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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Do The Pro Lax Leagues Matter? Part 3

In the first two posts, I kind of gave some background information for the four professional lacrosse leagues - Major League Lacrosse, LXM Pro Tour, National Lacrosse League, and Major Series Lacrosse. In my opinion MLL & NLL stand out as the top leagues in their respective versions of lax; MSL is a too "Canadian" for American laxers and LXM is a concert/entertainment tour, not a league. To that end, I will give my assessment on each of the top-tier pro lax leagues.
National Lacrosse League
There was a time when I would have said that this is the preeminent lacrosse league in the world, hands down. Games were televised on Versus (then OLN), ESPN, and even MC22 in Des Moines. Rapid expansion led to a dozen teams stretched across the US and Canada in 2003, filling major NHL arenas and increasing interest in lacrosse as a whole.
Trendy names, logos, and color schemes grabbed the attention of casual sports fans. Online hockey stores, like River City Sports, carried jerseys and apparel. With the NHL lockout during the 2005 NLL season, the league was in an enviable position. Many sports analysts predicted that the league was poised to excel due to its similarities to hockey. With available facility and television time, it seemed like a no-brainer.
Then... Nothing. The league dropped to ten teams for the 2005 season and television coverage seemed even harder to come by. Instead of pressing for the available time on ESPN, the league took no visible action. Since then the league has lost the three largest US markets: New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Secondary markets like Phoenix, Vancouver, Orlando, San Jose, and Portland have also vanished.
Still, the league is spread further across North America than any other professional lax league. Having a team in St. Paul makes live games accessible to us. On the other hand, the lack of a TV contract alienates most potential fans. Very few people want to crows around a computer monitor to watch Internet feed of a game...
Overall I would say that the NLL missed the opportunity to become a true second tier sports league. As it stands, I would say that it is little more than a secondary pro lax league. How long can it stay relevant given its current lack of accessibility?
Major League Lacrosse
The MLL has struggled since day one. Although historically strong lacrosse markets were targeted, the league failed to find its footing. Baltimore, Bridgeport, eastern New Jersey, Rochester, Boston, and Long Island looked like promising locations. Everything indicated that the league knew its core audience and that they targeted them successfully.
The Barrage limped through three seasons in Connecticut before moving to Philadelphia (where they won their first of three Steinfeld Cups in their first year). The Bayhawks left for Washington DC after five seasons (where they lasted for two years before moving to Annapolis). Rochester and New Jersey folded before the 2009 season, allegedly due to the nationwide recession.
A four team expansion in 2006 spread the league across the nation, although it remained East Coast heavy. San Fransisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Denver were welcomed with varying levels of enthusiasm. The California teams closed up shop in 2009. Chicago spent this season as a touring team; their future is unknown.
Toronto joined the league in 2009 as an expansion team, though the claimed the players and staff of the Rattlers. Long Island continues to struggle with attendance, despite consistent on field results. Boston remains the strongest of the original teams and is the pride of the league. Denver continues to blow everybody out of the water with its remarkably high attendance and outstanding play. The Outlaws represent what any young league wants its teams to be.
Despite the fairly recent contraction, rumors persist that the league is expanding again. The tours of the Philadelphia (2008) and Chicago (2010) served to test the waters in several potential markets - notably Seattle, St. Louis, Columbus, and Dallas. Every city visited is among those considered likely expansion candidates, but a return to Rochester comes up in a lot of conversations. Regardless of which cities the league eventually chooses, adding two teams to bring the league to eight would be a strong start. It would increase its credibility to a lot of people.
I already view the league as necessary. Having a top level professional league is vital for a sport to truly thrive in the US. Despite its nuances, the MLL is that league. There is a clear progression from NCAA and MCLA lacrosse to the MLL and the teams are looking more professional every year. The annual All Star game has become fairly respected with its varying formats (old vs young, MLL AS vs Team USA). This year's Championship Weekend was highly entertaining; I would say nearly on par with the NCAA finals.
Both of the top level pro leagues have made a major impact on the growth of lax in the US. In that sense, they definitely matter. As the game continues to grow, having a true top level field lacrosse will become even more important as will supplementing that league with a viable box league. Although some changes definitely need to occur, both leagues have the foundation and the tools to fulfil those roles. Regardless, I will continue to support them both as much as possible.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Update: My First Stringing Job - Ever

I finally got the chance to throw and shoot with my new Grant head last night at the south side clinic. I was focused on testing my stringing job to ensure that things were the way I like them.

I have to say, I did a kick ass job! The sticks releases just like my Mojo and catches with no issues. The pocket holds well and it cradles effortlessly. Valley's primary string guru Benny Arends double checked my work after the clinic and gave it his approval.

My early impressions with the head are very positive. It scoops ground balls better than anything I have used thus far. Of course most were Indian pick ups with no contact, but it still was amazing. It is light yet solid.

