As one of the few to ever beat Canada, Regy Thorpe has now been tasked to rebuild Team USA's box lacrosse program. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
Regy Thorpe’s box lacrosse resume is like no other.
No American has come close to accomplishing what the current New York Riptide and Team USA box lacrosse boss has done as both a player and coach indoors.
They just haven’t.
He played 15 spectacular seasons in the National Lacrosse League, all with the Rochester Knighthawks – winning the Cup with them in 1997, and then again, a decade later in 2007.
He worked as a GM in Rochester’s front office, but ditched tie and jacket for twig and jersey on gamedays, becoming the league’s only player/GM in the NLL’s 34-year history.
He’s won Minto Cups as both a head coach and assistant.
He is one of the few Americans that can say they beat Team Canada in box lacrosse.
And then more recently, he’s been tasked to rebuild Team USA and lay the foundation for the expansion Riptide.
Like we said, Regy Thorpe’s box lacrosse resume has never been duplicated, and no doubt, never will be.
We sat down with Thorpe and talked about his historic career, coaching in Canada, beating Canada, his plans for both the Riptide and Team USA, plus a ton more.
Here is Regy Thorpe’s resume, in his own words.
Thorpe helped the Rochester Knighthawks capture their first Cup back in 1997, beating the Buffalo Bandits 15-12 in the final. (Photo: USBOXLA files)
Prior to playing in the NLL, you had a standout collegiate career, first at Herkimer and then obviously Syracuse. Any box in your background before going pro?
Not really. When I got back from Herkimer I played with a bunch of older club ball guys at West Genesee’s Shove Park, but that was basically a field version of box at best. When I finished at Syracuse in ’93, I discovered the Major Indoor Lacrosse League and saw some Buffalo Bandits games since they were local to me. And that’s about it really.
How’d you end up a Knighthawk then?
Well, I finished playing for Syracuse in ’93. I was completing my degree, was married and already starting a family. Mark Burnam (Syracuse University, 11-year MILL/NLL player) was playing for the Bandits at the time, and was trying to get me a tryout for the team in 1994. There was a huge snowstorm the weekend I was supposed to attend their camp, which ended up getting cancelled, and nothing really came together after that. Barry Powless, the Knighthawks’ first head coach, called me up the next year and asked me to come out for their expansion team. I told him I didn’t know much about box, but he said just go out there and crosscheck and pickup ground balls and I’d be fine. I figured I could handle that.
Who do you credit in those early days of helping you transition to the indoor game?
My first year in Rochester I was so fortunate to play with some great leaders like Randy Mearns, Dewey Jacobs, Tim Soudan, Peter Parke, Chugger (Steve Dietrich) in net, and I could go on. We had a great mix of guys that grew up playing in Canada and Americans who had played in the league previously. That environment really helped me adapt indoors. I had never played a box game in my life, and it was those guys that really helped me learn the game and fall in love with it.
The Rochester Knighthawks brand has obviously gone through some significant changes in recent seasons, with the original franchise now in Halifax. Describe what it was like playing for the franchise during their glory days.
It was just such a great atmosphere playing at the Blue Cross in Rochester. That first year in ’95, we were able to upset some teams and make it to the finals down in Philly. We lost in OT. Gary Gait got the winner for the Wings that I’ll never forget, but it was still such an unforgettable season. And after that we kinda just caught fire with some great runs that the city really got behind. We won the last MILL Championship before the league transitioned to the NLL, which again, was such a magical moment. And then all the fan interaction we used to have back in those days was really cool, very intimate. We were playing for the love of the game, we felt so connected to the fans, and the action on the floor was always electric. It was so special to be in Rochester during those years. I loved it.
Several seasons back, Toronto Rock legend Colin Doyle mentioned you as one of the toughest defensemen he ever played against in the NLL. What were some of your most memorable defensive assignments during your playing days?
Well, Colin for sure. He was an absolute warrior. He was so hard to play against. Him and Kim Squire together back in the day were just outstanding. Mearns and Dewey used to have a pretty darn good two-man game for us, but Colin and Kimbo were just on another level. Without question, playing against Gary and Paul Gait was always a battle all night long. A few years after I started, Rochester ended up drafting John Grant. Just having to cover him in practice was impossible. John Tavares could kill you inside or burn you from the outside. He was so diverse and such a challenge to cover. Darris Kilgour during those heated Buffalo and Rochester rivalry games was a handful to deal with too. I had the honor of battling against these guys for over a decade. We won some, we lost some, but those are memories that will last forever.
