There are probably more lacrosse players in the U.S. than hockey players, so you wouldn’t think recruitment would be a concern. Still, over the years, I’ve found that the guys I want on my lacrosse team are the guys who also play hockey.
Yes, yes, I know – basketball players make good defensemen, wrestlers make for good face-off guys, and quarterbacks and point guards make good attackmen. Those are the stereotypes I’ve heard and seen proven over and over again by old-school coaches who are always up to the challenge of taking a great athlete from another sport and making a lacrosse player out of him. Dave Urick won national championships at Hobart by putting lacrosse sticks in the hands of his football players for the first time.
Interestingly enough, a few of my Lakers at Oswego State were not only excellent hockey players – they were hockey goalies. Nonetheless, Eric Purcell (West Genesee HS) earned all-conference honors as a midfielder, while Bill Snyder (Oswego HS) played defense. Former teammate Dave Burns (Cicero HS) stopped pucks in the winter and played attack in the spring. Dan Bartlett (Fulton) was an all-league high school goalie who became an All-American midfielder at Oswego State. To the best of my recollection, only Jeff Solan (West Genesee HS) was content to stay in the crease and backbone another group of defenders, playing goalie in both sports.
Others showed the same kind of grittiness, good hands, situational recognition, and stick skills necessary in hockey when they picked up their lacrosse stick each spring. Gregg Wittman (Webster HS) played for the Lakers’ hockey team and
lacrosse team in ‘77 and ’78, playing defense in hockey and goalie in lacrosse. Scott Ferguson (Connetquot HS) played for both Laker teams, too, in ’01 and ’02. After seeing limited action in hockey, he decided to put all his eggs in the lacrosse basket and went on to set Oswego’s school record for most goals in a career (as a middie, no less!) and earned All-American and North/South Game honors in ’04. Dan Rossiter (St. Anthony’s HS) almost made the Laker hockey team, but their loss was our gain, as he went on to be an All-League midfielder who could score goals and win face-offs. Tim Head (Rush-Henrietta HS) played on both Laker teams, a forward in hockey and record-setting feeding attackman for the ’77 and ’78 Lakers. Jason Hawthorne (Baldwinsville) grew up playing hockey with NHLer Tim Connolly but decided to play lacrosse and get his teaching degree at Oswego. Like Rossiter, he went on to become a captain and All-League scoring and face-off midfielder.
Unfortunately, I didn’t always get the lacrosse talent on campus to play for our squad. Neil Doddridge, for example, played hockey for the Lakers, and then went on to play professional box lacrosse and become an NLL All-Star; I didn’t get to know him until after he graduated.
Don’t get me wrong; by no means was the hockey/lacrosse player unique to Oswego State. Brothers Kevin and Mike Leveille were excellent hockey players in their days at Albany Academy; lacrosse didn’t turn out too badly for either of them. Sean and Connor Cannizzaro (Cazenovia HS) won state championships in both hockey and lacrosse. Syracuse defenders Nick Mellen (West Genesee HS) and Scott Firman (J-D HS) played ice hockey. Duke’s Tewaaraton winner Ned Crotty (Delbarton) played high school hockey in New Jersey. Alex Rode, Virginia’s goalie in last May’s national championship game, played hockey at St. Paul’s when he was in high school, too. Virginia’s Doug Knight (Westminster), Notre Dame’s Matt Kavanagh (Chaminade), and Virginia’s David Curry (New Canaan HS) are three other All-American lacrosse players who grew up playing a lot of ice hockey.
I’m going to move on, but I’m quite sure there are many, many other examples I could have included.
In case you cannot tell, I’m a big hockey fan. I played club-level hockey in high school, picking up the sport for the first time when I was a sophomore (talk about a late start!). I follow high school, college, and pro hockey, and at this time of year, I probably watch more hockey on TV than anything else. On a good week, I play pick-up ice hockey on Sunday nights and Tuesday mornings, and floor hockey on Saturday mornings (I love retirement!).
As a hack defenseman in not only hockey and lacrosse, but soccer, too, I found a strong crossover of skills and concepts; I was reasonably successful because “hockey is just like lacrosse,” or “lacrosse is just like soccer” (Vince Lang – Baldwinsville – is also a former Laker laxer who played soccer, hockey, and lacrosse, and I know he’s still playing men’s league hockey in Indiana in anticipation of another week of lacrosse in Lake Placid in August).
