Professional lacrosse: The most underrated sport of all time

Seats are filling up as the most underrated, hidden gem in Vancouver is being discovered. When I say that attending a Vancouver Warriors game is like going to a party, I mean it. Cheap beer, loud music with bass that shakes your bones, cup pong, audience competitions for prizes like gift cards, a dance team, AND a full-fledged lacrosse game? There’s nothing more exciting!

It sounds like a lot, but everything works well together, and the chaos makes the atmosphere more electric. You’ll walk away with an insatiable feeling you’ll find isn’t satisfied by anything else. The Vancouver Warriors put on a show, a party, and a hard fight in every game they play. 

The Vancouver Warriors went into their second last game of the regular season against the mighty Halifax Thunderbirds. The Warriors had their work cut out for them, with forward Ryan Benesch posing as a daunting opponent as one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the game, ranking 10th all-time in assists (577) and points (1,010) and 11th in goals (433).

However, the Warriors have Keegan Bal, their top player. The offense and defense start and stop with him. This is his sixth season with the Warriors (previously known as Vancouver Stealth), scoring a formidable 5.12 points per game this year. He’s a key part of the culture that Warriors head coach and general manager Curt Malawsky is building into the sport and the team. 

Vancouver started the game with a three-game winning streak, so stakes were high, seats were filling up, and Rogers Arena was buzzing with anticipation and excitement. 

The first quarter was pretty rough for Vancouver. The Thunderbirds scored four goals, with Vancouver only getting a lone goal. I felt things were unfair for the Warriors, and I honestly thought the game would end here. But oh man, was I wrong! Our local lacrosse team doesn’t lack persistence and perseverance, even when the opposing team’s goalie is twice our size, and even when Halifax was playing dirty.

To get a goal, the Warriors had to be aggressive and whip the ball as hard as they could into the net. Their strategy was to use their physical conditioning to their advantage, knowing Halifax didn’t have the stamina they did. 

Making their offensive players run 200 feet so they have to run a load back on defense and then sometimes they get off, sometimes they have to defend and you know they’re not able to play the next shift and that wears them down,” explained Malawsky. “If you just stay resilient, stay with your game plan, and trust the guy next to you. I think all those little things add up.

Malawsky got a little fired up during the postgame interview, saying he encouraged the team not to let Halifax’s snide and cocky behavior deter them.

“I was mad. They were tripping our guys. They were tripping our bench. They were laughing at us – like one of their players said ‘I’ll do what I want on here’. And then Kevin (Crowley) got slid on it and it wasn’t dirty, but he got hammered in the first quarter,” he said.

The message the coach sent to his players was for them to play from the heart and battle for each other.

“I was like, ‘Are we gonna take this, or are we gonna go and do something?’ I’m not saying punch someone in the mouth, but you go out there and put the score on them. If you want to get some back, you win the game. We do it with our play and we do it with our heart. I wanted to go and get the guy that got Kevin, and that was my message. ‘Boys, you gotta feel it in (your heart). Like, feel it… that (play) should bother you.’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, I got it.’”

Time for the second quarter. Vancouver picked up their pace after Malawsky’s encouragement and scored four goals. To this point in the game, Ryan Martel had three goals, and Kyle Killen and Crowley each had a goal. The Thunderbirds put up a solid fight though, also getting four goals. This left the score 8-5 going into halftime. 

I could not believe my eyes when the Lululemon dance team jumped in the back of a white truck and drove in a circle around the floor throwing t-shirts into the audience. And just when I thought it couldn’t get better, there was an audience flip cup competition and a “horse” race. It was hands down the best-organized chaos I’ve ever seen.

During the game, the music played and there was even a live band playing for Country Night 2.0. Despite all the other things going on, the lacrosse game was still the center of attention. The interactive games helped the audience get more engaged and into the spirit of the sport. The culture was intoxicating with giddiness, competitiveness, and best of all, fun!

Something to note about lacrosse is that it seems like there aren’t so many rules as other league sports. It’s still a professional game with talented athletes, however, you don’t get that rigidness that you feel with other professional sports like the NHL, NFL, or even the MLB.

