Casey Powell is still the only American to be named the National Lacrosse League's MVP, winning the award with the Orlando Titans in 2010. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
Almost four years ago to the day, we published a feature entitled “American Made: The All-Time National Lacrosse League Top 30”.
After speaking to various franchise builders, general managers, coaches and players from the league’s early days as the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League & Major Indoor Lacrosse League to today’s NLL, we ranked the best Americans to ever play in the box big leagues.
To this day, it is the most read piece we’ve ever published on USBOXLA.com, with well over 200,000 unique visits to the article, and an even higher rate of social media impressions across various platforms. Later that year, we also published an NLL Top 50 player ranking, which included all nationalities, even though Canadians clearly cracked it more than anyone else. While the article did do well, its popularity paled in comparison to this American-only list.
Yup, Canadian’s still dominate NLL rosters, but guess what? Americans love this sport! USBOXLA sees it daily with our rapidly growing membership across the country, and since this article was first posted four years ago, we’ve also seen a spike in Americans playing in the NLL too. Americans love box lacrosse - from peanuts all the way to the pros. There’s no denying it.
Since this article was first published (on an older version of USBOXLA.com), we’ve also seen the likes of Tom Schreiber, Greg Downing, Joel White, Brett Manney and other Americans produce at a pace that would likely push them into all-time Top 30 contention.
Stay tuned for an updated and expanded American rundown later this year, but in the meantime and in-between time, revisit USBOXLA’s most popular post to date… American Made : The All-Time NLL Top 30.
Note: This article was first published on March 31, 2016. Statistics, historical rankings, and other items are specific to that original publish date.
Casey Powell had two career stops in Rochester, but also played in Anaheim, New York, Orlando, Boston and Colorado. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
The National Lacrosse League – the sport’s premier professional platform – has seen a serious shortage of American talent in recent seasons.
While the grass-roots game is experiencing by far it’s greatest growth under the direction, dedication and development provided by the US Box Lacrosse Association over the past several years, at the professional level, US-born talent has become scarce. With more and more American youth playing the indoor version of the sport, within a decade or less, don’t be surprised to see a major boom in American-born box playing bodies in the NLL again. Really.
It obviously wasn’t always like this. During the league’s first decade – known first as the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League (’87) and then the Major Indoor Lacrosse League (’88 – ’97) before collapsing into today’s NLL – American talent filled a majority of roster spots. The action US players provided their audience was thrilling, unpredictable and spectacular.
USBOXLA is hitting rewind and recognizing the absolute best US talent that has helped shape the pro sport we have today. From the early Eagle, to the madness of the MILL, and today’s more professionally polished NLL, we have put together the definitive ranking of the greatest Americans that have played this game. Duel citizens can stay on the sidelines and NLLers from the unrelated 70’s version aren’t welcome either. From ’87 to right now, below is The All-Time NLL Top 30, US-only edition.
This speedster might not have stolen headlines like some of the names that missed mention here, but Sims proved a valuable asset in the NLL, one that was often overlooked. Sims, who was coached by the box knowledgeable Bill Tierney at Princeton before going pro, definitely had speed, but also possessed smarts, some serious skills on the press (averaged almost 2 points/game in a defense-first role in Washington, Colorado and Philadelphia), and scooped more than his fair share of loose change. He ranks second behind only John Gallant on the Colorado Mammoth’s all-time loose ball charts and is one of just six US-born players to vacuum up in excess of 800 LB during the NLL regular season.
Did you know? The other members of the NLL 800 LB club include Peter Jacobs (996), Regy Thorpe (966), Eric Martin (865), Paul Cantabene (859), Tim Soudan (850) and then of course Sims (819). Outside of Sims and Martin, the others all took a significant amount of face-offs during their careers, always a big boost to personal loosie stats. His wicked wheels and above average IQ allowed Sims to transform into one of the top American ball hounds in NLL history.
Tom Ryan (middle row, furthest player on right) may be most remembered for his seasons in Philadelphia, but the future NLL coach started his career with the Boston Blazers in 1995. (Photo: Marty O'Neill)
While his signature dreads made everyone spin around to take a second look, it was Ryan’s always aggressive, balls to the wall, never quit attitude and style that forced the audience to stop and stare. After his All-American Senior season at Bowdoin College, Ryan put in extra work playing in the Iroquois Lacrosse Association before making a MILL roster. It was there Ryan not only learned the finer points of box lacrosse, he was educated on how to take and give a hit (or swing) too. He was tough, yes, but Ryan was smart, methodical and a true student of the game. Unique, fun and fearless, Ryan was a cult character you just don’t see in today’s NLL.
Did you know? Ryan coached both the NLL’s Boston Blazers and Team USA at the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships (WILC). O.K. fine, you probably already knew that, but did you know that Ryan is just one of four American head coaches with a better than .500 record over the NLL’s 29-year history? Ryan finished with an impressive .563% percentage with the Blazers, while Tony Resch (.679), Bob Engelke (.625) and Norm Engelke (.571) were the only other Americans to win more than half their games in pro indoor ball. He currently serves on St. Lawrence University’s coaching staff.
