|First of all, you're a Hamilton boy through and through, born and bred?|
Born and raised. Still live there, too.
|Went to McMaster...|
I did for six years, played football there too.
|You're a two-time All Canadian defensive back on pretty competitive teams, right?|
Yeah, we won one Vanier Cup and went to two others. I had a pretty good individual career, as well, with a couple of All Canadians and some interception records. I had a pretty good time at McMaster.
|How many interceptions?|
I tied one [record] with four in a game and I have a record for 14 in 16 playoff games.
|Wow. Not bad. Obviously your speed was helping you there as well as in lacrosse.|
|Yeah, speed's a pretty big asset. Speed kills, right?
|You're also engaged to a Hamilton girl. A transplanted Hamilton girl, because she's from England, Lauren Davie?|
She is from England. Actually her family lives in Cobourg now, which is a bit of a coincidence. We met at McMaster. She was a trainer for our football team and I guess she fell head over heels for me. We're getting married this August.
|And you're fond of her, too, right?|
Yes, I'm very fond of her.
|It's a coincidence, of course, because you play for the Cobourg Kodiaks so between the two families you have places to eat whether you're home or playing.|
|She was very excited about it. We got to go up and see her parents more last summer. It's nice to have somewhere to go before and after. It works out well in that sense.
|When did you start playing lacrosse? I know you've been a football guy but when did your lacrosse career get going?|
I started when I was three, maybe four. I played a year of soccer before that and my dad found it too boring so he got me into lacrosse. My dad grew up knowing about it and watching it. He'd go and watch senior ball in the summer. He's a big fan but he never played. He put me in it and I fell in love with it and here I am 23 years later.
|You go through minor, go through a couple years of Jr B at home in Hamilton, then three with the Arrows in Six Nations playing Jr A. Was there an affiliation, did they just sign you, how did you wind up in Six Nations?|
Yeah, a little bit of an affiliation. Our Jr B owner at the time, Andre Gaudet, had a working relationship with the Arrows. There were a bunch of us who went through. Mike McNamara was the first one. Corey Stringer before him, actually. Ryan Dilks. It just kind of worked out that if you played in Hamilton and played long enough, eventually you'd wind up with the Arrows.
|And played well enough.|
Yeah, played well enough was another big key, they had some pretty solid teams. If you look at the guys I played with in junior, it's littered with NLL talent.
It would take us a whole interview to go through all the guys you played with that you're seeing in the NLL now. You played mostly offence with Six Nations, didn't you?
Yeah, it was pretty much my first two years exclusively offence. Then my last year I was a little more offence/defence but I did a lot more of the offensive transition where I'd play offence, stay and put on a press then play defence and try to get some transition out of that. It was a good experience for me getting to play some defence in junior. It made it a much easier transition when I got to the NLL.
You're picked in the fourth round of the MSL draft by Kitchener-Waterloo. It's one of those things where you look back...Brett Hickey was picked in the same round as well...it's kind of funny in retrospect that a couple of guys who have been star players in the NLL went so late in the MSL draft, but you were a bit of an unknown quantity coming from Hamilton and having changed up a bit and going to play some defence. What was it like then?
I think the biggest thing was, I never doubted my ability, but you look at who we had on our roster my graduating year. Mike McNamara, Ryan Dilks, Kedoh Hill, Johnny Powless. Not that I wasn't good enough but there were a lot of bigger names than myself. But I was okay with it. I was just happy to go somewhere and I knew all I needed was an opportunity to showcase my skills and my ability. It's worked out so far.
Did you start playing transition right away in KW?
Yeah, the first time I showed up...it was before Ajax, the very first game, I hadn't been to a practice yet. Johnny Lovell was the coach at the time. He pulls me in the room and said “We need one guy who can play defence and run the floor.” I said, “Yep, that's me.” He put me in and I've been in ever since. It kind of worked out. My first few years in Kitchener it was a really good, young, solid core. Ryan Dilks was also there. We had Jason Noble my first couple of years. Glen Bryan. A whole bunch of other young guys who liked to get up the floor. I fit in well there. It was a good dynamic and again great experience to help me with that for the NLL.
It was an athletic, young defence. The team had moderate success but it was a really aggressive defence that would really take off and use that big floor in Kitchener.
Yeah, it was a lot of fun playing there and I think the biggest thing is we were all just young guys. There wasn't a lot of experience. If you look at how well and what all the people have gone on to now, there's a lot of championships and a lot more experience and some really good players in the league.
You got drafted fairly late in the NLL as well. You were taken 38th overall. Again, people not necessarily knowing how it was going to turn out but that's worked out pretty well for you, as well.
I'm actually out there partially, or mostly, because of Eddie Comeau. My one year at McMaster that I played lacrosse, he was the head coach. So he knew about me, knew that I'd played for the Arrows. Truthfully, I don't think [Colorado GM] Steve Govett had a clue who I was when he drafted me cause he told me that a few years later. They took a chance on me and I think the original plan was just to stash me on a practice roster because they knew I was playing football but I did enough to impress, was lucky enough to stick around. Same thing, I came into Colorado as an offensive player. Even the first half of the season I asked if I could go back. I thought I could help us a bit more and have a chance to play. The first year was a big learning curve. I worked really hard at it and I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity late in my first year and early second year. I'm really happy with how things worked out, that's for sure.
Everyone that I talk to that plays in Denver just raves about the town.
I love Denver. It couldn't be a better situation for me and for the NLL. We have such a great fan base, such a fantastic organization, in my opinion the premier organization in the National Lacrosse League. I'm lucky to play for such a great team, great organization, great people. Hopefully, I continue to be there for the next few years.
You gradually improved, showed more and more in your game in your first few years. In MSL in 2014 you were named the co-defensive player of the year...the transition player of the year award didn't exist yet. You had 23 points in 16 games and were making a big splash. Then 2015 was the breakout year in the NLL where you had 31 points including 16 goals. You had 40 caused turnovers and were named transition player of the year. I think that while the scoring and running the floor was a big deal, the 40 caused turnovers is what really caught people's attention.
Yeah, I really made a point to focus on my defence. The scoring and transition is always there. The coaches are always saying the same thing, with Bob Hamley and now Pat Coyle, focus on the defence, let the transition take care of itself because it will come organically, don't really force it. The last two/three years I've really made an effort in my own back end, not leaking up the floor early, not cheating on defence or playing lazy but really focusing on what I'm doing back there in limiting my opponents, knowing that I'm fast enough that I can still create when I do get the ball.
Is it hard to remember that at times, when you're in a close game and it just feels like the offence is having one of those nights when they're struggling to create chances and you think “A transition goal would really help us?” Is it hard to not start to leak a little bit more?
Maybe when I was younger but to be honest that's always going through my mind, not just in a close game. I always want to get a break, always want to give us a spark, but I know if I'm not doing my job in the back end and they get one on me, it's more damage than a goal would help. So the focus really is on defence. Not until we get that ball or I see we're about to get that ball do I really start flipping the switch and thinking offence.
The defence that you're playing with is a pretty remarkable unit. You could argue that it's the best defence in the league at this point. Robert Hope and Dan Coates and Greg Downing are kind of the three-headed monster leading at the defensive end. You're playing solid defence and running. You've got all these players and Brad Self coming in. It's a very strong defensive unit. What do you feel is the identity of that group?
I don't know if we have a particular identity. I think we have a good mix and that's what makes us so successful. If you look at our defence, it has to start with Dillon Ward who has emerged as arguably the best goaltender in the NLL so it all starts with him. Then you talk about those individual guys, you've got some great stay at home guys. You've got guys who can run the floor: myself, Brad Self, Cam Holding as well. And then there's a good young group that we've drafted in the last couple of years: Bryce Sweeting, Taylor Stuart, Jordan Gilles that have really stepped up. So all in all I just think it's a 10-man deep unit that you can insert anyone in the lineup and you're not going to lose a step. The other thing we've got going for us is our cohesion. All those guys have been there their entire careers. We're growing more and more with each game and each season. I think it's something where we're going to continue to build, continue to get better, but we're all very comfortable playing with one another. I certainly think that helps as well.
It's interesting when you look at the group you've got, it does play very well and it is very diverse. When you compare it to a Georgia that is full of first round picks and some second rounders, and Saskatchewan has a lot of high picks that are making very good defences...you guys are right there with the top teams and you've got yourself, Jordan Gilles, Taylor Stuart, Greg Downing are all relatively late picks. You do have Hope and Coates that are first rounders but a bunch of you are third, fourth, fifth-round picks that are playing way above your draft position.
None of us are too worried about that. We're just happy to be there and know all we needed was an opportunity but I think that's just a tribute to the organization, the scouting and all the work that's done behind the scenes to find these hidden gems if you will and players who turned out to be good pros. The other thing is we're a very youthful defence, as well. Most of the guys you mentioned are low to mid 20s, so there's a lot of room for growth still. I think we're going to continue to get better as we go in the next few seasons.
I'm always curious about how guys set up their sticks. Are you really particular about your stick, how do you string it and do you do it yourself?
If you ask around the league a lot of people will probably tell you that I have the ugliest stick in the NLL and not too many people are a fan of it. I definitely string it myself. I like a big pocket and low pocket which is kind of unusual. Most people don't do that. My theory is I want to get loose balls, I don't want the ball to come out and most of the time I just need it to shoot pretty good on a breakaway or a two-on-one. Whatever works for you, I guess, go with and I'm quite happy with how I string them up. If I gave it to, I would say 95% of the league, they would not be able to use it.
They'd be throwing balls at their feet?
If they're lucky it would go at their feet. It might go behind them.
What are you looking forward to? You're 26, you're getting married this year which is very exciting. On the lacrosse side, you're in the prime of your career with a Colorado team that is really trending upward.
The way I see it, I haven't even hit my prime yet. I just want to continue to get better, continue to grow as a player both individually and as a teammate and ultimately bring a championship back to Colorado. We have a lot of good pieces. Hopefully I'm another piece of that puzzle that can help us get there. Just continue to get better with each game, each season.
Where's the wedding?
In Hamilton, of course.
Of course. I figured. I was just thinking, with her parents in Cobourg...maybe, but I thought it had to be in Hamilton.
She's adopted Hamilton as her new home and she knows the importance and how much the city means to me. So we're happily getting married on August 5.
August 5, so a little bit before your birthday.
Yeah, actually our honeymoon I think we get back on my birthday. We're going away for a week.
Are you at all worried that down the road your birthday and anniversary gifts are going to get rolled into one?
You know what, I'm not. If you can believe it, I'm the oldest of five kids. My father's birthday is August 17th, my second brother's birthday is August 17th and my third brother's birthday is August 17th. So everything got rolled into one right away. And my parents' anniversary is the 13th. August is a very busy month for us and I'm kind of used to that so I'll be okay with it.
Just so everyone knows, your birthday is the 14th, right?
Yes, it is.
So right in the middle of everything, so you've really got it rolled up?
Exactly, we'd always celebrate all at once anyway. I'm sure it'll be the same kind of idea only a bigger celebration now with one more person.
Stephen Stamp is the co-editor of IL Indoor and was the Tom Borrelli Award winner as the National Lacrosse League's Media Person of the Year in 2013. He also does play by play and/or colour commentary for the Toronto Rock, Major Series Lacrosse, the Canadian Lacrosse League and in 2015 called 27 games at the World Indoor Lacrosse Championship. He hosts Boxla Beat, the leading lacrosse podcast, on NLL Radio.