Some unsettling news broke late yesterday morning when the National Lacrosse League announced it was suspending operations for the upcoming 2008 season.
Unsettling for the fans in 14 major North American cities, and in between, unsettling for a sport whose premier league is most definitely in a growth phase.
It’s also unsettling because it ruins any chance for this column to recommend sports fans give the NLL a chance this winter.
This space won’t be dedicated to dissecting the specifics of the labour dispute, which are boring, nor will it take sides, as neither the players nor the club owners have much money in the burgeoning league.
All that will be said is that the move is a shame—and that any chance for an 11th-hour decision to go ahead with play in the new year is welcomed (the short season begins Dec. 27 but starts in earnest in January, so there is still time).
NLL lacrosse is exciting to watch (yes, almost as exciting as the Colorado Rockies) and is an unequalled experience live. The game itself isn’t too far removed from hockey in terms of rules, but the pace and presentation of the NLL is aligned a little closer to pro basketball.
One might say it takes the grit (and fighting) of hockey and a regularity of scoring and blaring music not unlike the NBA. Good match.
Another appealing point is that the NLL is possibly the last major pro league on the continent where players are truly driven by the love of the game.
Even the elite stars need to keep second jobs, and flying across the country to play with Arizona or San Jose is difficult for a league populated by players by and large from southwestern Ontario.
Sadder still, there’s not much of a local alternative to substitute the lack of lacrosse for the upcoming year. Even without the Minnesota Swarm playing a road trip away and the Toronto Rock showing up on television, there’s precious little said about what is recognized as Canada’s national sport in this corner of the country.
Lacrosse is known and promoted in circles as the summer equivalent of hockey, with the same facilities used (sans ice) and most of the equipment, sticks notwithstanding, used for both sports.
Best buddies Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk are known for their long NHL careers, but often associated with how their strong backgrounds in lacrosse made them better hockey players.
One of the blessings of modern hockey has become a bit of a curse in that sense—what once was strictly a winter sport can now be played year-round, and elite players rarely spend much time away from the ice.
It’s a development lamented by the likes of Wayne Gretzky, a sports nut of some repute who has gone on the record as saying some of his fondest memories of his childhood were the summer’s season of lacrosse.
Here’s to the NLL and the players’ union finding a compromise, and the league—including its three Canadian franchises—getting back to business.
The very short professional lacrosse season suddenly will seem quite long if there aren’t any games to pass the time.
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