You graduated in nineteen ninety something or two thousand and change. Played a little lacrosse in your day and were even pretty good. You have a few trophies and scars to remember it by. Once in a while you dust off the stick and throw the ball around a little bit, maybe even play in an annual tournament with old friends and teammates. There are probably more drinks than goals but it’s all in good fun.
Some of the guys I just described are making a return to a league where they enjoyed past glory, some have been playing for years and don’t want to quit unless they have to. Here’s a look at the old guard of the MLL and what they bring to the table.
The talk of the offseason has surrounded Mark Millon’s return to the game and rightfully so. He isn’t just some player coming back after a few years away. He is a lacrosse legend who literally wrote the book, or video in his case on scoring. The problem is Mark is 41 meaning guys he will be playing against will have been in diapers when he was named an All-World Attackman in 1994. Everyone has asked “How much does he have left?’ along with “Why now?” and maybe even “Is this a joke?” but in talking to Mark he doesn’t have outlandish expectations of scoring 12 points in a game again, something he did against the Rattlers he is now playing for. He wants to be part of the team and maybe score a few goals. He is coming back so that his sons will get a chance to watch him play. As a father myself I understand that fully. Showing them tape of your old games doesn’t do it justice. Doubters will point to the fact that he won’t be able to turn on a dime and question mark dodge like he did six years ago when he last played. However Mark never really left the game. He became a teacher of the game. A teacher who taught at least a dozen current MLL players what it takes to make it in this league. So what he lacks in foot speed, he more than makes up for in lacrosse IQ and isn’t that what coaches always rave about? Welcome back Mark, you’re the reason I became a lacrosse fan.
Talking about Mark Millon it’s hard not to think of another high lacrosse IQ guy who has been around for a long time but never stopped playing MLL, Ryan Boyle. Boyle is ten years younger than Millon and he is considered one of the elder statesmen of the MLL. Still the two are very comparable in that they are teachers of the game while still playing the game. Boyle is the MLL’s all time assist leader who has better field vision than any player I have seen before. If a guy is said to have good vision he is compared to Ryan Boyle. Watching Cannons practice at championship weekend it became very clear that when Boyle speaks, the entire offense listens. He is the leader out there and calling him a coach on the field would discredit the things that he does when the stick is in his hands. If the MLL disbanded and reformed with a fantasy draft, even at 31, Boyle would be one of the first players chosen, not for his flow or his flamboyance but because he might just be the smartest lacrosse player that has ever played.
The Charlotte Hounds welcome back Chris Schiller, who like Millon has been away from the game for a while. As a short stick defender his feet will be equally important to his game as Millon’s are to his. Everyone will be looking to see if he has lost a step having not played MLL full time since 2008. Schiller is also a former team USA player and was last seen by MLL fans in 2010 when he played on Team USA against the MLL All. Schiller is a fiery defender who was always a spark in transition and how quickly he can adapt to the mental part of the game might just determine how he plays.
To talk of an older defender coming back it’s hard not to think of Brian Spallina. The guy you don’t want to play against but would love to have as a teammate. I was not a Spallina fan for a long time. I, like everyone else, said he was too dirty of a player and that he constantly hurt his team. Standing on the sidelines as the Bayhawks hoisted the cup, everything I thought about Spallina changed as I saw a guy who would die for his teammates and who could care less about individual awards or honors. He became a Bayhawk at the start of last season and instantly his blood changed from green to blue. When asked how long he will play all Spallina said was “As long as I can” and for once I hope that’s true.
These are not all the elder statesmen of the MLL but they are a few of a large group. To say these guys can’t do it anymore or are past their prime would be a great disservice. And you can’t ignore the fact that the Bayhawks won a championship with veteran players. They all have great stick skills combined with a burning desire and a boatload of determination. This group has enough lacrosse jewelry to open a Tiffany and Co. Do I think these guys will be the best players in the MLL at their position? No I wouldn’t bet on that but do you really want to bet against them? Experience says otherwise.
Tom Bovee is a fan that one day got asked to write about lacrosse and has followed the MLL since the very beginning. He writes for Laxdirt.com and is the co-host of the MLL pre and post game shows. Bovee played Goalie in high school and college lacrosse and currently resides in North Dakota.