25 Years: Who is the best defensive defender in National Lacrosse League history?

Where does former Rock and Mammoth defender Pat Coyle rank amongst the game's best defenders?. (Photo: Graig Abel)
Where does former Rock and Mammoth defender Pat Coyle rank amongst the game's best defenders?. (Photo: Graig Abel)

With the National Lacrosse League amping up to celebrate their 25 year anniversary this upcoming 2011 season, Insider is checking in with former and current players, coaches and media with a new weekly poll, looking back at the best-of-the-best in the game by rewinding all the way to the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League in 1987, the brainchild of current Philadelphia Wings ownership and NLL Hall of Famers Russ Cline and Chris Fritz.

The poll is sent out to a selective group of almost 60 difference makers from the league’s previous 24 years, this week’s question, “Who is the best defensive defender in National Lacrosse League history?”

Below, check out out Top 5 best ever pure defenders in NLL history, the others that received votes, comments from some of our pollsters, and your choice for best ever defender in our fan poll at the bottom of the page.

PAT COYLE

33% of votes
Detroit Turbos (1994), Ontario Raiders (1998), Toronto Rock (99-04), Colorado Mammoth (05-08)

Skinny
Coyle was the overwhelming winner in this week’s question, his hard hitting, gritty, relentless, suffocating style of shutdown defense a staple in so many Champion’s Cup wins in Toronto, and then even another in Colorado towards the end of his 12-year pro career. Handed a lifetime suspension for striking an official while suiting up for the Turbos in ‘94, Coyle’s ban was lifted when the Raiders arrived in Hamilton, cementing his place in pro lacrosse history for the next decade plus. Some felt he was dirty, the league has still not allowed him into their Hall of Fame, but at the end of the day, few played the game in their own end like Coyle, Insider’s all-time best NLL defensive defender.

Thoughts
“Pat had the ability to intimidate players and was the best shutdown guy in the league in his early years. Later in his career he was able to change his game and be more of a positional defender that played well in a group defensive setting. Great players can adapt and Pat was certainly a great one.” – Gee Nash

A Mann Cup winner with the Coquitlam Adanacs in 2001, Coyle also had five NLL titles to his credit. (Photo: Coquitlam Adanacs)
A Mann Cup winner with the Coquitlam Adanacs in 2001, Coyle also had five NLL titles to his credit. (Photo: Coquitlam Adanacs)

“Most people associate him with intimidation and dirty play, but truth be told they were only some of what made him so good. His positional play and take away ability were far before their time. He had it all, and every night was left with the task of shutting down the other teams best player. Not an easy task.” – Colin Doyle

“…  also have to give credit to Pat Coyle. He has covered so many of the elite offensive players and did it well.” – Pat McCabe

“He was a smart, physical defender that read the defensive zone better then anyone. He was amazing at anticipating offensive plays and shutting down top scorers on opposing teams. Pat was a big reason why the Rock won so many championships in the early part of their franchise.” – Troy Cordingley

“There have been many great defensive defensman over the past ten years and in today’s game no team could compete without at least one shutdown guy. Less than 15 years ago a very prominent GM in the NLL told me that, “It’s too bad that the NLL has no room for defensive players.” Boy has that changed. With respect to Regy Thorpe and Jim Moss I have to give the nod to Pat Coyle. He was the first defensive player who got serious consideration for MVP in the Toronto Rock heyday and he’s probably the reason the league added an award for Best Defensman. Pat Coyle was more of a risk taker and had better offensive skills than most pure D guys but he’s the reason D guys have been elevated from the status of interchangeable “role” players to valuable team leaders.” – Brian Shanahan

“Most hated him and would tell me how dirty he was in post-game interviews, but Coyle filled that role better than anyone, and under Les Bartley’s structured offense/defense system, he was a big reason why the game is played the way it is today. Although both sides had their victories, some of the best matchups that I’ve ever seen included Coyle up against the Gaits and especially Tom Marechek. Just awesome stuff you just don’t see at that level anymore. The first time I met Pat I was in the Rock dressing room post-game, interviewing another Toronto player, sitting on the bench, the mood pretty laid back. Coyle sees me and the first thing he says, ‘Get the *%$# out of my spot, now!’ I got out of his spot.” – Paul Tutka

REGY THORPE

16% of votes
Rochester Knighthawks (95-09)

The Rochester Knighthawks tried and tested leader, defender Regy Thorpe. (Photo: 20 Toe)
The Rochester Knighthawks tried and tested leader, defender Regy Thorpe. (Photo: 20 Toe)

Skinny
A lifelong Rochester Knighthawk, Regy Thorpe spent his entire 15-year pro career with the teal and purple, an ultimate leader that would do anything to help his team score the W. Thorpe was there for both Rochester Cup wins and is no doubt a future Hall of Famer in the NLL. Big, strong and seemingly always on the floor, Thorpe quietly did his job against the absolute best that have ever played in this league, and did it better than arguably anyone else.

