Players recognize the importance of growing the game in Montréal
The National Lacrosse League is nine days out from a triumphant return to La Belle Province.
The NLL UnBOXed Series debuts on Friday, February 16 at 7 p.m. when the New York Riptide host the Toronto Rock at Place Bell in Laval, 45 minutes outside of Montréal.
It will be the Game of the Week on TSN and also available in French on RDS in Canada. In the US, the game will be available on ESPN+.
Tuesday afternoon, Reilly O’Connor of the New York Riptide and Challen Rogers of the Toronto Rock participated in a pre-event press conference where curious reporters asked them questions varying from their favourite types of poutine to the impact that playing in a French-speaking market will have.
Let’s get the really important stuff out of the way first:
Rogers prefers a classic cheese and gravy poutine, while O’Connor might get wild and add bacon or some other kind of protein. If you’ve never had a poutine, you’re missing out. The glorious concoction of cheese curds (and ONLY cheese curds – get that shredded cheddar outta here) and gravy over French fries is a cultural delicacy in Quebec. Although it is enjoyed by Canadians everywhere, there’s nothing like a Montréal poutine.
But Montréal is also known for its bagels, and the players were split on choosing one over the other.
“I think that depends on the time of day. So if it’s the morning, I’m going to go bagel. If it’s the afternoon, I’m going to go poutine,” O’Connor picked.
“I think I’m going poutine all day,” Rogers countered.
“I respect that,” replied O’Connor.
Montréal is a city known for its rich history, and O’Connor hopes that the players will have an opportunity to see the sights – but the game comes first.
“We’re there, much like the Rock, to play a game and get a win for our respective team,” he said.
The game itself is shaping up to be a clash of Titans. The Rock sit first in the league with a 6-1 record. The Riptide have worked themselves up to seventh place after winning four of their last five.
Each team plays at home this Saturday but then all attention turns to their Montréal matchup, including some crash-course French lessons.
Students in Canada are required to take some French in school, so both O’Connor and Rogers have some familiarity with the language, but neither have used it in a very long time.
“Just going from memory I think I’ve got je m’appelle Challen. I think that’s the most I remember from my French speaking days,” Rogers laughed. “I’m sure we’ll get some French-English dictionaries so we can be a little bit more inclusive with the French speakers.”
“It’s coming along,” said O’Connor. “I think we might need some assistance whether it’s Google translate or that, but we’ve got one more game this week and then I think it’ll be heavy French prep and a lot of dialogue in the room using our French accents.”
While both players have visited Quebec before, neither have had the opportunity to play lacrosse there yet.
O’Connor did spend time this past summer with the Kahnawake Mohawks while competing for the Sr. B President’s Cup, although he joined the team when they were in Oakville so never made it up to the Indigenous community 20 minutes outside of Montréal. He was able to hear from the local players and management how meaningful the sport is to their community.
“We say it a lot in lacrosse but lacrosse is the medicine game. It heals. It’s there when you need it. You carry it on through life because it means to much to us. To hear from [them] what it means for the community, was very powerful. The whole lacrosse community is going to find out when we play, how big the sport is in Montréal.”
Playing a professional game in a non-English speaking market, so close to an Indigenous community already in love with the game, is important, said Rogers.
“It’s why we play this game. We play it to grow it and leave it better than we once or when we first entered. And I think it goes back to a lot of things. You look at Reilly, he coaches Jr. A lacrosse… and is trying to raise the game to a better place than when he found it. So I think that’s ultimately everyone’s goal in this situation and being able to play in Laval is just to create a great experience for the fans and give them a great game to remember and want more of.”
It will be the first regular season NLL game in Montreal since the departed in 2002 after one season in the city.
Rogers doesn’t remember much about the Express – he was only eight years old then, TV coverage was sparse and the internet was virtually non-existent compared to how we use it today. But he does remember watching the Vancouver Ravens play during their short existence, and hopes that kids in the Montreal area will find the same joy from the watching pro lacrosse that he felt.
“It was seeing the best players in the world play at the highest level and it gave me dreams to want to make the NLL and be a pro lacrosse player, and that’s just because I was given the opportunity to watch them play,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for us to perform and to give those kids a dream they didn’t [previously] have.”
Added O’Connor, “It’s a neat opportunity. It’s going to be one of those memories that we’ll cherish forever. It’s a really cool opportunity, and I know the Riptide are honoured to be a part of it.”