When the expansion Red Hawks were awarded the first overall pick in the Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (CCBLL) Draft, they knew exactly who they were going to select.
Bryan Hancock was a homegrown talent and a veteran of three summers of Canadian junior box lacrosse. The native of Highlands Ranch, Colo., was also coming off three impressive seasons of Division I lacrosse with the Hobart Statesmen. That all added up to an easy decision on draft day.
“We needed someone who was an extension of the other coaches. As a new team, we looked for a guy with experience who could be a leader,” said Red Hawks head coach Collin Knowles. “With the first pick, we had to find someone who could do those things. As we watched the Combine, it became a no-brainer that he was going to be the guy.”
“Bryan’s a tremendous player who makes the guys around him better, which was a huge attraction for us,” added Knowles. “The other side of Bryan is that he plays like he is the biggest guy on the floor. He hustles on every play; he’s a leader, and that’s what we wanted. Obviously, that worked out well for us.”
On June 13, after two standout days at the CCBLL Combine, Hancock was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. The opportunity allowed him to move back home and play in the country’s first college-aged box lacrosse league. Founded in 2017, through a collaboration between Warrior Lacrosse, the Colorado Mammoth, and the US Box Lacrosse Association (USBOXLA), the league started with four teams – which expanded to six in 2018.
“It was an awesome feeling to be a part of a draft in the first place,” said Hancock. “I’ve never really experienced anything like that before. As for going first overall, it was a proud moment for me and something I wasn’t expecting. I’m very thankful that I got picked by that coaching staff and the GM, Jay Billings.”
Hancock’s road to the Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League, however, began six years earlier at Mountain Vista High School in his hometown of Highlands Ranch. That’s where the hockey prospect met his future mentor, Jamie Munro, during his sophomore season. Munro had played a season in the Major Indoor Lacrosse League for the Boston Blazers, is a Hall of Fame player at Brown University, and the founder of 3d Lacrosse.
It was Munro, who joined the Mountain Vista coaching staff in 2012-13, who knew playing the box game would have the most significant impact on his players. It began as twice a week for three months and then, the next season, became a regular Tuesday night session for six months during the school year.
“We made it a goal for our program to play 60 hours of box lacrosse in the offseason, which is a lot,” said Munro. “At the time, I had started a company called 3d Lacrosse. Box had been a really big part of my development and player development, whether it was at the University of Denver or 3d. When I started coaching high school, it was just the quickest way to get good, so we played a lot of box.”
Hancock honed his skills with the Golden Eagles and by practicing box lacrosse with his teammates in the offseason. The hockey player had a lot of raw talent, having taken up the sport between fourth and fifth grade to fill up his summer schedule. Munro noticed the natural talent that Hancock possessed and worked with him to develop his skills. During Hancock's high school career, he was the head coach his first season and an assistant the next two years.
“When you start at a program, you’re just looking for every single possible kid. You are trying to get to know everyone,” said Munro. “I was like, “Who is that little guy?” He was a little under-sized lefty, quick and crafty, but did grow a fair amount through high school. You could tell he was a hockey player by the way he played.
“We started working on it, and by the end of that season, he was like, “I really want to play summer lacrosse. I like this. This is great.’ The next couple of years we kept on training and playing a ton of box in the offseason.”
It was after playing his first varsity season at Mountain Vista in 2012-13 that the kid who once dreamed of playing in the National Hockey League made a larger commitment to his new passion: lacrosse.
His lacrosse career continued to accelerate in 2014, after playing his first summer of box lacrosse in the Canadian lacrosse hotbed of St. Catharines, Ontario. At the request of his high school coach, Hancock took his talents north of the border to the Junior “B” St. Catharines Spartans.
“I knew Bryan was looking for something to do and he would get a lot better, and it was the smart thing to do,” said Munro. “It would be a really smart thing for his game. It’s the best thing you can do for your game, and it’s a blast. But it’s a big commitment, and not a lot of people can do it [playing in Canada].”
It was baptism under fire for the then 17-year-old, who suited up and hit the floor for his first box lacrosse game on June 22, 2014. The hockey and field lacrosse veteran received an initiation to the Junior “B” loop when he went to scoop up his first loose ball.
“I remember my first shift in Junior B,” he said. “We were playing against Six Nations, and I went in the corner and got whacked in the knee. I am like, ‘What am I doing here?’ I wanted to go home. But I just kept at it, and you catch on. It was an experience that I will never forget.”
