NLL returns to Montreal after 20 years
Lacrosse revient au Québec.
The NLL is returning to the Greater Montréal area for a regular-season game for the first time in more than 20 years. The lacrosse world is ready for pro lacrosse’s return to Quebec, but few people are more excited for the NLL to return to the home of the Canadian National Railway than former members of the Montréal Express.
The Toronto Rock and New York Riptide will square off at Place Bell, home of the Laval Rocket, the AHL affiliate of the NHL Montréal Canadiens, on February 16, 2024, at 7 p.m. ET in Laval, Québec for the first-ever NLL UnBOXed Series match.
This historic announcement came on the heels of the monumental reveal that the Castors de Montréal will be one of the league’s new UnBOXed markets.
Montréal hasn’t been on the box lacrosse map like this in quite some time, but thanks to some enthusiastic and thoughtful efforts by both the NLL and the Montréal Canadiens within the last year, lacrosse is making a triumphant return to the birthplace of modern lacrosse.
NLL Commissioner Brett Frood outlined how this marquee event came about at a league press conference.
“We were very fortunate to have the Canadiens organization afford us a casual conversation last spring just to introduce our league and product,” Commissioner Frood said. “As we started to build out this NLL UnBOXed product, we picked up momentum in the summer with them and transitioned the concept to a special event.”
Commissioner Frood added that sometimes, to pull off such important and complicated events like this one, you need cooperative and eager partners and a little bit of luck, too.
“Obviously, they’re world-class promoters through their Evenko arm,” Commissioner Frood said. “The synergies became pretty immense quickly – and to pull off these types of things, you need a little bit of serendipity, and you need an eager and engaged partner, which we certainly had with our friends at the Canadiens. We needed the timing to work out with our schedule, willing participants from our member teams, Toronto and New York, which was an immediate go, and of course, our alignment with our NLL UnBOXed initiative.”
It just makes sense for lacrosse to be back in Montréal.
In 1856, the Montréal Lacrosse Club was founded, marking the first official modern lacrosse organization. It is also the home of Dr. George Beers, a dentist, who is often considered “The Father of Modern Lacrosse.” He is credited with codifying the first set of rules for the modern game.
In 2002, the NLL had a team in Montréal: the Express. Unfortunately, this was the team’s only year in existence. Coached by the late, great NLL Hall of Famer Terry Sanderson, the Express were a fun and wily bunch that were electric on and off the floor, and they exploded out of the gates that 2002 season.
In their first regular-season game, the team scored 32 goals in their 32-17 victory against the Calgary Roughnecks. Those 32 goals are still a single-game NLL record to this day. The Express would go on to win their first three games of the season, including their inaugural home match versus the Roughnecks only five days after that season-opening onslaught.
The team’s offence was so much of a force to be reckoned with over their first six games that they were averaging 19.66 goals per game. For context, the Washington Power had the most goals scored per game that season with 16.06.
The Express finished with an 8-8 record and missed the playoffs. It had looked like the team was going to make it to the postseason in their first year after a 6-2 record through the first half of the season, but opposing defences found ways to stifle that scorching attack.
There isn’t a member of that team who doesn’t still feel the pain of not making the playoffs. However, what they remember more about that season is how much fun they had together.
For Bruce Codd, who was one of the team’s best goal scorers that year, out of the 13 seasons he played in the NLL, that year might have been the most fun.
“If it wasn’t the funnest, it was definitely one of the funnest years I had playing in the league,” Codd said. “We had a great team. We came a little short of getting in the playoffs there, but it was an unreal experience. We had so much fun there as a group. The city was great, and I think we had a pretty great following… The fans were great. I can still hear the chants of ‘Ole, Ole’ whenever we would get a win.”
Codd is in the awesome position where he will get to be part of the NLL UnBOXed Series game this February, although this time, he’ll be on the bench – Codd is now an assistant coach for the Rock. Matt Sawyer, who was an assistant coach with the Express, is now the head coach of the Rock.
Another former Express player who will be coaching in February’s game is Riptide assistant coach Jason Crosbie. Crosbie cherishes the time that the team had together and can’t wait to go back to his old stomping grounds in a few months.
“It was definitely in the Top 2 of my favorite times that I’ve ever played,” Crosbie said. “It was a fantastic team. We were led by the late Terry Sanderson, and the guys on that team, Tracey Kelusky, Bruce Codd, Bruce Alexander, Matt Giles, Joey Hiltz, Brad McArthur, there were so many good teammates and good people on that team. It was such a great team, and I think if we had had the chance to do it longer than one year there, we would’ve done some good things in Montréal.
“It’s going to be surreal. It’s like going back to a special place where you had a ton of fun for a summer and haven’t been back for like 20 years. A lot of memories will flood back when we’re there and seeing the place. It will be pretty special.”
While it will be a treat for Sawyer, Codd, and Crosbie to reconnect in Laval for this signature match, it’ll be all business once the opening face-off gets underway. They will be two hungry and competitive teams going head-to-head in a midseason clash that is sure to be hotly-contested.
That’s what you want from your big market franchise. You want every game to excite the current fanbase but to also be such an intriguing product on the floor that new fans will want to be part of the box lacrosse community. As Commissioner Frood noted, to have these two teams from large markets descend upon another one of North America’s most populous markets, like the Greater Montréal area, was a no-brainer.
“Toronto is obviously a big market and heavily invested from a broadcast standpoint, so a good fit. And then when we just think about major cities in North America, certainly Toronto and New York, check that box. And now we’ve got the greater Montréal area with several million folks, 4 million and 2 million in the city. So it’s the second most populous city in Canada and Top 10 in North America. So when you look at large cities and where we want to be and kind of the gravitas of the league, it kind of seemed like a perfect fit, bringing New York and Toronto to Montréal.”
It can’t come soon enough. It’s a game that is 167 years in the making. Lacrosse is back in the Greater Montréal Area.