Thorpe competed against, played alongside, and later at Syracuse University, coached with lacrosse legend, Gary Gait. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
Not many if any GMs in the NLL today could compete on the floor alongside the players they presently manage, but you did just that back in 2009 as the league’s only player/GM ever. Explain.
Honestly, it was done out of necessity. John Grant was lost for the year with a knee injury. Then we lost Marshall Abrams, Scott Ditzell and Scott Evans to ACL injuries too. Guys were dropping like flies. This was more than just an injury bug. We were trying to make a playoff push. I knew I had a couple games left in the tank. We had practice on like a Wednesday or Thursday night and another defender goes down days before a Friday game. We didn’t really have many if any options. Paul Gait, who was our coach that year, asked if I could do it. I said sure. The rest is history.
There have been a small handful of Americans that have coached Junior ‘A’ lacrosse in Canada, but you are the only one that we recall that has ever served as a head coach, and not just a HC, but one that captured a Minto Cup too. Tell us a bit about coaching the storied Six Nations Arrows.
Well, when I was in Rochester with Marshall Abrams, his father-in-law was the GM of the Arrows. They thought I might be a good fit and would be able to bring a bit of a different perspective to the team. They really wanted to expose the players to the potential of playing collegiately too. Coaching in Six Nations was just an awesome experience. I think the guys really bought into our approach in 2007, we had a great run, and got over the hump to win the Minto that year in New Westminster. Every player and staff member were given a piece of that old wooden green floor from New West’s Queen’s Park Area. Coaching the Arrows allowed me to gain a real appreciation for the history and culture of the game in Canada, which is so unique and different to what we see in the US. And then I feel so fortunate to have been an assistant with the team in 2014 and win another Minto Cup. I can’t say enough about Six Nations. The coaches, the players, the people… it was just an amazing experience.
We recently shared a Team USA picture from the 2002 Heritage Cup, the only time the US has beaten Canada in box. Your son Gale, who has since played for Team USA as well, was on your shoulders in that post-game celebratory shot. What can you tell us about that very special and historically significant day?
That was a great group of players, coaches and staff that Steve Govett put together. It was an amazing team to be a part of. As Americans, we don’t always get much respect in the league. Tony Resch, who was our head coach, really challenged us that day. He told us to play with a chip on our shoulder and not back down. The Canadians were stacked. You look up and down that roster, the names you see, they were loaded. I think early on we took their best blow, and we came punching back and realized we could do this. We had great leaders, really tough players, and guys that knew their roles. Eddie Comeau, who was one of Canada’s coaches, said their perspective really changed when it came to building their future rosters after that game. You couldn’t just take an all-star team to games like that. You needed a balanced roster with players that served a specific purpose. I think we caught them off guard a bit, but we’ll still take that W.
Since Team USA captured the Heritage Cup in 2002, the country has struggled to regularly recruit the best lacrosse players for their box program. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
That 2002 Team USA Heritage Cup roster included probably the best American lacrosse players, period, whether you’re talking box or field. For a variety of reasons – the MLL, the PLL, fewer Americans in the NLL, other non-lacrosse commitments – we’ve never really seen that roster or success duplicated again. Without taking away anything from the players that have represented the red, white and blue since, how big a hurdle has it been trying to attract the country’s best lacrosse players for the national box program?
Sure, I think the pro field leagues have hurt the opportunity of some guys playing summer lacrosse up in Canada to further develop their box game, or even committing to the NLL fully. Even during the last World Games, we took a second seat to the PLL playoffs with some guys, who only joined us in Langley later. And look, those guys played hard all year in the PLL to earn that championship opportunity, so there was no way I was going to ask them to miss that. It’s unfortunately just the way things work in lacrosse right now. As we go here, I’m already seeing the commitment from guys growing, and top American talent wanting to be involved with the Team USA box program. I think over the last few years we’ve really seen that American box talent pool grow. I think USBOXLA has done a fantastic job growing the sport at the youth, high school and now college level too, which will only help with the national program. That player pool is going to keep growing and growing, and ultimately, get better and better. I think we’ll see players more committed and more competitive as a result. We’re headed in the right direction.
At the 2019 World Indoor Lacrosse Championships in Langley, for the fifth straight tournament, Canada won gold, the Iroquois silver, and the US bronze. With that said, coming out of that event, the repeated message from Team USA was, “This wasn’t just another bronze.” Why?