But believe me, I have a lot of respect for lacrosse players who also golf, or wrestle, or run cross country (I once recruited a high school player who was on his school’s bowling
team in the winter – that was a first!).
Still, I can definitely relate to hockey players. The good ones are willing to go into the corner and come out with a puck, take a hit to convert a 2-on-1, or show their toughness in the crease (I like the hockey term for that – “the greasy area”).
In my junior year at Oswego State, I roomed with a sophomore hockey player who came from Williamsville South HS. I think lacrosse was brand new at his school at that time, and he really didn’t know anything about it. But after watching a few games, he was amazed by what he saw.
“You’re allowed to do that?!?!”
“You’re telling me that’s legal?!?!”
To him, lacrosse appeared to have no rules, and for a hockey player to drop his jaw at the sight of our “lawless” gentleman’s game was a memory I’ll never forget.
With him in mind, I’d like to present this list to all the hockey players out there who either haven’t discovered lacrosse yet, or maybe haven’t learned to appreciate the differences in the two sports…
For hockey defensemen:
“We’ve got a stat for that!” Ground Balls and Caused Turnovers, Clears (successful and otherwise) are all monitored – and rewarded.
If your team is two men down, and the opposing team scores, everyone gets out of jail! (hockey players are usually incredulous – “They’re both released???”).
In lacrosse, defenders get extra-long sticks! (you don’t have to be Zdeno Chara to get a longer stick than everyone else).
In lacrosse, it’s perfectly legal to put your stick into your opponent’s hands (not a hold).
It’s also legal to whack the stick out of your opponent’s hands (not a slash).
It’s even legal to whack your opponent’s hands and arms (also not a slash).
And, best of all, no one expects you to block shots!
For offensive hockey players:
Get this - You can kick a goal in!
Picks are legal!
Look how big that goal is! Is 36 (6x6) square feet 33% bigger than 24 (6x4) square feet?
And look at how little equipment that goalie wearing!
Bounce shots are an additional option.
Scoring percentage in lax is closer to 50%, probably about 25% in hockey.
Goalies’ save percentages in hockey are often around 90%; in lacrosse it’s rarely above 55%.
There’s much more room to operate behind the goal.
You can change hands anytime you want to; there are no RH or LH sticks!
Not crazy about back-checking? That’s OK – three of you have to stop at the midfield line (“center ice”) when chasing your opponent.
For all hockey players:
In lacrosse, you earn assists; they are not awarded automatically…
Unless you’re a catcher or pitcher, how can a hockey player ever
be happy playing baseball?
In lacrosse, if all you want to do is face-off, you can do that!
In lacrosse, you don’t have to start playing at age three or four, and you won’t have many (any?) games at 6 or 7 AM.
Equipment costs are cheaper for lacrosse (I think). Maybe.
In lacrosse, pretty faces are much more likely to stay pretty… fewer stitches, fewer missing teeth, and fewer broken noses.
Not sure if this is good or bad, but there are no boards in lacrosse (maybe defenders wish there were, and offensive players are probably happier without them).
In lacrosse, you can stay on the field longer than 45-60 seconds.
And finally, sooner or later, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to play games in the rain and mud – maybe the equivalent of a (very) rare outdoor game in hockey.
So, for the hockey player who doesn’t play lacrosse, take it from me and give it a try!
For hockey players who already play lacrosse, be sure to embrace both the differences and the similarities!
Happy New Year, everyone! I hope 2020 is filled with great games, great teammates, and great memories!
And please – drive safely!
- Dan Witmer
Dan Witmer is the author of two books. The Best of Road Trip Dad – the Laker Lacrosse Collection is an accumulation of 45 articles written for JustLacrosseUpstate between the years 2012 and 2018, about the history and traditions, the people, and the stories of the Oswego State men’s lacrosse program. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, the SUNY Oswego College Store in the Marano Campus Center, The Sports Outfit on West Genesee Street in Fairmount, and Geared 2 Sports in Cortland. ...and piles to go before I sleep - The Book of Wit is his memoir describing his 33 year career teaching HS English and coaching at Hannibal Central School. It is available on Amazon.com and at the river's end bookstore.