There were very few American goal scorers in the NLL like Mike Regan. In fact, only three US-born legends averaged more than his 1.94 career regular season goals/game – Mark Millon (2.21), Casey Powell (2.04) and Roy Colsey (2.02). His outside rifle was one of the most feared releases in the league, while is first-step proved equally explosive. An outstanding athlete that could stand up to punishment in traffic, the Butler grad was arguably the best US box player on the planet during a handful of offensively super-charged seasons. And while he did excel during the Stealth’s first winter in California, it was that cross-country commute that ultimately ended what was shaping up to be one helluva NLL career - no matter his nationality. While Regan’s resume may not have the longevity others did, his impact on NLL turfs was far more powerful than most.
Did you know? Regan scored in excess of 30 goals three times in his NLL career. In fact, the 44 he finished with in 2004 still stands as the fourth best in Attack/Stealth history. Only Canadians Jeff Zywicki (48), Lewis Ratcliff (46) and Rhys Duch (45) topped Regan’s impressive single regular season tally. The only American to top that solo season total is Colsey (51), who did it with the New York Saints in ’01.
There were several early Philadelphia Wings players we considered for this countdown that – had this even been a Top 40 – could have easily found a spot. It would have been criminal, however, if Brad Kotz was missing. Syracuse’s four-time All-American was one of the league’s first true leading men, a scintillating and show-stopping sniper for not only the Wings but the Washington Wave as well. The ’89 goal and point scoring chart topper had stick skills that were probably on par with most box lacrosse playing Canadians of that era. His field wizardry was clearly top shelf stuff, but what he pulled off with next to no room indoors left most simply speechless. Offensively Kotz was accurate, driven and deadly, and he definitely deserves mention as one of the league’s top US-born talents.
Did you know? Brought in by Philadelphia to replace a retired Kotz, John Nostrant was a very special American player too. Drafted by the Wings, Nostrant initially failed to crack their roster, but did sneak a spot with the Baltimore Thunder. It was there that the hardworking Nostrant would cement himself as a top point producer, playmaker (alongside Rick Sowell) and one of the league’s best, period. After an off-season swap, Nostrant would soon become an all-time Philly favorite, winning two Cups with the Wings and finishing as one of the storied franchise’s best ever.
A third round pick in the 1988 entry draft, to think Jeff Jackson – who played at DIII’s Hampden Sydney College – was going to land a Baltimore Thunder roster spot seemed highly unlikely. It wasn’t. Not only did Jackson win a gig with the team, he would go on to put up monster, team-leading numbers while convincingly carving out a name for himself within the expanding pro loop. During an era when the likes of Gary & Paul Gait and a young John Tavares roamed thin MILL carpets, Jackson’s tenacious, clutch and inspired play still stood out. What he lacked in rep he more than made up for in actual on-floor ability. He made the MILL’s All-Pro Second Team three times, but many argue all three years he could have (if not should have) garnered First-Team credentials. An unlikely MILL prospect let alone standout star, Jackson transformed into one of the most exciting players in the early 90’s, and one of the best too.
Did you know? Jackson was the lone DIII product on the ’90 gold medal winning Team USA side in Perth, Australia, but far form the only one that played box lacrosse. In addition to Jackson; John Tucker, Vinny Sombrotto, Sal LoCascio, Norm Engelke, Brad Kotz, Tony Resch , Tim McIntee and Dave Pietramala not only won gold that year with the US, but have also played, coached or did both in the NLL.
"The San Jose organization took a leap of faith by drafting me with such an early pick," said Ryan Boyle after being named NLL Rookie of the Year in 2005. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
After taking part in his very first NLL training camp, Ryan Boyle made a pretty significant impression on his soon to be full-time teammates. “After just that first practice, you could tell Ryan saw the game on a different level, even in box,” said Boyle’s former San Jose Stealth teammate and USBOXLA co-founder Shaydon Santos. The Stealth, who gambled a third overall entry draft pick on Boyle – an American with zero box experience – scouted well evidently. Not only did Boyle grab rookie of the year honors several months later, he slowly started to gain a rep as one of the best US feeders in the NLL – past or present. Don’t think so? Only Casey Powell (2.88) has averaged more American-made, NLL regular season assists/game than Boyle (2.48), whose vision, creativity and overall athleticism allowed him to thrive indoors.
Did you know? No American has won the NLL’s rookie of the year award after Boyle did it in ’05. Actually, not a ton of US-born players won it before him either. The only other Americans voted the NLL’s ROTY were Brian Langtry (’03), Jesse Hubbard (’99) and Charlie Lockwood (’95).
Lately he’s been known more for his coaching resume than his playing one, but Tony Resch was one helluva defensive presence when he suited up and captained the Philadelphia Wings in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The game was not nearly as specialized as it is today, but Resch kept the opposition honest through his tenacious, hard-checking and relentless approach. There was no mistaking what side of the floor he “made his money”, Resch was easily one of the top defensive players during the MILL’s early days. What really stood out though – and still does today in a coaching capacity – was Resch’s unmatched leadership and compete level, two massive reasons why the Wings captured Cups in ’89 and ’90.