I think that means guys are fueled. I think players on this team are motivated. We were missing Matt Rambo, Connor Kelly and Matt Dunn for that first Iroquois game, Tom Schreiber was injured, yet we pushed them to the limit and they only beat us by a few. That was a better-than-bronze effort. We win a game like that, and maybe we get a better seeding in the knockout round and we aren’t playing the Iroquois in the semi-finals. And not to take anything away from them and their growth, but maybe we’re playing an England or an Israel in that round. That would clearly help us get into the gold medal game. I think our performance against the Iroquois proved that we’re starting to close that gap. We have to play more box in order to get there. Before the pandemic hit us, there were a number of Americans that were prepared to spend their summer playing Senior ‘A’ ball in Canada. That type of commitment will make a hugely positive difference. We’ll get there.
Results like the Americans had against the Iroquois Nationals in Langley are why Thorpe is happy with Team USA's continued progress. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
Prior to the 2019 NLL season, you were a bit bummed that more Americans didn’t land roster spots, especially those guys that were in the running for Team USA. Whether to help bolster the national program or otherwise, why is it important for more Americans to be playing in the NLL?
I think for the overall growth of the sport it’s important. You’re seeing more and more new American franchises in the league. Americans from youth to college to even pro field are starting to see that, and want to be a part of it. I think due largely to digital and social media, the NLL is more visible to them than maybe before. More American franchises, means more American players, means more American fans buying a ticket to a game. Plus, box lacrosse is just an amazing sport to play, so as an American, I want to see more Americans enjoying the sport as much as I did. I see only positives by having more Americans playing box at really any and every level of the sport.
How different has Gale’s development been as a box player in comparison to what you experienced?
Well, Gale used to come to all the Knighthawks games back in the day. Jody Gage (former Knighthawks GM) used to let him hang out in the locker room. Later he was the team’s ball boy. I can’t thank the organization enough for allowing me to bring my kids along during those years. As a result, Gale has been in box locker rooms since he was a baby pretty much. So needless to say, Gale’s exposure to box happened a lot earlier than it did for me. He was very fortunate to be surround by so many great people during my Knighthawks days.
When I was coaching Lafayette High School with Freeman Bucktooth, at a really young age, they invited him to play box with the Onondaga Nation team. They really embraced him and treated him like family. Gale played there all the way up through Midget, then played a few years with the Junior ‘B’ Akwesasne Indians, and last year played CANAM with the Akwesasne Bucks.
I think Gale has earned everything he’s accomplished. I think that grind in the summer of committing to box and playing in the President’s Cup helped prepare him for Team USA and the NLL. Hey, he’s got way better hands than his old man ever did, that’s for sure!
Gale Thorpe's exposure to box lacrosse started when his father played in the NLL in the 90s, a league he now also competes in. (Photo: Alex McIntyre)
It makes sense on so many levels, but how did your Riptide gig come together?
I was looking for a new challenge. I love the direction the NLL is going and felt it was an exciting time to be involved with the league again. The fact that the NLL was back in Long Island seemed pretty perfect too. Everything came together pretty quickly. I flew in and met with the amazing team at GF Sports. I loved their vision for growing an expansion team and how committed they were to building this the right way. I thought this was a great opportunity and I really felt inspired after meeting with ownership.
Although the season wasn’t able to be completed due to the ongoing pandemic, how happy were you with what you saw from the group you assembled during this first-year run?
I like what we’ve started. Yes, we were 1-12 and we own that record fully, but I thought we did a great job of putting some of those pieces of the puzzle together this year too. We put in a lot of hard work on the floor and off of it, and we’re aware there is more of that that needs to be done in order to achieve the short- and long-term goals we plan to achieve as a franchise.
You’ve coached some very established programs in the past, but the Riptide is a team you’re essentially building from the foundation up. Scary? Challenging? Exciting? All of the above?
100%. To build this together as a team from Day 1 is extremely exciting. We did a lot of research looking at what past expansion teams have done. A lot of time was spent building our vision and determining what we need to do in order to reach the level of success we set out for this group. Hey, it’s not easy losing close games and being 1-12, but we learned something from every one of our games. Mike Hasen, the current coach in Rochester and one of my first hires when I ran the Knighthawks, once told me, “It is not easy to win in this league.” Expansion or otherwise, that’s a fact for sure. We experienced some lows this year, but I also think we battled hard in order to maintain our vision. It’s been challenging, but it’s also extremely exciting. We’re very pumped for Year 2 and are already planning on how we’ll continue to build from where we started this year.
Although they finished the 2020 regular season just 1-12, Thorpe is impressed with how the expansion Riptide battled during their rookie run. (Photo: Alex McIntyre)
What boxes does a player need to check off if they’re going to put on a Riptide jersey?
