He was one of the first, and still is one of the best. If you needed a clutch possession off a faceoff, Paul Cantabene’s your guy. Thing is, he’s so much more than that and people tend to forget that the midfielder who earned so much respect in the field game for his work at the dot also put together a respectable box lacrosse career. Eleven seasons in the National Lacrosse League is what we offer as proof because no one lasts that long in a league without some serious game. So we catch up with Paul this week to discuss his start in the NLL in 1994, his playing career, and the time he tried to bite Darris Kilgour.
1. So you finish your NCAA career at Loyola and are drafted by the Baltimore Thunder. What did you think of that?
“Coach Dave Cottle informed me that I’d been drafted and back then, there were only 6 teams so I was pretty excited to be able to continue playing after college. I’d played a little box lacrosse back in Rochester while in Irondequoit, so I had a little background in the game.”
2. Big adjustment for American field players, right?
“The biggest thing was stick skills. Everybody is 1-handed but I was a 2-handed player. Even though I am naturally right-handed, I think I played 2 or 3 seasons with the left hand, so that was a big difference. Getting used to the pick-and-roll and playing defense properly were big adjustments, too.
3. Lots of Americans have to adjust their shooting, too.
“Yeah, but I got better as I went along. The biggest thing is not giving away your shot, and having a quick stick. Americans come in and want to shoot the ball as hard as they can, but that doesn’t work indoors. It’s placement.”
4. You moved around a bit in the NLL.
“I played 6 seasons in Baltimore, then followed the team to Pittsburgh, then to Washington for 2 years and then I finished out in Philadelphia with the Wings.”
5. Favorite place to play?
“I really liked Baltimore. We didn’t win a whole lot, but we had a great bunch of guys and the fan base was decent. Philly was great, big crowds. Pittsburgh, not so great. We didn’t draw well and in Washington, we drew nobody so that was tough.”
6. Do you see big differences in the game today compared to when you played?
“It was a lot more physical when I played. We didn’t have the rules in place they have today to protect the offensive players.”
7. Name a player who challenged you the most.
“I think John Grant Jr. scored his first career NLL goal against me on a behind-the-head shot, so that was a pleasure. I remember defending guys like Colin Doyle and Ted Dowling, too.”
8. What’s the Darris Kilgour story?
“Great player, but he was kinda loose in the head, too. When I was with Baltimore, we were playing Buffalo in Baltimore and in the game, there was a pileup in the corner. I remember this hand coming up through my facemask so I bit it. I turned and there’s Darris, yelling. He was trying to face-rake me. So a few years later, he’s hired to come in and coach the Washington team that I’m playing for. I actually asked him if he remembered trying to face-rake me and he did. He didn’t have a problem with me doing that. It was funny.”
9. Best player you’ve seen?
“John Tavares. He’s an all-around player and did a good job on ground balls, assists, everything. I just think he’s awesome. Darris was one of the best and Jim Veltman, too. He didn’t score a lot of goals, but the work he did on ground balls was amazing.”
10. Biggest difference between players from your era and today?
“Guys seem to be a lot more entitled now. I should be getting this, or I deserve that. I see that a lot. I had to earn my stripes back then but today guys have agents and big contracts. It’s a little disappointing because some guys think this is the way it’s always been. I guess that’s just the way it is nowadays.”
Paul Cantabene, according to the stats at NLL.com, played 121 games in his 11-year career. He scored 113 goals with 197 assists for 310 points, but really made his mark on faceoffs, where he won 1,047 of 1,882 draws (56%). Today, he’s the men’s lacrosse coach at Stevenson University, where he’s led the Mustangs to 5 conference championship games in 6 seasons. The Mustangs advanced to last season’s NCAA Division III semifinals, where they lost in OT to Salisbury. He also runs a camp, Old School Lacrosse.
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