The shaft is going to take some getting used to, however. Its weight is nonexistent. the shape is nearly dead on to Warrior's. But the finish creates an ultra slippery surface. I'm used to the glossy clear coat on Warrior sticks which gives just a tiny bit of grip; the Adidas has a satin finish that offers nothing. I'm not a fan of tape, so it will be a little weird for a while.

I should have a full review of the stick in game situations in a few weeks.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Do The Pro Lax Leagues Matter? Part 2

Even by removing LXM and MSL, we are left with two professional leagues. The MLL currently has six teams (though rumors are spring up about two possible expansion/reactivated teams this season). Four teams are on the East Coast and one team spent 2010 travelling across the country, with Denver by its lonesome out west. They play a full summer schedule from May through early August. The league is televised on ESPN2 and NBC Universal Sports; games are also available online through ESPN3.
The NLL has ten teams (Orlando folded over the summer). The teams are spread throughout Canada and the northern half of the United States. They play a full schedule during the college and high school field lacrosse season. The games are not televised, but are available online through the league website.
With very little overlap between the seasons, many players participate in both leagues. Neither pays what would be considered a professional salary. But both leagues do provide all of the players' gear as well as travel accommodations. They also give laxers an avenue to continue playing at the highest level after graduating from college.
But in the eyes of lacrosse "purists" the professional leagues are a step below the college game, especially the MLL. Critics claim that the two point arc and shot clock detract from the game and fundamentally change it. While both changes were made to increase scores (which apparently market research claims we love), both do successfully distinguish the pro league from the lower levels.
The shot clock forces offenses to move the ball and take shots; it also eliminates the offensive box and stall tactics. Unfortunately it has the unintended consequence of forcing hurried plays. The clock may potentially act as a defensive force as good team can capitalize on the hurried pace to force their opponents into sloppy turnovers. Strong transitional players like Brodie Merrill are key assets when implementing this strategy. Regardless, the shot clock is generally viewed favorably as it removes the college game's stalling (see Notre Dame vs Duke 2010 Championship game) and effectively speeds up the game.
The two point shot, on the other hand, is generally frowned upon. Although it rewards high powered snipers and can quickly turn around a losing team, the two point shot fundamentally changes the game. Powerful snipers like Paul Rabil and strong long poles like Brodie Merrill can own the two point shot and build an unbelievable lead as needed. Further, the two point shot artificially increases the score.

Still, many critics derided the three point arc when it was introduced to the NBA in 1979. That line was first tested in 1933. The NCAA experimented with the three pointer in 1945, but it was not adopted until 1986. Perhaps the lacrosse two point shot is simply ahead of its time...

Continue to Part 3

Reposted: Do The Pro Lax Leagues Matter? Part 1

The National Football League

The National Hockey League

The National Basketball Association

Major League Baseball

Major League Soccer

The "big" sports in this country all have their own top tier leagues. Nobody questions the food chain (domestically) in each league's respective sport at the professional level. Everybody acknowledges that the NFL is greater than the UFL, for example. Or that FIFA sanctions MLS higher than the USSF-Division 2 League. Heck, the other three have minor league systems feeding into them.

I suppose one could argue that the Arena Football League can lay a claim to being a top tier football league as well, since they play a different variety of football than the NFL. But most would still say that the AFL is little more than a minor league or proving ground for the NFL. After all, Kurt Warner came from the Barnstormers to the Rams and not the other way around. This type of movement indicates that the AFL is a development league slotted between the college game and the NFL.

So where does that leave lacrosse? There is both a professional field league and a professional box league. In addition to Major League Lacrosse and National Lacrosse League, a third professional circuit has come about. To be fair, the LXM Pro Tour does not tout itself as a league per se, but they do consider themselves to be the top destination for professional laxers and boast names like Kyle Harrison and Mikey Powell.

Lest we forget, a second professional box lacrosse league, Major Series Lacrosse, plays its games during the traditional Canadian season. MSL is the oldest professional lacrosse league in the world, but is not recognized as being on the same level as either of the US based leagues. Despite its history and significance, MSL comes across as a lower league than the NLL.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hockey Night In Iowa 2010 Edition - Game 6

Before I get into tonight's preview, I wanted to bid farewell to a friend. Shane Bast has been a member of the same hockey leagues as me for the past several years. Although I usually played on an opposing team, I did get the opportunity to play with Shane during the Alien-Chops League at Wells Fargo Arena a couple of years ago. Shane was goalie that I have never scored against in the current ABC League at Buccaneer Arena last season, a distinction that carried over to our earlier meeting with his long time team Alien Hockey this year.
Shane got married over the weekend and is moving to San Antonio with his new bride. Tonight will be his final game in Des Moines. Sadly we are not playing Alien tonight, so his record shutout against me will stand... Regardless, I wish Shane the best of luck with his new life. It was a pleasuring playing against you, my friend. For more information about Shane, visit Joe Bafia's blog.


Now that the sentimental crap is out of the way, let's talk hockey!
Last week we faced a largely unknown Puck Hawgs team. Based on last year's team, I predicted a victory; Joe Bafia predicted a major loss. Turns out Mr. Alien was correct as the Hawgs handed us our asses 8-2. Our guys couldn't string together passes worth a damn and our transition game was non-existent. Worst of all, nobody was parked on the crease which caused us to pass up many legitimate scoring opportunities. I blew a great chance on a penalty shot opportunity.
Tonight we play Cup O Kryptonite for the second time. Last time we met was on a Sunday afternoon where Cup beat us 5-2. Cup is a strong team, and is still highly favored to repeat (especially with Bast's departure from Alien). Current, Paoli, and Kundel are constant scoring threats while Schneiders, Gugat, Dean, and Hill might be the strongest defensive corp in the league.
Complicating our problems is our goalie situation. Todd Daniels injured his MCL early in last week's game, which resulted in Funky Pickle goalie Tony Hansen subbing in the third period. At this point I do not know the extent of Todd's injuries or if he will be playing with us tonight. With our goalie situation up in the air against a strong team, I am predicting a loss tonight. Hopefully we can pull ourselves together and shock Cup. I will be skating my heart out either way.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Debut of Easton Lacrosse?

Over the weekend, the US men played the Iroquois Nationals in the hyped Bowhunter Cup. This box lacrosse game was a bit on a consolation prize for the Iroquois who were slighted by political machinations during this summer's World Championships (field lax). It also served as a much needed warm up game for the US men.
The US lineup was semi-controversial with the addition of female goalie Ginny Capicchioni. Casey Powell, the oldest of the Powell brothers and first American MVP in the NLL, captained a team that brought only Paul Rabil from the World Championship team (Rabil also won the 2010 NLL championship with the Stealth).
Powell also has the distinction of being the first player to use the new Easton lacrosse shaft in a high profile game. Somehow this little tidbit has escaped the eyes of most lacrosse news sources! Even at first glance, it is plainly obvious that Powell is holding an octagonal lacrosse stick with the word "Easton" clearly printed in large capital letters. At this stage, I would guess that this is an official test mule for the California-based company. It is surprising that I was not able to find a single press release about its use in the game.
My first impressions are positive. The stick looks clean and Easton has a long history of working with aluminum alloys. There were among the first to use metal in both baseball and ice hockey. Their bats and hockey sticks (I have used both) have also been of reputable quality so I have few doubts about their ability to produce a high quality shaft. Their protective equipment will be a question mark as most of their hockey pads are not anything to brag about (though I love my Stealth helmet) and this area seem to be the hardest to perfect.
I am unsure as to which head Powell is using. I am not the best at identifying heads, but I assume it is a Reebok, only because it is navy blue - the Titans' colors. Powell was the marquee player for the Titans prior to their demise. It could be an Easton head, but acquired company Talon was not producing a head that I know of. Research and development for a lacrosse head is a timely and costly process; it is hard to imagine a player using a test head in a high profile game...
I expect the official launch of Easton Lacrosse in time for the spring season. But I could see the company holding off until the summer as well. This gives them the opportunity for a softer launch outside of the competitive season.

Here are a few key picks featuring Casey Powell and the Easton test mule:
#1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #9 #10 #11 #12 #13 #14

*My original Easton Lacrosse prediction

Monday, September 27, 2010

Everyone Should Have Goals

A while back I promised everybody that I would build one of our new box lacrosse goals and post it. Well, I must have been feeling the arts & crafts on Saturday because I followed up my stringing project by building a goal. (Okay, technically I went to the Drake scrimmage in between.) A little prep before the Box Lacrosse League starts is not a bad thing anyway.
After searching the internet high and low, I finally found cost effective goals here. They are made by AL21 Sports, based in Quebec. Since box lax was born in Canada, I felt pretty good about this purchase.
The instructions are simple and clear. The parts are labeled clearly. The net has colored tabs to assist you in placing it properly. The lacing is more than adequate. It took less than a minute to put the frame together.
Perhaps the best thing about this goal was the lacing guides on the frame. They are spaced evenly and allow for easy alignment. Very little force is required to secure the net. The netting took maybe five to ten minutes.
My hope was to be able to collapse the goal with the net intact. Unfortunately that is not an option. Unlike the far more expensive Rage Cage goals, this net is not easily transported. I wanted to take the goal to the next south side clinic but it will not fit into my Patriot.
After all my hard work, I had to take it apart. Luckily it was also easy to take down. Not that I will after games, but it is nice to know that it will not take much time at the end of the box season. So now I will have to make plans to set the goals up at the Soccer House before the box season starts. At least it's an easy task...

Tribe 7