Did you know? Resch, who won three NLL titles coaching the Wings, is the only bench boss to pocket a victory against Canada in box lacrosse. When the Resch-led Americans creamed Canada 21-16 at the ’02 Heritage Cup, it marked the first and still only time the US has beaten the Canadians indoors. The US would lose the next Heritage game to Canada two years later, and are a combined 0-5 against the Canucks at the WILC. Soon enough though…
The skilled big man may be the best US-born power forward the NLL has seen since Jake Bergey, which would also qualify Westervelt as one of the sport’s top American power forwards during really any era. The UMBC grad combined imposing size with silky smooth skills around the cage, a potent pairing that routinely ranked him as one of the league’s top goal-getters. During his years with the Philadelphia Wings, the franchise experienced significant upheaval and roster rejigging, but no matter who Westervelt found himself with on the rug, he produced. Whether muscling his way to the crease or throwing down an Air Gait on an unsuspecting tender, Westervelt always showcased versatility and perseverance in his game. Taking the '16 NLL season off to further grow his Hex Performance brand (“a laundry detergent that removes that sweaty smell leftover in performance synthetic fabrics”), Westervelt definitely has some good seasons left in the tank, if he chooses to return. Please do.
Did you know? Over the past decade, only five US-born players have led their NLL team in regular season point production. One, not surprisingly, is Westervelt, who led the Wings in points during the ’10 season. The others include; Casey Powell (New York ’08 & ’09 and Orlando ‘10), Ryan Powell (Portland ’07 & ’09), Brian Langtry (Colorado ‘09) and Dan Marohl (Philadelphia ’06).
Few NLL fans today probably even realize current Navy head coach Rick Sowell played pro indoor ball. Even less likely know he was pretty damn good at it too. Sowell, who like most Americans back then had never played box lacrosse, picked up the indoor game pretty quickly. Having played basketball for most of his life, as he’d soon find out, the game play between the two sports shared many similarities. “The 5-on-5 and then running up and down. I was a basketball player since I was little so I was used to that concept, and the pick and roll,” Sowell told Inside Lacrosse. “I had good lacrosse skills, but not great lacrosse skills, but I guess I was good enough to execute the right looks.” Sowell is surely being modest. Those simply “good enough” skills propelled him to one of the loop’s leading point producers in virtually every season he played. His athleticism, stick skills and ability to maintain possession in traffic allowed Sowell to suck in double teams, then regularly dish to the open man. Tucked in-between Hall of Fame players like Gary & Paul Gait, John Tucker and Sal LoCascio, Sowell was named to three First-Team All-Pro units alongside those legends. Now you know.
Did you know? Sowell, Tucker and Casey Powell are the only US-born players in NLL history to be named to three All-Pro First-Teams.
Half of what Steve Kisslinger did during the 90’s probably wouldn’t fly in today’s NLL, but the fondly remembered (by some) MILL was a perfect platform for this former Towson Tiger. A long pole on grass, Kisslinger clearly didn’t need his taller twig to make an impression once he stepped inside. A unique athlete that was almost impossible to outgun to any 50/50 loose ball, Kisslinger was a beast that embraced box lacrosse’s more rough and tumble style. He backed down to no man, whether due to the opposition’s size or skill. He played gritty, physical and even dirty if the situation called for it, but that’s what pro lacrosse looked like during its most colorful decade, and Kisslinger played his role to perfection.
Did you know? Casey Powell listed Kisslinger as one of lacrosse’s most exciting players when he served as guest editor for Lacrosse Magazine last year. Powell also has some profound analysis of box lacrosse in the piece, saying…
"A lot of people say you have to play box because of the touches and it teaches you to score from in tight. Well, that may have a little bit to do with it, but to me it’s the toughness and the physicality and the amount of wars that these guys have been through. That’s why Canada is winning world championships. It’s not the skill, it’s the mentality and the ability to adapt to different situations. There’s no doubt that getting more touches helps and enhances a player, but it’s the seven-game series in the end of August that they’re playing in eight nights. And it’s at all different levels, whereas in the U.S. development system, you typically play in some club tournaments, then all-star teams, but there’s no equivalent of the wars that they go through. It’s all out."
Joe Walters was easily one of the NLL's most accomplished and skilled Americans during the league's modern era. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
There are extremely few American players in the NLL today. In fact, only 13 have even fit into a game during the current regular season. They are: Kevin Buchanan, Joe Resetarits, Joel White, Greg Downing, David Earl, Brett Manney, Ryan Hotaling, John Ranagan, Mitch Belisle, Chris O’Dougherty, Brian Megill, Mike Manley, and of course, Joe Walters. Although it took some time to rifle through that list, those 13 names account for only about 7% of current NLL rosters. Today’s edition of the NLL is not one Americans have thrived (or stuck around) in, which makes the play of Walters even more impressive. Over the past five years, Walters has forced his way into a full-time role with the recent almost dynasty, future-hall-of-famer-full Rochester Knighthawks. In each of the last five years, Walters has gotten significantly better, growing into a prime-time player during an era his passport tells most he shouldn’t. His speed and possession skills are top notch, and his ability to adjust, adapt and evolve his game has been equally as impressive. His performance in the ’14 Champion’s Cup extra frame decider alone might have been good enough to grab him a spot here. Down by two with just about five minutes left on the clock, Walters would set up a pair and score himself in the span of 75 seconds to clinch that year’s Cup. It was easily one of the most significant solo acts in NLL playoff history.
Did you know? More of a secondary scoring threat in Rochester, Walters played a leading man role for the US at last summer’s WILC. He easily led Group A in point production with 44 points en route to a bronze medal. The next closest player to him from the same group was Shawn Evans (35), who was also the NLL MVP last year.
Tough to name an American that gravitated to the indoor game the way Panos did, and not just in the NLL, but the Canadian Senior ‘A’ leagues too. A first round draft pick in ’96, it was only after he had some seasoning in Canada that his game really started to blossom in the NLL. Panos played in over 250 combined Canadian summer league games in places like Brooklin, Victoria, Peterborough and Langley, winning and contributing to three Mann Cups. An American lacrosse resume with those bullets just doesn’t exist outside of Panos’ CV. His play improved significantly in the NLL after even just one summer up north. He was intense, physical, aggressive and impressively transferred his field-stick skills to the tighter confines of box. While other Americans had fled after tough starts in this league, Panos put the work in to not only find a spot in the NLL, but to finish his career as one of pro indoor lacrosse’s top US-born goal scorers.
Did you know? Panos is one of the few Americans that has played for a Canadian NLL franchise, doing that in ’02 with the Calgary Roughnecks. Other US-born players that have played for Canadians clubs; Kevin Finneran (Toronto Rock), Ryan Powell (Edmonton Rush), Mike Law (Vancouver Ravens), Dan Marohl (Ottawa Rebel), Bill McGlone (Toronto Rock), Chris O’Dougherty (Vancouver Stealth), Kyle Sweeney (Edmonton Rush), Joe Resetarits (Calgary Roughnecks), Tim Henderson (Vancouver Stealth), Paul Talmo (Ottawa Rebel) and Chad Wittman (Vancouver Ravens).
If Americans are as soft in box as some would like you to believe, someone forgot to let Tim Soudan know, because the long-time Rochester Knighthawks leader was anything but. Soudan was a hardworking, all heart, maximum hustle player that played tough, hard-nosed, honest lacrosse. He was custom made for the indoor game, and like a lot on this list, was expected to play both ways on every shift for a majority of his lengthy career. “Soudo was one of the guys I respected the most during my time in Rochester,” said former Knighthawk and current leading lacrosse media member Teddy Jenner. “He was the old warhorse, but the guy worked harder than anyone and demanded your best. Soudan was a solid body with delicate hands and never say die attitude.”
Did you know? Considered extremely capable and complete, Soudan is the only player to rank in the Rochester Knighthawks’ all-time Top 10 in games played, goals, assists, points, face-off wins and loose balls. No other K’Hawk sits in each of those six stat rundowns.
One of the league’s top defenders during the 90’s, few past, present and likely future played with the same level of intensity that Pat McCabe unleashed on the league. Like many during that era, McCabe had responsibilities at both ends of the floor, but it was in the New York Saints’ own end that the three-time All-American at Syracuse did the most damage. Responsible, respected and relentless, McCabe was as hard nosed and tough as they came. He played with sandpaper and a serious snarl on every shift, never afraid to role up his sleeves and get his hands dirty. A lockdown defender that regularly covered the game’s top offensive players, his shutdown and turnover skills were some of the best in the biz. In short, McBride was a warrior whose legacy in this league is not talked about nearly enough.
Did you know? We could mention that McCabe was a key piece of arguably the greatest NCAA DI team ever (’90 Syracuse, “Lost Trophy” team) or that he featured on the US team that toppled Canada in the first Heritage Cup, but those are two nuggets you probably already knew. Betcha didn’t know this though. Before giving out individual league-wide hardware in the 00’s, the NLL used to recognize individual performances on each franchise through a team MVP, Unsung Hero and Seventh Man Award. McCabe was named the New York Saints’ Unsung Hero in ’96. The NLL started handing out a Defender of the Year nod in ’02, which was McCabe’s last year in the big leagues. In 14 years, an American has never been named the league’s top defender.
A few seasons back – during the NLL’s 25h anniversary campaign to be exact – Inside Lacrosse polled a panel of experts made up of long-serving media and former and current NLL players, coaches and general managers. The poll’s purpose was to determine who the league’s absolute best positional players had been after a quarter century of indoor action. Pat Coyle, who currently co-coaches the Colorado Mammoth, easily took all-time defender honors, but somewhat surprisingly (to some), two Americans finished inside the top five vote getters. One was Regy Thorpe, who you’ll read about after scrolling down a bit more, and the other was Brian Voelker, a name that barely gets mentioned in the NLL, ever. Voelker not only played pro indoor lacrosse, he excelled at it while suiting up for the Philadelphia Wings during most of the 90’s. A three-time Cup winner (he went to the final in each of his six seasons except one), Voelker captained a dominating Philly team that easily swept Baltimore in a best-of-three final series. He played with passion, pride, heart and hustle, a blue collar approach the Philly faithful fell in love with.
Did you know? Voelker, who coaches at Drexel University, is far from the only NCAA DI head coach with NLL roots. Besides Voelker, the following DI head (or associate head) coaches also played in the NLL; Eric Seremet (Air Force), Randy Mearns (Canisius), Matt Kerwick (Cornell), Matt Brown (Denver), Dave Pietramala (Johns Hopkins), Charlie Toomey (Loyola), John Tillman (Maryland), Tom Gravante (Mount Saint Mary’s), Rick Sowell (Navy), Jeff Tambroni (Penn State), Chris Bates (Princeton), Dan Chemotti (Richmond), Taylor Wray (St. Joseph’s), Shawn Nadelen (Towson) and Ed Stephenson (UMass-Lowell). Virginia’s Dom Starsia and Denver’s Bill Tierney played in an earlier edition of the NLL (completely separate from today’s league) in the 70’s.
Although never an NLL Cup winner, Ryan Powell's post-season point production is one of the best of any American ever. (Photo: Matt J. Wiater)
There were a few seasons when Ryan Powell was not only considered the top box playing Powell brother, he was arguably the best US-born player in the NLL. Like his big bro Casey, it was after a move out west that we started seeing what the Powells were really capable of indoors. Ryan put his stamp on the NLL during his four-year stint in Portland with the Lumberjax. He matured into a team leader, clutch scorer, an even better playmaker and was no pushover against physical defensive units. “Ryan was the ultimate competitor,” said Dan Dawson, who teamed up with Powell in both Portland and Boston. “He did whatever was asked of him for the betterment of the team. One of my favorite all-time teammates. Ryan could do it all. Beat you from the outside or take it hard to the net. He was a warrior and always put his body on the line every night. He isn’t just one of the best Americans to play in the NLL, Ryan was one of the all-time greats, period.”
Did you know? While Ryan Powell put up good offensive numbers during the NLL’s regular season, his point production experienced a significant spike in the playoffs. Powell’s 5 points/post-season contest is the best average of any American in the history of the league, well, almost. One other US player has also averaged an identical five spot during the post-season. Who? Casey Powell.
A New York Saints’ throwaway after the 2000 season, Brian Langtry’s pro indoor journey was sinking somewhere in-between life support and death coming out of his 3-game, 1-goal not-even-rookie season. Gone and all but forgotten by most, he would re-emerge in Denver with the Colorado Mammoth, and spent the next almost decade showing the Saints’ staff what they missed out on. In just that first season back, Langtry’s 62-point showing shocked the league as he became one of the NLL’s most unlikely Rookie of the Year winners. There was no ignoring Brian Langtry anymore. One of just four Americans to register over 500 regular season NLL points (504) – the others are Casey Powell (674), Kevin Finneran (564) and Jake Bergey (557) – when Langtry was hot, there were few more automatic than him. His 9-goal (1 finish shy of Gary and Paul Gait’s co-record of 10 goals in a single regular season game), 13-point effort against Portland in ’08 still stands as one of the most brilliant individual, single-game stories any American has dropped in the NLL. Suck it Scott Huff!
Did you know? While American-heavy teams regularly filled entire Cup-winning rosters in the late 80’s and early 90’s, that count has dwindled drastically in more recent NLL seasons. Over the past decade, the champion with the most US-born players in their lineup were the ’06 Colorado Mammoth. Americans on that team included; Jay Jalbert, Josh Sims, Dave Stilley, Tom Ethington, Jamie Hanford, and yup, Brian Langtry.
It’s gross that Eric Martin was never recognized by the NLL as one of their top defenders, especially after a couple of high-impact seasons in San Jose. Apparently he wasn’t even worthy of an All-Pro sniff either. Whatever. Martin was one of the league’s most athletic, aggressive, unique and unrelenting defenders who played a smash-mouth style that we’re told Americans today just can’t commit to. His shutdown skills were elite level, and after growing his game indoors, he was a legitimate threat in transition too. While there are very good American players in the league today, we’ve yet to see another Eric Martin in the NLL since he left three seasons ago.
Did you know? Martin was a walk-on at Salisbury University, where he would win two National Championships, was a two-time First Team All-American & Defender of the Year, and a National Player of the Year in his Senior season. For being just a DIII school, Salisbury has had its fair share of players drafted into the NLL. Eric Miller, Jake Bergey, Ryan Murphy, Steve Phipps, Sean Radebaugh, Joe High, Chris Turner, Josh Bergey, Andy Murray, Cory O’Neill, Sam Bradman and Martin make up a lengthy list of Seagulls taken in the league’s entry draft.
Don’t take our word for it when we say John Tucker literally did it all for the Philadelphia Wings back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Former Wings head coach Dave Evans, who currently sits on the Vancouver Stealth’s staff, told the Philadelphia Daily News back in ’92, “Whenever we have needed a goal, or a big hit, or loose ball picked up, John has been there. He ignites us.” Few played the way Tucker did during those vintage seasons with the Wings. Even though game play during those years differs significantly from today’s NLL, his versatility, dogged determination, and just good overall lacrosse sense & supreme skill easily cemented Tucker as one of the game’s best.
Did you know? Tucker is just one of three US-born players in the NLL’s Hall of Fame. Tony Resch and Sal LoCascio, who like Tucker would both also later coach in the NLL, are the other two. The American trio are some of the very few pioneering players that have been able to find their way into the hall, which has seemingly ignored the early legends that helped shape the league we still have today. The NLL’s recent 30th Anniversary Team had just a single American on it (Casey Powell), and just an extremely small handful of players that featured in the league’s first five ground-breaking seasons (’87 – ’91).
Sometimes – and it’s rare – an American with zero box experience is just flat-out good the first time he steps in a rink. Yes, the early days of this league were often more sideshow circus than sanctioned sport, but Dave Pietramala, already considered the field game’s greatest defenseman at the time (arguably still today too), was equally as dominating indoors. The league was fast, frantic and not for the faint of heart, and that suited the now long-tenured Johns Hopkins coach just fine. He was quick, athletic and tougher than tough, and seemed to play even better the more physical games got. He once told e-lacrosse, “We were a bad indoor team but man we had a lot of fun. I mean those years of lacrosse after college were great. We would go to practice and we would beat the hell out of each other.” Amazing.
Did you know? When the Bulls folded and their players were dispersed, the Baltimore Thunder made it their top priority to grab Pietramala in the supplemental draft. They got him, and Head Coach Skip Lichtfuss was thrilled. “Gary Gait is the most amazing offensive player, but if I were starting a team, I’d pick Pietramala,” Lichtfuss told The Baltimore Sun in ‘93. “He’s 6-4, 210, runs like a deer and comes to play. I understand Thunder practices last year lacked intensity. Anyone who isn’t ready to practice this year will find his butt on the ground, compliments of Pietramala.”
Shockingly never in the conversation as top NLL defenseman during his playing days, Nadalen was one of the best shutdown defenders during his era. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
He very well may be the most underrated NLL player ever, in large part due to the quality of the teams he played for (no offense). Shawn Nadelen suited up for the Philadelphia Wings during some of their more depressing and dooming seasons (and a pair of expansion teams in New Jersey and Minnesota too). The franchise lacked stability, direction and focus during much of Nadelen’s time in Philly, and for that, his impressive individual talents would go largely unrecognized by anyone outside of the city. But the truth is, Nadelen was one of the NLL’s most imposing shutdown defenders, who convincingly covered top talent through toughness, strength and somewhat surprising foot speed. He read the game well and was able to adapt his approach to whatever all-star he was assigned. Like mentioned in Eric Martin’s rundown, not recognizing Nadelen as one of the league’s best defensemen, even just once, is scandalous.
Did you know? Nadelen played for those three previously mentioned franchises over an 11-year career, but somehow managed to find himself in front of nine different head coaches, a list that included: Jim Hinkson, Jim Brady, Peter Vipond, Adam Mueller, Mike Simpson, Lindsay Sanderson, Dave Huntley and John Tucker. Fun.
The mid-90’s were an interesting time for many US-born, field-first players trying to find their groove in a slowly changing pro indoor loop. More and more Canadians were crashing the party, both players and coaches. The freewheeling, uber fast and usually wild game play was getting slower, more methodical and sometimes very clutch & grabby. The MILL was truly an indoor league, while the new NLL was more box than ever before. Fewer and fewer roster spots belonged to Yankees, and unless you had a Canuck leading your bench or an American coach that truly understood the game, you were probably SOL. Then there were a select few like Roy Colsey, whose athleticism and way above average field lacrosse skills allowed him to be extremely relevant indoors during that evolving era. He had size, the speed to match, and a rocketing rip from downtown that had to be one of the hardest in the league, still to this day. Yes, other top American field players during that time were just as athletic and willing, but Colsey not only survived, he thrived, and was truly one of a kind.
Did you know? The list of players that have topped 50 goals in the NLL is a relatively short one. It’s also one that has just a lone American on it… Roy Colsey. While the NLL for some reason fails to acknowledge his co-league leading 51 goals in their ’16 media guide (although they do include John Tavares’ 51 that same season, and yes, they list ties in every other instance), that ’01 output was a pretty significant one. It landed him on the league’s First Team All-Pro too. 13 years later, the only other American to grab NLL First-Team honors is Casey Powell.
Virtually every name on this list is at super-athlete status, but likely none would rank higher than Tom Carmean. He may not be the most skilled or box savvy Top 30 member, but Carmean would out hustle, out work and just straight-up out you for not being at his elevated athletic level. His first-step is one of the strongest this league has seen, and his ability to maneuver in transition and traffic allowed him to be both a top goal gainer and polished playmaker. While he didn’t have the lengthy careers the more modern US players did, his offensive/game numbers are some of the best all-time (only Casey Powell averaged more assists/game than Carmean’s nearly 2.5 per outing) while his outstanding loose balls/game average (7.05) have him sandwiched near the top of the list between the likes of Eric Martin and Peter Jacobs. No American landed on more All-Pro Teams (5) and prior to the league handing out a league-wide MVP hardware in ‘94, he was named the Boston/New England Blazers top player three times from ’91-’93.
