By Avry Lewis-McDougall
When the 2011 NLL season kicks off on January 8th with the Boston Bandits playing the Philadelphia Wings and the Edmonton Rush taking on the Toronto Rock it will be the 25th season of the league. 25 years of the NLL? Seems insane considering this started as a 4 team league in 1987 and was called Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse (the 4 original franchises were the Philly Wings, the Washington Wave, the New Jersey Saints and the Baltimore Thunder). There hadn't been a true pro box lacrosse league around since the mid 1970's where there was a prior league that was ironically enough called the National Lacrosse League.
I first caught onto pro lacrosse as a tyke when I was about 5 years old, my appetite for sports was already blooming and I had heard of a team called the Ontario Raiders that played in Hamilton in the National Lacrosse League, this team was lackluster finishing 6-6 under head coach Les Bartley and moved to Toronto for the 1999 season and became known as the Toronto Rock. The Rock as many lacrosse fans know became an NLL powerhouse winning the NLL title in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2005. I latched onto the team with guys like the ageless wonder Jimmy Veltman, Colin Doyle, Bob Watson and Kim Squire.
As the league grew, I was able to see of course the never ending cycle in the NLL of folding, relocating and expansion teams such as the Vancouver Ravens, the Montreal Express, the Anaheim Storm, the New York/Orlando Titans, the Columbus Landsharks, and the New Jersey Storm. When the NLL in 2005 announced that Edmonton was getting an expansion franchise I was overjoyed! I would finally get to see pro lacrosse in my own town, (I even played a year of bantam lacrosse myself in grade 9 finishing the year with no points and two penalty minutes in nine games) and of course there have been growing pains with the Rush like that expansion year of 2006 where the Rush went 1-15 but there has been reason to celebrate as of late, the Rush had their first trip to the post season last year and made it to the division finals losing to the Washington Stealth in OT. The 2011 will also be my 3rd year of covering the Rush and my 2nd doing it along side the guys of In The Crease Radio in the press box at Rexall Place. This league has had ups and downs but it hasn't thrown in the towel and collapsed like other pro leagues. Happy 25th to the NLL! Hopefully I can blog about the 50th NLL anniversary one day.