My next diary entry was supposed to be Part III in my recruiting analysis (Feel free to check out Part I and Part II), but I wanted to address a question/assertion that has appeared several times in the comments of both posts. A lot of readers have asserted that Michigan needs to make headway recruiting Canadian players if they want to compete quickly at the D1 level in lacrosse. Canadians are certainly not new to college lacrosse, after all arguably the two greatest players of all time were the Canadian brothers Gary and Paul Gait, who won 3 National Titles for Syracuse in the late 80s.
In the last two years, however, there has been a spike in interest in Canadian players in the media, particularly ESPN/Inside Lacrosse Magazine’s Quint Kessich. This attention has stemmed from the success of a couple of Canadian players the last couple of years. The most famous is Kevin Crowley of Stony Brook, who was one the NCAA scoring leaders in 2010 and a preseason favorite for the Tewaaraton Trophy in 2011. Hofstra attackmen Jay Card and Jamie Lincoln also impressed many with their breakout performance in 2010 and great follow up in 2011. Sophomore Matt Cockerton had a solid season for NCAA champion Virginia this year, totaling 17 points and showing that Canada produces players than can contribute on the deepest of squads and on the biggest stages. More and more teams are recruiting Canadian players, so do they provide Michigan with a “magic bullet” in recruiting?
What Canadian Players Bring To Your Team
I will admit this is a gross generalization upfront. Obviously each player’s experience and talent are unique, and many Canadian players actually attend school in the US and play here more than in their hometowns, and much of this will sound as asinine as “you recruit football players from Florida because they’re faster!” With that out of the way, here’s how Canadian players in general are different from Americans.
Here is a highlight video of Virginia from 2010.
If you are not familiar with lacrosse, you can get a feel for what the game is like from these camera angles. In lacrosse you always have to keep 3 players on the offensive side of the field, and 4 players on your defensive side. So, although you have 9 field players plus 1 goalie on the field at all times, in settled situations the game is actually played 6v6. The lacrosse field is 120 yards x 60 yards, so that gives the offense a tremendous amount of room to create shots. One player normally will initiate the offense by dodging (driving) to cage, another player will cut to cage/backdoor for an easy shot, and a third player will pop out into space for an outside shot/pull the ball out and regroup. For the vast majority of Americans, this is the only type of lacrosse they play.
Canadians, on the other hand, tend to grow up playing a lot more indoor lacrosse (also called box lacrosse, box or boxla). Lacrosse was a way for hockey rink owners to keep their spaces busy in the summer once the ice melted in Canada (and the Great Lakes), so for the better part of a century this has been how Canadian players were introduced to the game. This is what box lacrosse looks like at the highest level.
It almost looks like two completely different games. While outdoor lacrosse looks like basketball on a soccer field, box lacrosse is hockey played with the ball in the air rather than a puck on the ground (literally. Check out the goalie pads and how they hold their sticks. Also, feel free to check out any of the inordinate number of fight highlights they offer). You play only play 5v5 in box and on field the size of a hockey rink.
With this different experience, Canadians bring a completely different skill set to their teams when they start playing outdoors for American colleges. In box lacrosse, the field is obviously much smaller and the game is more compact, so Canadian players are used to playing in much tighter spaces than Americans. It is a game that rewards quickness in the first step, since the field is smaller burst is much more important than 40 yard dash speed, so Canadian players are very explosive dodgers. They are also used to passing into very, very tight windows, and just as importantly, they are used to catching passes under great duress. Finally, they are used to shooting at a goal that is half the size of a field lacrosse goal and against goalies wearing hockey pads, so they tend to be very accurate shooters with a quick release. When they get to college they don’t lose any of these skills, and they are suddenly given a space twice as big to work with. These skills, again speaking in broad generalities, make Canadians great attackman and crease players. They make great attackman because they are quick, know how to create offense on their own with little space, and are very accurate feeding to the crease, despite not having the full out speed to run 120 yards back and forth with the midfielders. They make great crease players because they are great at catching the ball in traffic, so they get passes other players would miss, and their shot release is so quick and accurate they score before the defense can collapse on them.
Here is a 1 minute highlight of Hofstra’s star Canadian Jamie Lincoln. He’s #8, but you’ll recognize him as they guy involved in every goal for the gold team. The video isn’t great, but you can see how precise his passes are, as well as how creative and accurate his own shot selection is.
So Are Canadians The Key For Michigan Recruiting?
Despite the media attention, the numbers are not there for Canadian recruiting to justify the hype quite yet. There were only 18 Canadian players total on the roster of the Top 8 D1 programs last year, which is 5% of the total rosters. Even Denver, who received the most hype of any team for the way they were recruiting out of Canada since supposedly it was key to their rise from nothing to the Final Four in two years, only has 4 players from our neighbor to the North. According to Laxpower.com, only 29 Canadians total have signed D1 letters for the Class of 2011 (H/T to Tim for passing on that link). That’s 3% of the total players signed for this year, or just under what Virginia alone produced (which itself is not a hotbed).
So, it appears as of now that Canada is not as much an untapped resource as it is a place where it’s very top level players are getting a lot of media attention. And rightly so, since these Canadian players mentioned are tremendous. If Michigan can get top players out of Canada that would be tremendous, but I do not think it’s the land of diamonds in the rough that some have made it out to be.
I’ll be back with Part III next week.