Lacrosse is very aggressive, they tackle each other a lot and ram each other into the boards, and best of all, use their sticks to hit each other. One guy from the Thunderbirds tried to trip a Warrior, and another time, the same guy grabbed one of the Warriors’ sticks and used it to pull him to the ground.

Most of the time though, they just use it like a big stick and hit each other with it. It’s really funny to watch, and it seems like 90 percent of the time the refs don’t call them for penalties. Another thing is that players are allowed to kick the ball. Altogether, lacrosse feels like a combination of basketball, hockey, and soccer, and it’s just as intense, if not more, and much more exciting and fast-paced! 

The third quarter is where the whole game took a turn. One after the other, the Warriors pumped in goal after goal. Every time they got a penalty, the crowd erupted in boos and every time Halifax got one, they cheered. The first two goals came from the star of the show – Bal! Then Riley Lowen, Bal again, and then the tying goal scored by Steph Charbonneau! To top off the spectacularity of the goal, Charbonneau stopped his momentum in a backward somersault. Talk about amazing! The game was tied 10-10 at this point and you could see the Thunderbirds hope fizzling out like a dying sparkler.

Vancouver scored five times during this quarter and Halifax only got two. It was a remarkable comeback from the Warriors, not only tying the game but also making up for a rough first quarter. Vancouver goalie Aden Walsh was on fire. There were so many marvelous saves where I was certain the ball went in the net, but he stopped them all.

Malawsky said that despite the goalie’s slow start, he never considered swapping him out. He knows his team well. The Warriors figured out how to score on Halifax’s massive goalie, as most of their goals were from rebounds when he was slightly out of position. That’s where Vancouver’s efforts of working as a team and trusting each other paid off.

Going into the fourth quarter tied brought on such intense anticipation that you could feel the tension in the air. Right off the bat, Adam Charalambides found the back of the net before Bal came in with another marker and another right after that! It marked five goals in the game for the Warriors’ star player.

“We’ve fought for everything that we’ve earned so far this year and we’ve been unlucky in some really close games early on the year where we thought it should have gone our way or could have gone our way, and at no point were we willing to just give up, (we had to) continue to grind and understand that it’s a long season,” explained Bal.

The Thunderbirds weren’t so confident after Bal’s fifth tally. They started tripping over themselves and you could tell they were getting worn out. Then the most insane thing happened. Charalambides was at it again, took the ball down the floor on his own, was checked by at least four Halifax players, did a couple of pivots, and BOOM – into the net! It was insane to watch – the amount of skill to do something like that is beyond what many athletes could achieve. Unfortunately for the Warriors, the epic goal didn’t count.

The floor is set up so there’s a crease around the net, which a player can’t step in, and if they do, the goal won’t be counted. Unfortunately for the Warriors and their fans, despite the remarkable effort and skill, Charalambides was standing inside the crease.

At this point, Halifax had scored twice in the final quarter but were still behind by one. Two minutes left in the game doesn’t seem like much, but with a sport as fast as lacrosse, that’s a lot of time for things to go sideways. Then Martel potted his fourth goal of the night — followed by a little backward somersault.

The effort shown by the Warriors was a product of Malawsky appearing to take the high stakes, final-game pressure off the players. “We don’t focus on the outcome. I always say (to) focus on the process and the outcome takes care of itself. (Sports psychologist) Dr. David Cox taught me that years ago (and) that’s always sat with me. But I just said, ‘Guys, tonight is no different than any other game and you just do your job’.”

Owen Grant then potted another to unnerve the Thunderbirds as the Warriors put a bow on the game with five goals in the final stanza while Halifax responded with two.

It ended with an incredible 15-13 win for the Warriors over the Thunderbirds. I am still in shock at just how underrated these games are to attend, and with tickets only being $15 I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to go! You get light shows, music, intensity, and fun!

A huge part of the overall team and culture the Warriors want to foster is appreciation for their fans. They’re part of the game, they’re part of the reason why Vancouver wins. No other professional sports team in B.C. has its locker room filled with kids getting signatures after each game, but the Warriors do, and this fills Malawsky and the players with pride. I can say with certainty, as it was my first-ever lacrosse game, the Vancouver Warriors made a fan out of me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *