Rhys Duch retires with nothing left unfinished
“Strive not to be a success, but rather, to be of value.” – Albert Einstein
Luckily for Rhys Duch, being of value translated into success his entire career, and the recently-retired forward will be remembered for what he achieved as a player and how he turned his dreams into an awe-inspiring reality.
The 14-year NLL veteran announced on October 14th that he was hanging up his jersey and pads to have more time with his family. The Victoria, B.C. native retires from the NLL as one of a handful of offensive box lacrosse legends to amass over 1,000 points (including over 400 goals and over 600 assists) and won multiple championships.
Furthermore, Duch’s career was so successful that he is one of only three players in NLL history that achieved everything listed above, and also won the NLL Rookie of the Year Award. With all that he’s accomplished, Rhys Duch has made one of the best cases, particularly amongst offensive players, for being inducted into the NLL Hall of Fame.
When Duch was drafted third overall by the San Jose Stealth in 2009, he was expected to be good but ended up on a very short list of high-achievers such as John Tavares, Dan Dawson, Colin Doyle, Gary Gait and Josh Sanderson.
This past summer was an unusual one for Duch. Not only did he not suit up for his hometown Victoria Shamrocks in the WLA (something we hadn’t seen in over a decade), but he also took enough time off of work to be with his family without any distractions. The precious time he shared with loved ones over the summer was so special that it changed the course of his career.
“My wife and I went to Europe in June, and I kind of got a taste of the good life,” Duch joked. “My head started to lean [towards retirement] because prior to that (after the season with Saskatchewan), I was still working my butt off and making sure I was ready to go. Then I had my vacation, and taking the pressure off myself was just kind of nice – I could kick back and enjoy my family.”
The 37-year-old Duch has logged more than 220 professional games. That’s about 13,000 minutes of playing time. Keeping yourself in shape to play an entire season of box lacrosse is no easy task, but for Duch, it never mattered if it was the first minute of his pro career or his last; he always made a concerted effort to do what was best for the team because they were more than a team. They were family.
From 2009-2018, Duch gave everything he had to the Stealth organization. He spent a year living in market in San Jose and then spent time living in Seattle when the team move to Washington. Later, when the team relocated to Vancouver, he was much closer to his home on Vancouver Island. He developed incredibly tight bonds with many of his teammates.
Lewis Ratcliff, who played with Duch on the Stealth from 2010-2015, is still one of Duch’s best friends, and Corey Small, who was a member of the Vancouver Stealth from 2015-2018, became so close to Duch that he was in his wedding party. Duch’s extended career with that organization transformed him as a player and as a man. Those were his golden years around the game.
“It was awesome,” Duch said. “I had a great relationship with Denise Watkins (the owner of the Stealth), Doug Locker, and the whole management and ownership group – we were really like a family… We were all in it together, and those are relationships that I’ll never forget.”
Duch and Small also won the 2015 Mann Cup together with the Shamrocks.
When Duch came into the league in 2009, his never-quit, do-everything-for-your-teammates mentality was already ingrained deep within his psyche. And that way of playing was hammered home in his early days with the Stealth, playing alongside selfless veterans he respected such as Jeff Zywicki, Cam Sedgwick and Colin Doyle. The fact the Stealth were winning because of their team play helped reassure that this was, in fact, the way Duch and the team needed to play.
In Duch’s rookie season, the Stealth made it to the Western Finals. In 2010, the organization’s first year in Washington, they won it all, beating the Toronto Rock 15-11. In 2011, the Stealth narrowly lost to Toronto in the finals in heartbreaking fashion. Two years later, Duch and the Stealth made it back to the finals, but fell short by a single goal for the second time in three seasons.
It doesn’t happen often that a highly-touted rookie will be inserted into a title contender season after season, but that’s exactly what happened to Duch. When the opportunities arose for Duch to step up in the biggest games of his career, he usually delivered. In 2010, Duch scored 11 goals in three playoff games. In 2013, he scored 10 goals in three games.
More recently, with the Calgary Roughnecks during their 2019 championship run, Duch scored the game-winning goal in overtime.
There has always been ice in Duch’s veins because there has also been a passion in his heart to be the best teammate.
“I always want to be remembered as a good teammate,” Duch said. “You get the nickname ‘Clutch Duch’ from scoring big goals – but it’s my consistency. I tried to bring my A-game. I played over 200 games, so you can’t say you played your best game every game – but, more often than not, I wanted to feel like I contributed as much as I could to the team’s success.”
Even in the latter parts of his career, when he played for four teams over three seasons (playing a total of only 21 games in that span), Duch still tried his best to be the piece his team needed him to be. Playing with the Roughnecks, Halifax Thunderbirds, Colorado Mammoth and finally, the Rush at the end of his career was a vastly different experience than when he first entered the league, but he still appreciated every moment because he loves the game.
“It was up and down,” Duch said. “At that point, I was playing for the love of the game. I knew in my heart that I still had a lot to give to the sport, and I wanted to help teams be successful. I’m definitely grateful to all of those teams for giving me a chance.”
Duch played with his heart on his sleeve, and he’ll never regret that. He slowly but surely built a resume that will forever showcase his greatness. He played with purpose, and that was to play for more than himself.
“I didn’t really leave anything unfinished,” Duch said. “I don’t think it’s the actual sport that I’ll miss the most because I’ve played a ton of lacrosse. I’ll always be thankful for that, but just like everyone always says, it’s the people: the guys in the locker room and the crowds. Those are the things that are going to keep me reminiscing about the game.”