Did you know? It’s one thing for an American to standout for his athleticism during the early days of the NLL (Canadian’s post-game liquid in the 90’s was typically a Bud instead of Gatorade), but to do it outdoors was something else entirely. Carmean’s former collegiate teammate and current UMass coach Greg Cannella said, “We haven’t had an athlete like him (Carmean) come around here in a long time. I am convinced that he would have thrived at any position. We could have put him at midfield, short stick, long stick defense or even goalie and he would have gotten the job done.”
Not sure anyone was more unimpressed with the NLL’s 30th Anniversary Team than Mark Millon, who seemed flabbergasted that the league failed to acknowledge some of the players – no matter their nationality – from their opening decade. He blogged, “The only issue I have is the favoritism towards players with a box lacrosse background, politics, or possibly just a lack of work/caring by the NLL to compile this list.” He mentions a handful of deserving names that didn’t make it: Jake Bergey, Kevin Finneran, Ted Dowling, Chris Gill and Dan Stroup. And while the New York native was clearly being modest, Millon should have definitely received serious consideration as well. While compiling this Top 30, Toronto Rock captain and USBOXLA coach Colin Doyle socially shared his opinion of Millon, saying, “Mark Millon could do it all. Tough as nails, inside, outside and feet that I haven’t seen since.” Small in stature but sky high in talent and toughness, Millon was one of the league’s premier offensive threats through the mid-90’s and into the early 00’s. Shifty, strong and savvy, Millon is one of the best pure goal scorers this league has ever seen, American or otherwise. His 2.21 regular season goals/game is the best average of any American player ever. Yes, better than even Casey Powell (that might be the first and only time we’ve said that here).
Did you know? Millon was on the winning side of one of the NLL’s biggest Champion’s Cup upsets when his Philadelphia Wings beat the Toronto Rock 9-8 in the ’01 finals. Had the Rock won, it would have been their third straight NLL title, but Philly clearly had other plans when the rolled into town. Millon led all scorers with 3 goals in the victory, while Doyle, who has since collected a total of six Cups in his career, was held pointless.
Quite simply, Sal LoCascio is the best American box lacrosse goalie in the history of the NLL, or really anywhere else on the plant for that matter. “For a goalie it’s like playing a completely different sport,” said recent bronze winning backstop and USBOXLA product David Mather, who like LoCascio, was a field goalie that fell in love with box lacrosse. “Nothing you’ve learned in field will really help you as a box goalie, outside of the mindset of stopping a ball,” he added. Unlike Mather, who had the opportunity to play indoors during his teens, LoCascio’s first taste of indoor tending was when he hit the MILL. That terrifyingly difficult transition at such a high level has proved virtually impossible over the years, which makes LoCascio’s story that much more special. The NLL Hall of Famer reinvented his game while playing for the New York Saints, every bit as good a backstop as any Canadian during the league’s first several seasons (unless your name was Dallas Eliuk). Colorful, clever and true crease commander, LoCascio’s NLL resume may never be matched.
Did you know? A rarity, especially in today’s game, LoCascio spent every one of his 11 seasons with the New York Saints, later coaching the franchise as well.
No player made a bigger impact in the NLL in such a short amount like Jay Jalbert did during five phenomenal seasons in the league. (Photo: Colorado Mammoth)
To watch him on the floor, you’d think he was a Canadian who grew up in a box lacrosse booming city like Whitby or Victoria, but Jay Jalbert is very much American made. He crashed, thrashed and bashed as good as any box-bred Canuck, playing with an intensity and compete level that maybe no player in today’s game comes close to. A bold statement, but Jalbert was a bold and brash player, one that could get under your skin with his skills or spittin' smack. While his impact wasn’t always reflected on the scoresheet, he was a difference maker that demanded the opposition’s attention no matter what barn he stepped in. He played with a MILL attitude and aggression, but was skilled and studied enough to pass any box-specific test someone might stick in front of him. He was a no-nonsense defender that also contributed significantly on the press, and his loose ball nabbing ability was regularly top of the league quality. In ’06, Jalbert would win his second NLL title, but would also find out days later he had suffered his seventh career concussion. He would not play in the NLL again, a career cut short much too soon, but one that will never be forgotten.
Did you know? During the ’04 NLL All-Star Game in Denver, Jalbert and Glenn Clark almost came to blows in a heated un-all-star like exchange. TV commentators yelled out, “This isn’t your everyday all-star game,” and eventual ASG MVP Mark Steenhuis said post-game, “People were hitting everyone hard, with cross-checks, slashing. I thought the intensity was great the whole game. It just made it fun to play in.” The game is considered by far the league’s most popular mid-season showcase ever, thanks in large part to Jalbert.
