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The Missing Piece to Nick Tintle’s Lacrosse Career Fuels His Passion

July 31, 2018
The Denver Outlaws and Atlanta Blaze will slug it out Saturday night in Kennesaw, Ga., with the winner advancing to the Major League Lacrosse (MLL) playoffs. While it would be Atlanta's first appearance in the postseason since joining the league for the 2016 campaign, making the playoffs is nearly a foregone conclusion in Denver each year. The Outlaws have only missed the playoffs once since joining the league in 2006.

For short-stick defensive midfielder Nick Tintle, however, chasing a championship is the main reason he plays the game at all. Tintle grew up in Levittown, N.Y. He was a football phenom at MacArthur H.S. and rushed for a single-season record of 2,049 yards during his senior year running behind fullback Gian Villante, who played football and wrestled at Hofstra before becoming an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter. Tintle led his team to the county football championship as a junior and scored the game-winning touchdown. He hasn’t won a championship since.

“Football was my No. 1 passion for sure and I might have been able to play two sports at Hofstra, too, but I lived 15 to 20 minutes down the street from the campus my whole life. I wanted to go off to college and have a new experience,” Tintle related.

When UNC and then head lacrosse coach John Haus came calling, Tintle jumped at the chance to further his education and lacrosse career in Chapel Hill. He was already a Michael Jordan fanatic, wore Carolina blue warm-up suits and Air Jordan sneakers at the time. He dreamt of one day playing at the
University of North Carolina.

From 2005 to 2008, Tintle wore No. 23 on the lacrosse team and played in 56 games for the Tar Heels scoring 40 times and adding 33 assists. UNC had a middling record in those days, 32-30 to be exact and played in three NCAA tournament games. No championships were won. Tintle enjoyed his time at UNC but lacrosse had become a chore. The San Francisco Dragons of MLL had contacted him prior to the collegiate draft and told him they were planning to pick him in the first round. Tintle told them to use their choice on another player.

“I just shut them down. I told them I was done. I just wasn't in the right place. I didn't want to play anymore. I didn't have the passion for the game then,” he said. “I started working in insurance and then a couple of things happened outside of lacrosse that sent me in a different direction."

Spiral might be the more appropriate term. Still hesitant to revisit the unspeakable tragedy, Tintle explained briefly what occurred on a Monday night in Oct. 2008.

“One of my best friends from high school, Rick Bailey, got shot and was killed. He was a senior at UAlbany and went to watch a Monday Night Football game with friends. He was on his way home and got caught in the middle of a gang initiation type of thing,” Tintle said. “We had a very tight group of friends in Levittown. Real life smacked all of us in the face and I put everything off to the side. I just wasn't in the state of mind to do anything for myself.”

Eventually, he put New York and the tragedy in the rear-view and headed to California.

“I moved to Huntington Beach, which we all know has been a big surf area for a long time, and then I moved to San Clemente,” Tintle said.

In addition to football and lacrosse, Tintle always enjoyed surfing. He and his father often hit the Long Island beaches together, particularly after hurricanes had hit the East Coast and the surf had swelled.

SoCal seemed a logical choice to pursue that escape. He took a job selling solar panels door-to-door to earn a paycheck but soon pursued a career in athletic training. With a desire to teach since his UNC days, he began training lacrosse athletes in San Juan Capistrano. But not wanting to step on the toes of existing club coaches and their teams, Tintle conceived a unique business model to get involved with the burgeoning sport in Southern California. Rather than lacrosse instruction, he initiated a physical fitness-training program designed by lacrosse players for lacrosse players. His home base for training now is  Athletes Choice in Trabuco Canyon.

“I saw that California has tremendous athletes but lacrosse was still undeveloped. I wanted to offer a more sports-specific training program. It’s behind-the-scenes where athletes are doing the speed, agility and strength work — sweating and working out — when no one is watching,” Tintle said. “It has been a good angle to talk to coaches and to work with the teams to show their kids you just can't play lacrosse all day long and expect to make it to the top level. In California, most training programs are football-centric, and while some of those can cross over, it’s not lacrosse training.”

Getting indirectly involved in the sport, Tintle yearned to play lacrosse again. He satisfied the lacrosse itch by playing in Max and Zander Ritz’s LXM Pro Tour for several years.

“When that folded, I figured it would make a good story to try to make an MLL roster at 30 years old,” Tintle said.

