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.
Dylan Evans of the Rochester Knighthawks is in the PLPA Player Spotlight. by Teddy Jenner
Ever evolving, Dylan Evans has made himself an NLL regular.
Safe to say that face-off guys don't get all the credit they deserve. It's an unheralded job with such health hazards as bloody knees, stiff wrists and zero to little fan-fare. Plus your team-mates will call you a FoGo (face-off, Get-off). But the fellas who take pride in their work at the dot will always be invaluable when the day is done because without them, the rest of us would have to squat down 20-30 times a game and bend our stick heads in all sorts of weird shapes. Or, even worse, we restart play like they start dodge-ball. Everyone on the end line with a ball sitting at centre floor; blow the whistle; chaos.
While I don't think the NLL would ever alter the game that much, the role of the face-off man has had to change over the years and with it, the importance of having a versatile, reliable and dependable player. 27 year old Dylan Evans has become one of those players.
About forty minutes northwest of Toronto, Evans grew up in the town of Brampton, Ontario where he began to learn the game of lacrosse at a very young age. With stick in hand came a natural ability to score. The three-time Champions Cup winner first learned the game from his father Mark Evans who was a pretty legit Jr B player for Brampton in the late 60's and early 70's, including a 195 point year. The first real coach Evans had was Joe Coffey but he's forever grateful to all of his minor coaches Glenn McClelland, Pete Cannons, Todd Wilfong, Kevin Board, Reg Ewles and Tony Bennett. It was Coffey who really left a lasting impression on Evans who stands by the motto, "go hard or go home"
Once Evans broke into the Jr A loop with his hometown Excelsiors, the evolution process began. Even today, Evans isn't the biggest guy on the floor but his work ethic has always been one of his strengths as is his versatility. In his final year of Jr, Evans wasn't even the number one draw for the Excels. That role belonged to JJ LaForet but at the time that wasn't something Evans was expected to do. In 2009 he was named the B.J "Billy" Evans award winner as the Ontario Jr A league's top graduating player. The award is named after his great-grandfather who, much like Dylan, his father and his grandfather, has deeply rooted ties to the Excelsiors. In that final year of junior ball, Evans finished his career with 192 points and a trip to the Minto Cup Finals. How good was that Brampton team in '09? To name a few guys who suited up alongside Evans - Chris Corbeil, Kyle Rubisch, Pat Saunders, Steve Fryer and Andrew Potter.
Then the evolution process began again. Now with the Sr Excelsiors, Evans who spent the majority of his lacrosse career as a goal scorer began the shift to the other side of the ball. It's never an easy adjustment but one Evans tackled head on and in the long run may have added years to his career. When Evans spent the summer of 2013 with the Victoria Shamrocks he fell in love with the Westcoast lifestyle. He continued his involvement with many of the minor players in the city and would often make an effort to talk to as many of the kids as he could. One message he constantly pushed to young players was that they "should learn as much of the game as possible, and should be able to play both ends of the floor." Evans may not see as much of the other end of the floor these days but his ability to adapt and grow as a player has helped lead him to three NLL titles and a Mann Cup so he clearly knows a thing or two.
It hasn't always been championship champagne for Evans though, he went undrafted in the NLL. After his final year in Jr, he spent a year with the Golden Lions of Dowling College before giving the NLL another shot. He had tryouts with both Rochester and Toronto only to be told it wasn't his time. At 22, four years after he was passed on by every NLL team in the draft, Evans could finally call himself a professional lacrosse player for the Rochester Knighthawks.
For any rookie, there's going to be jitters when you step up to the big leagues so it helps to have good veterans on your side. Making his pro debut in 2011, the season opener was in Minnesota, Evans along with three other rookies (including a fresh faced Cody Jamieson) were visibly anxious and full of nerves. So when long time Knighthawks' forward Shawn Williams came up to him and said that he still got 'opening night jitters,' it allowed some of that tension to fade away. Evans only got into two games that first year but ever since he's been a mainstay for head coach Mike Hasen.
2012 was when it all fell into place for Evans and his final metamorphosis. After a couple summers in the MSL with the Excels, the art of taking face-offs became a newly acquired weapon in his arsenal and Hasen, who was coaching Brampton at the time, realized Evans' value. In just his second pro season, Evans split face-off duties with Tyler Burton and it's been full steam ahead ever since. He took just over one-hundred draws that year and his numbers have gone up ever since.
He's now THE GUY in Rochester and sits third all time in franchise history for face-off wins and first in post-season wins. During the week though, he's "the guy" in a different setting. A couple years ago, Evans started up Devans Quality Construction, which specializes in custom home renovations. His lacrosse career has had its fair share of remodelling and he's now one of a few players that can call themselves 'trifecta champs'.
The duality of being a General Contractor and an NLL face-off specialist is a tough balance. Much like anyone who's played professional lacrosse, we'd all love to be full time but that's not the case so the "weekend warrior" life it is. "It tests your commitment," Evans confesses. "There are times when travelling to and from games or practices where I feel I should be at work and there are times when I'm working where I feel like I should be in the gym.
Whether I'm playing or I'm at work, I do whatever I can to find a way to focus 100% on what I'm doing in that moment."
Being the best he can be in that moment is a vital part of being a draw guy. It must be an incredibly tough situation to be battling one guy in such a split second moment of each game. The timing it takes to gain the advantage once the whistles blow is milliseconds and Evans' reaction time is like a hair trigger.
As his skills evolved so did the NLL game and with the domination of some, the league altered the rules heading into 2016. Arguments have been made from players both for and against it, Evans is no different. At first, he didn't like the new rules. "I understand the league trying to make things more even on the face-offs, but I think having 8 guys sprinting at each other into a scrum situation is going to create more injuries." Thankfully there haven't been any serious injuries off draws and maybe the new rules are working for Evans as he's 5th in the league in FO% of guys with over 100 draws taken.
What makes Evans over-haul from Jr A scorer to 3x NLL champ and face-off expert is that he's also had to polish his defensive game. "The good thing about only having 16 runners now is that teams don't have room to waste a spot on a face-off guy." It might be a bit contradictory but Evans is a lacrosse player who's become adept at taking draws and his stock continues to rise because of it.
Teddy Jenner is a life long lacrosse addict. He started playing at 3yrs old growing up in the shadow of the Gait brothers. After six years in the NLL with four teams (aka a suitcase) he moved from the floor to the media booth and has been covering the NLL extensively every since. Working with IL Indoor as one of their lead writers and work with TSN, Jenner has become one of the most well respected people in lacrosse and continues to give back to game in as many ways as possible.