Good people. Hardworking people. Gritty people. Good locker-room people. I think it’s easy for players to say they’re a good locker-room person, but it’s much harder to actually do, especially when things aren’t going perfectly. We want guys that are willing to do the right things when their backs are up against the wall, which is not always easy to do. We had a lot of that this year. Our group really stuck together no matter what. Trust me, at 1-12, that’s not easy. I want players that show up and are ready to go no matter what position we’re in. I thought we saw a lot of that from our guys this year. I want players that will work. I think the Riptide have great chemistry, great leadership, and we have a team full of players that care for one another. I really wish we had those last regular season games to further test ourselves, because this group was definitely trending upwards.
Wanted to throw a few Riptide names at you and get your take on how they did this year.
There have been few Americans that have been as committed to the NLL over the past decade as John Ranagan.
He brought very valuable championship experience to this team after his strong seasons with the Georgia Swarm. John is a great team guy and is extremely liked by everyone on the roster. We put an ‘A’ on his sweater for the first time in his career, and we thought he handled that leadership role really well. No will outwork John Ranagan. He runs as hard to the bench as we did back in the day.
Dan MacRae has provided the expansion Riptide with invaluable leadership that Thorpe says has positively impacted New York's locker room. (Photo: Alex McIntyre)
Speaking of leadership, Dan MacRae.
Well, leadership for sure, but Dan played a helluva lot of minutes for us this year too. He did a lot defensively for us this year, no matter the situation. Loose balls, caused turnovers, leading the short-man… you name it, he did it. We had some lows this year obviously, but Dan MacRae really kept us together and positive. He’s a smart player and an outstanding leader.
You didn’t mention him yet, but Andrew Suitor is another guy that did a lot of that for us too. On leadership alone, Suitor was such a huge pick up for us. Add in his grit, toughness, ground balls… guys really learned a lot from Suitor just from watching him this year.
I think our locker room has a tremendous leadership team in those three players.
He was just voted Rookie of the Year in our NLL Player Poll, how about Tyson Gibson, who you guys drafted first overall in the entry draft?
I thought he did great. Certainly, being on an expansion team he had the opportunity to have the ball in his stick a lot more than he might have elsewhere, but with that said, he’s also regularly dealing with some of the best defenders in the league too. I thought he really worked well in Coach Marshall Abrams’ system, and produced at a high rate. He’s a really smart player, humble, hardworking, and that’s the kind of DNA we want when we’re looking for players.
I thought he did well. He’s still learning obviously, but I think Connor has huge potential. I thought he found good chemistry playing with Tyson and Travis Longboat as the season went on too. Really, the sky is the limit with Connor Kelly in the NLL. He had a solid year for us, has so much potential, and I only see him getting better and better.
Joining the team partway through the season, Thorpe feels Myles Jones could be a force in the NLL if he continues to commit to box lacrosse. (Photo: Alex McIntyre)
The signings of both Myles Jones and Connor Farrell had a lot of people salivating this year for the indoor potential of both players. Myles got some games in, Connor didn’t. What are your hopes for both Americans?
For a guy that has never played box, I thought Myles Jones really held his own this year coming out the backdoor. He made some plays, and hey, he made some mistakes, but we knew that was going to happen. That’s the process. Myles is a hardworking young man, and if he’s able to fully commit to the NLL, I think he can really make a big impact here. We feel he has a ton of upside and we’re excited for his future.
Connor we drafted obviously, but due to other commitments we couldn’t get him into camp.
We did sign Alex Woodall and I thought did well for us. He’s obviously great at faceoffs, but we had him playing more and more D shifts for us too, and I think he also has some big potential to be a regular-shift player in this league. We’re hoping we see a similar transition as Trevor Baptiste had in Philadelphia, and think Alex will continue to progress in Year 2.
We were able to get Connor on the practice squad later in the year and have him practice a bit, so we’re definitely excited to have him at training camp next year and show us what he can do.
Connor Kelly is one of a growing number of Americans that have found a roster spot in the NLL in recent seasons. Thorpe believes more are on their way. (Photo: Alex McIntyre)
Are there specific characteristics that you see in an American field player that has never played box, that you believe will allow them to excel in the NLL?
There are always those traits, but it really all comes down to commitment. There are a lot of American kids that can be really good at box, but they have to commit to it. The NLL is a long season. We’re talking a six or seventh month season really. Then are you willing to spend a summer up in Canada to further develop your game? It is a grind, no doubt. I think there are a ton of Americans that have the skills and athleticism to play in the NLL, but lack that box-specific experience that is clearly needed. Are they willing to put the work in and commit to gaining that experience? That’s what I’m looking for.
We ranked Thorpe #3 in our American Made: All-Time NLL Top 30. Later this year we'll be updating and expanding that best-of list. Stay tuned.