“Nick came to one of our open tryouts three years ago in Denver,” said Outlaws general manager, Tony Seaman. “He paid the money himself to come to try out and we were very, very impressed by him, his toughness and his all-around athletic ability. He is as tough as any kid is anywhere.”

Then, a 30-year-old rookie, he played just four games for Denver in 2016, the Outlaws’ second championship season in three years. He didn't get a chance to play in the two postseason games. 

“I went to the practice squad for a bit, then off the practice squad. They ended up turning their season around with some of the new guys they got from college like goalie Jack Kelly. They started off the season 2-6, won their last six games and then two playoff games. It was a crazy run. I did my thing, tried it and got to play four games. I thought I was on my way out again,” Tintle said. The Outlaws had other ideas.

Tintle adapted nicely to his role as a short-stick defensive midfielder in Denver, which is one of the hardest positions to play in MLL. Guarding fleet-footed middies and fighting through and around picks is much like playing cornerback in the NFL.

“We’ve had a pretty good list of short-stick defensive middies over the years,” Seaman said. “I think that is one of the reasons that we have been consistently as good as any team in MLL.” Tintle was still a part of the Outlaws' plans.

“Everybody picks on them and everybody tries to go to the goal against them,” Seaman offered. “We are always looking for the best possible athletes to play that role for us. I personally scour every graduating class in college for guys we think have some potential. Nick is one of those guys.”

Noah Molnar and Tintle made a great tandem last season, according to Seaman, but Molnar decided to step away from MLL this year. Josh Hawkins was acquired in player movement last fall from the Boston Cannons and has filled the void admirably.

“We’ve got two of the best guys in the league playing that position for us,” Seaman said.

Outlaws' head coach B.J. O’Hara said Tintle plays with his heart on his sleeve, is physically fit and plays the position with a toughness few can match.

“Although we have a bias, we feel that Nick is, or is among the very best d-middies in the league. He doesn't get the recognition that some of the other guys do but we would match him up with anybody. He and Hawkins make a great tandem and they have been a big part of our success,” O’Hara said. 

During the 2017 season, Tintle played in nine games but injuries forced him to sit out the Outlaws’ final three regular season games and two playoff games.

“Unfortunately, my age caught up to me a little bit. I had injuries that plagued me last season. The third game in, I separated my anterior cruciate joint. I played through that. In the eighth game against the New York Lizards, I got a little bit of a buddy pass from one of my teammates and got destroyed [by an opponent] in the middle of the field and broke three ribs. I played through that,” Tintle related.

A third injury, however, ended his season. “Right before the playoffs we were playing the Rattlers in Rochester, I went in on a faceoff, got pushed from behind in an awkward pile-up and I fell on my wrist and pretty much palmed my forearm. I knew I had broken it,” Tintle said. 

He went back in and played the final quarter of the game, but his hand blew up like a balloon on the fight back to Denver. He was examined and it was discovered he suffered two grade-three tears in the ligaments in his wrist.

“Nick begged me to let him play in the championship game, even after the doctors told him that there was no way,” Seaman said. “He was a big reason to help get us there. I think him not being in the lineup that day was the difference in us not winning it last year.”

The hope of one day lifting the Steinfeld Trophy fuels Tintle’s desire to keep playing with pain and through injury, no matter the severity. He rested and rehabbed the wrist during the offseason and came back this season ready to renew his championship quest. He has played in 12-of-13 Outlaws' games.

“In football, we won the county championship, but in lacrosse, I have never gotten to a championship game. To get in that game, to play on that stage, to go out there and give it everything I got, and to finally get my hands on a ring would be the storybook ending to my career,” Tintle said.

He used Alex Ovechkin as an example, the Washington Capitals left wing, who won his first Stanley Cup in June.

"Ovechkin is the epitome of putting in time, effort and work. I am not trying to draw a parallel with him and myself, but all of it finally paid off for him in the NHL," Tintle said. "You could see [from his reactions to winning] his whole life's dream came to fruition. That's the feeling I have. I'll do anything to help Denver to win a ring. All pro athletes do what we do to win a championship.”

The Outlaws are currently tied for third place in the standings with Atlanta and New York, and only the top four teams qualify for the playoffs and the chance to win the Steinfeld Trophy. If Denver qualifies, Tintle's first step toward a championship will come August 11.