The American scored in his first game and rounded out the season with four goals and two assists in five regular season games. He also appeared in four postseason contests with the Spartans before heading back home to play high school ball for Munro.
Hancock played one more season of Junior B and one season for the Junior “A” St. Catharines Athletics. In 2016, he had a breakout season as he finished second on the team in assists (34) and points (59). He also posted 10 points (5+5) in three playoff games. That set the stage for his rookie season in Junior A ball the following season. With the storied Athletics, Hancock once again fit right in and placed third on the club with 43 points (19+24) in 20 games.
“He had the things we come to expect out of an American: grit, work ethic, and hustle,” said Sean Allen, who was the general manager and head coach of the Athletics in 2017. “He started to fine tune his understanding of playing box lacrosse and created looks and opportunities we weren’t normally getting. He worked hard, picked hard and never stopped moving; that’s what I loved about him. He was a critical piece of our offense. When he was on his game, we were doing well.”
Hancock credited his success to coaches like Allen, and especially Munro, who helped him branch out to the Canadian box game and secure a spot at one of the oldest collegiate lacrosse programs in the country, Hobart College.
At Hobart, in Geneva, N.Y., Hancock has found a home away from home and excelled on the lacrosse field. In three seasons, the midfielder has registered 39 goals and nine assists in 44 games. After an 11-goal junior season, Hancock was rewarded for his effort with the Statesmen and in Canada by going first overall in the 2018 Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League Draft. After playing for three years at Hobart, he was also finally able to spend the summer at home.
“I was lucky it was in Colorado,” he said. “I was with a bunch of people I knew from high school and from around the Colorado area, plus kids who were from all over the place, which was awesome. Being at home all summer was a great experience. I hadn’t been home for three summers. I think what they have going in that league is awesome.”
The Red Hawks surrounded him with fellow Highlands Ranch native and University of Delaware attackman Jake Govett, Colgate University midfielder Bobby Goggin and Vassar College’s Austin Mello. Hancock was the focal point of the offense and lived up to his status as the top pick.
“To have someone with experience, who helped the other guys learn the game and the systems we were going to run, was a huge bonus we got with Bryan,” said Knowles. “We targeted some lefties with (Jake) Govett, who was a kid who just graduated, and Bobby Goggin, who had zero box experience whatsoever but was pound for pound one of the more talented guys. It was our goal to have Bryan help those two along.”
Hancock played in eight of the team’s 10 regular-season games as he fought through some injuries to still finish tied for second in the league in assists (14) and tied for sixth in points (33). Hancock was one of four Red Hawks to finish in the Top 10 in the league in points, joining Govett, Goggin, and Mello. Goggin led the way with a CCBLL-leading 43 points.
Behind the high-powered offense, the Red Hawks finished third in the Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League, winning six of their 10 games. In the postseason, the first-year club knocked off the Gold Miners to advance to the Morrow Cup Finals. It was an incredible first season for the expansion club and another opportunity for Hancock to play box lacrosse.
“It’s not quite the same as box up in Canada, but it’s really really close,” he said. “It was a lot closer than I was expecting. Box lacrosse is one of the most refreshing experiences with the pace of the game and how close it is to hockey, which meant so much to me in the past.”
Hancock, who will wrap up his collegiate career this spring, will have a decision to make about his box lacrosse future. He will explore his options, including playing senior ball in Canada or returning to the CCBLL. Whatever path he chooses, his final destination will remain the same.
“I have always thought the NLL was a more viable option for me because of the way the NLL is moving forward with expansion and trying to get more American players within the league,” he said. “The past couple of years that has been the end goal.”
Knowles said that the Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League was founded for players like Hancock to advance to that next level. All he needs is an opportunity.
“It was to give these guys the experience they need," he said. "You can do it right in Denver and try to make that jump. We would love to see a guy like him lead the charge. We saw it with (Trevor) Baptiste getting drafted this past year.
“To be able to see Bryan do that, it wouldn’t surprise me. Given the opportunity, it would be nice for someone (in the NLL) to see the things we were able to see with him. He can play any position and work his way off the floor, whether it’s a transition role or starting on offense. There are plenty of opportunities for him.”
According to Allen, who is involved with the NLL’s Philadelphia Wings, the word is already out about Hancock’s draft value.
“I am going to have a keen interest in talking to our organization when he is ready to be drafted,” he said. “I am sure we’re not going to be the only ones. There were a lot of people up in Ontario that were impressed with his play. On top of all that, he is a great kid and a great team guy.”