Thoughts
“As talented as guys like Pat Coyle and Andy Ogilvie were at defense, part of that effectiveness was due to the intimidation factor. That’s not a bad thing and I’m not opposed to fighting by any means, but when a guy like Regy gets it done without fighting, it just drives the respect up a notch or two. He was physical and had that mean streak in him, but he didn’t say much. Just went to work and got it done.” – Bob Chavez

“Only guy I ever saw the Gaits pad up for.” – Erik Miller

“I might be a little biased but back in the mid-late 90’s nobody was a better defensive defenceman than Regy Thorpe.” – Steve Dietrich

“Years ago I did an interview with Colin Doyle and asked him who he hates playing against the most. With no disrespect to his then teammate Pat Coyle, Doyle voted hands down Regy Thorpe, saying he could feel his stinging coverage countless days later.” – Tutka

ANDY OGILVIE

14% of votes
Buffalo Bandits (99-03), Vancouver Ravens (2004), Bandits (2004), Calgary Roughnecks (05-07)

Ogilvie spent his last few seasons in the NLL suiting up for the Calgary Roughnecks. (Photo: Stuart Gradon)
Ogilvie spent his last few seasons in the NLL suiting up for the Calgary Roughnecks. (Photo: Stuart Gradon)

Skinny
A beast of a man that appeared to take pleasure in the opposition’s pain, Andy Ogilvie was a warrior in every sense of the word. He was as strong as an ox and would at times literally cripple whoever he was matched up against, once cracking the skull of then New York Saints rookie Matt McFarland when the two went buckets in ‘03. McFarland’s head injury was so bad he was not permitted by doctors to board the team’s upcoming flight. When Ogilvie danced, onlookers could hear him grunting in the stands with every blow, typically tuning up some unfortunate soul’s face, ready to take on the whole bench if need be. A bone crushing checker who has since spent time coaching in the WLA, the lax Gods don’t make ‘em like Andy Ogilvie anymore.

BRIAN VOELKER

8% of votes
Philadelphia Wings (92-98)

Now a highly respected coach at Drexel, Brian Voelker was just as regarded as a Philadelphia Wing. (Photo: Drexel Univ.)
Now a highly respected coach at Drexel, Brian Voelker was just as regarded as a Philadelphia Wing. (Photo: Drexel Univ.)

Skinny
A three-time Cup winner with some infamous Wings teams, Brian Voelker is a name many new fans to the sport likely aren’t too familiar with, but the former Philly defender is very much a critical figure in the pro game’s history, one of the best defensive players during almost all of the 90’s. Determined doesn’t even begin to describe Voelker, who played with emotion, heart and passion every time he stepped on the rug, a pain in the ass presence that would rival any toothless Canuck in today’s game. Easily one of the best US born defenders to ever play in the MILL, or NLL after that.

Thoughts
“Going back to my days, I have to mention both Tony Resch and Brian Voelker. We played in a different era and there wasn’t as much specialization back then but they were both great individual defenders.” – McCabe

MIKE HASEN

6% of votes
Buffalo Bandits (96-99), Rochester Knighthawks (99-07)

Trading in his mitts for a suit, Mike Hasen continues to lead the Knighthawks franchise in 2011. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
Trading in his mitts for a suit, Mike Hasen continues to lead the Knighthawks franchise in 2011. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

Skinny
Not a smash mouth type defender as many of the names that find themselves in today’s results, Mike Hasen is easily one of the most respected and admired players, let alone defenders, that has suited up in this league. Hasen played his defensive leadership role with class and honour, but was arguably just as effective as any of the hulking monsters that struck fear into the opposition. Hasen was so smart, so elusive in his approach and so, so, so good for a Rochester team he now leads as their head coach. Class act.

Thoughts
“… now the guy that stands out is Mike Hasen. Quite often a D man gets a big name by throwing a big hit, a big fight, or crowd pleasing post-whistle activities. If Pat Coyle and Andy Ogilvie were the tanks of their generation, then Hazer was the Chinese water torture. He averaged less than two minutes in penalties a game, he did not talk, he did not retaliate, and while he rarely threw a huge hit he could find even the smallest seam in your equipment and work it from whistle to whistle. Mike also killed the idea that the best defenders had to be at least six feet tall.” – Paul Stewart

Others That Recieved Votes
22% of votes
Andrew Turner, Shawn Nadelen, Jim Moss, Terry Bullen, Tony Resch, Billy Dee Smith, Jim Veltman and Brodie Merrill

Thoughts
Jim Veltman. Only defender you had to game-plan an offense around.” – Lewis Ratcliff

“I have a tie. Terry Bullen. A prototypical big, mean, stay at home, team defender. Terry covered with his size, range and intimidation, not with foot speed. And then Shawn Nadelen. A shutdown defender who covers with toughness, strength and foot speed. In his prime he could cover anyone in NLL, big, small, fast, slow, it didn’t matter. You can’t look at the teams he played on, look at the body of his individual work.” – Adam Mueller

“I may be on a limb here, but I am going with Billy Dee Smith. There are not many that have the speed to cover quick players like Jeff Shattler and Brendan Mundorf and the size and strength to cover guys like Dan Dawson and John Grant.  This combination also means he can cover guys like Casey Powell that have both size and speed.” – Jeff Dowling

Of our voted on Top 5, who is the greatest defensive defender in NLL history?

  • Mike Hasen (57%, 438 Votes)
  • Pat Coyle (23%, 177 Votes)
  • Andy Ogilvie (11%, 87 Votes)
  • Regy Thorpe (6%, 43 Votes)
  • Brian Voelker (3%, 20 Votes)

Total Voters: 765

Loading ... Loading ...
The foremost boxla writer, Tutka is a former NLL scout and a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at paul.tutka@nllinsider.com.

Rate This Story:

Vote This Post DownVote This Post Up (+15 rating, 27 votes)
Loading ... Loading ...