Even when he played, Kevin Finneran – an American that just simply produced – never seemed to get the respect and recognition his game deserved. He was often overshadowed by the likes of Gary & Paul Gait, Tom Marecheck and Dallas Eliuk in Philadelphia, but for those that watched Finneran, they saw that he capitalized in any moment that was provided him. Did he benefit from playing alongside those names we just mentioned? Of course, but to fault him for it is laughable and lazy. Finneran was definitely athletic, but intellectual and crafty as well. The league’s one-time reigning “Iron Man” was fitter than fit too, allowing him to play in 138 consecutive games. And while his regular season point production was some of the best any American has ever registered, his work in the playoffs may be even more impressive. A five-time Cup winner, Finneran still holds championship game assist records – most assists in a single championship game (8) and most career championship game assists (26). A should be NLL Hall of Famer, Finneran’s solo and team accomplishments in the NLL have been matched by very few.
Did you know? Kevin Finneran played for that famed ’02 US Heritage Cup roster that stunned the Canadians in the country’s lone W against their northern neighbor. The team featured the best-of-the-best when it came to American talent. The game was a tune-up for the inaugural WILC just about a year later, but unlike their Heritage winning roster, many top US-born players would not return. Major League Lacrosse unofficially outlawed their stars from playing at the WILC that summer, which occurred during the outdoor pro league’s season. Finneran was very outspoken about the ban, and even chose to ignore it, opting to represent his country instead. He was just one of four players that would play on both pioneering US sides. The others included; Rich Brzeski, Chris Panos and the duel citizen swinging Dwight Maetche.
Regy Thorpe packed a wallop during his 15 seasons leading the Rochester Knighthawks. Potent, powerful and precise in his play, Thorpe was a defensive defenseman that performed his role to perfection. While defenders in this league are often applauded for the extras they bring to the table, Thorpe didn’t bother with any side-dish skills, but instead provided a heaping helping of tenacious, tough, badass lacrosse during every shift he played. Colin Doyle once called Thorpe one of the most difficult and relentless defenders he ever played against, a battle his body would take several days to forget. As tough and hard nosed as he was, Thorpe was more than just added muscle. He was smart, had good vision and was always accountable. A two-time Cup winner with the Knighthawks, Thorpe has mysteriously never been granted an invite to the NLL’s stingy Hall of Fame.
Did you know? Thorpe is one of the very few Americans who has coached any level of box lacrosse in Canada. He led the mighty Six Nations Arrows (Junior ‘A’) for three summers, winning the country’s national title – the Minto Cup – in ’07.
Players have described running into a Jake Bergey pick as brick-wall bad. Bergey was not only an immovable object Hulk Hogan would have struggled to slam, he was an unstoppable force that gave defenders and goalies fits throughout his entire pro career. Besides his rib cage crippling physical presence, Bergey was also clutch, consistent and could flip the script in any scenario in a matter of minutes courtesy of his impressive stick skills. He was one of the sport’s first true power forwards, standing his ground and creating space like few have before or after him. His size and skill allowed him to transition indoors quicker than most, a 20-goal scorer in just his rookie year playing on a loaded Wings roster that wasn’t easy to impact. In his sophomore season, Bergey finished fourth overall in league scoring, becoming a Philly fan favorite for the foreseeable future. His imposing frame, superhero strength and ability to absorb whatever the opposition hammered him with while still creating and cashing at the crease, easily lands the respected behemoth right near the top of this rundown.
Did you know? Before being drafted by the franchise, Bergery was a Philadelphia Wings season ticket holder and dreamed of one day playing for the team. Although the Boston Blazers twice tried to nab Bergey via an expansion draft, he managed to play his entire 10-year NLL career in Philly.
Even with a three-year break early in his career, Casey Powell was seemingly easily able to set American scoring standards in the NLL that still stand today. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
Was there really any doubt? Casey Powell has the skills, stats and story to easily lift him to #1 in the Top 30. Powell was taken first overall by the Rochester Knighthawks in the ’98 entry draft, the last time an American would go that early ever again (brother Ryan Powell and Paul Rabil were next closest, going second overall in future drafts). While many would tell you otherwise, his first two years in the league weren’t that bad, but after a constant barrage of unwarranted, unwanted and usually questionable contact – including an infamous high hit courtesy of Pat Coyle in the playoffs – Powell vanished and could very well have retired as far as anyone knew. His return three years later, however, was unexpected, unlikely and eventually one of the NLL’s greatest comeback stories ever told. Arriving in Anaheim to play for the Storm, Powell would spend the next handful of seasons sharpening his skills, expanding his box IQ and showing all his detractors that he could handle whatever physical or verbal attacks they had waiting for him. Powell not only absorbed that likely painful punishment, he grew into a legitimate box lacrosse force with every hit, whether clean or crusty. He had gained respect from every player possible, and the numbers he started throwing down each game came at a rate no one could believe. Powell was now a reliable leader, a feared and flawless forward capable of anything any other prime-time player was. Today, Powell is considered the greatest American point producer in NLL history, leading in career goals (279), assists (395) and obviously points (674). Would he have done all this had he not taken that somewhat lengthy leave of absence? Maybe, but unlikely. Powell’s story is arguably more important to his legacy than the shots he sank, allowing him to redefine his reputation and rank within a sport he was told he wasn’t built for.
Did you know? Grass, turf, sand… #legend.