There are no doubt a countless amount of definitions for what a two-way (or transitional) player is in the National Lacrosse League, but one word found in almost everyone’s explanation for a tranny… versatility.
Whether it’s O-heavy, D-heavy, strictly between the restraining lines, in the corners, on the crease, or a role found on some other inch of rug, a two-way player in this sport typically has several extra bullets on their resume that makes them, well, more versatile than most in the league. In today’s edition of IL Indoor’s look back at the absolute best of the NLL over the past almost 25 years, we asked our respected panel who they felt was the best tranny in pro indoor history, and give you the chance to too.
39% of the votes
Buffalo Bandits (92-96), Ontario Raiders (1998), Toronto Rock (99-08)
He literally did it all over his 16 Hall of Fame (inducted 2009) worthy years in the MILL and NLL, Jim Veltman likely the most versatile player in NLL history. An MVP winner in 2004 with the Rock, the first time the award was given to someone other than a high profile goal scorer (or someone named Gait or Tavares). He scored, defended, won, bled, led, played injured, inspired, out smarted and scooped his way to one of the greatest careers in pro lacrosse history, changing and redefining his role to whatever was needed, resulting in three Cup wins in Buffalo and another five in Toronto. Veltman is the NLL’s all-time loose-ball leader (2,417 regular season, 2,747 career), a stat often attributed to two-way players in the pros, something he did better than anyone else year-after-year.
“This is by far the easiest one to answer so far: Jim Veltman, hands down. No player is even in the same stratosphere when it comes to his ability to play both ends of the floor. He was the best ever at loose balls, played amazing defence, penalty kill, scored goals, ran the point on the powerplay - you name, he did it. And he dominated the game with smarts, not due to physical size or speed. As Pat Coyle said in the War on the Floor (can’t remember exact words, but the jist was), if you saw Veltman without his shirt on you’d think he was the towel boy or something. I personally don’t think we will ever see a player dominate both ends like he did ever again. Truly one of a kind.” – Ty Pilson
“Jim Veltman is probably the best pure two-way player in league history.” – Steve Govett
“Would have to answer the same as my defensemen pick. I think Brodie Merrill and Jimmy Veltman have changed the way the position and lacrosse is played. There aren’t too many D-guys you game plan around but those two you always had to. You have to know where they are at all times and the minute you relax they always capitalize. I have a lot of respect for both of them.” – Lewis Ratcliff
“Jim Veltman was so good for so long that it is hard not to give him the nod.” – Bob Hamley
“Easy question – Jim Veltman – no question.” – Chris Hall
“Win or lose, every single game I ever saw him play, Veltman looked absolutely spent post-game. It’s like Les (Bartley), Terry (Sanderson) or whoever else was leading the bench on a team Scoop played for, squeezed every last possible ounce of effort from him, even after it looked like nothing was left. You got his best at both ends of the floor in virtually any and every possible situation, always, no questions asked. He was (and still is) as smart, creative, crafty and sneaky as any big name goal scorer, owning maybe the highest lacrosse IQ in the history of the sport. He was a player and person you couldn’t help but respect.” – Paul Tutka
Click here for one of the best ever posts on IL Indoor, Ted Jenner’s review of the day he and Veltman locked horns on the vistor’s bench at the Air Canada Centre. Classic stuff.
And below, check out the video tribute played just prior to Veltman’s last game in the NLL…
28% of the votes
Ontario Raiders (1998), Toronto Rock (99-04), San Jose Stealth (2005), Rochester Knighthawks (05-10)
Considered one of the absolute fastest players in NLL history, Toll was constantly thinking press, even if his teammate who just won the ball in their own end didn’t realize Steve was already a few strides away from yet another scoring opportunity. Always looking for a pass he could pluck mid-air, Toll’s first step was not only one of the best ever coming from a Canadian born player, it was as good as almost any ahtletic American to play at this level. A multiple Cup winner with the Rock and then again with the Knighthawks, Toll grabbed his second Mann Cup this past summer with the Peterborough Lakers, a gold medal winner with Canada on the rink and grass too. Toll was the NLL’s first winner of the Transition Player of the Year Award in 2007. Few anticipated and read the floor in their own end like Toll, who probably ran more breakaways than any other player in the league’s almost 25 years. Although his run might come to an end after recently being released by the Knighthawks, Toll is the NLL’s Iron Man, having played in 172 consecutive regular season games, 192 combined season and playoff starts. Toll has not missed an NLL game for injury or otherwise since 1999.
“I would have to say Steve Toll. For years, he dominated the middle of the floor and had a very good scoring touch to back it up. In the new look NLL, where teams played five in and five out, Steve was the contrast. He intimidated other teams power-plays to the point where they would change plays to keep the ball away from him, in fear of him going the other way with a shorty! Not many transition guys had game plans for them. He was one of the first and best at it.” – Colin Doyle
“During the first 12 years of the league it seemed like every goal was scored on transition. However, since the evolution of offensive and defensive specialists, it became apparent that a defender with speed and playmaking ability could tip a game in his team’s favour. There was no one better at it than Steve Toll. Not only was he the fastest player in the league but he knew when to gamble and took off early when he felt his team had a good chance of getting a loose ball. More often than not he scored on his breakaways.” – Brian Shanahan
“Steve Toll really was the first threat out of the back-end. Steve and Jimmy Veltman were so often on the same page that before the opposing team would shoot, Toller would be on his way with a no-look pass from Jimmy into Toller’s stick on the run for a breakaway.” – Chris Gill
Check out Toll’s Chex TV profile with the Lakers from this past summer, below…
14% of the votes
Portland Lumberjax (06-09), Edmonton Rush (2010)
The comparisons that get thrown at Merrill’s game are endless. Edmonton GM and head coach Derek Keenan described the league’s reigning Transition Player of the Year (winning in 2009 and 2010) as the Wayne Gretzky or Michael Jordan of the sport, telling Slam Sports, shortly after securing him in Edmonton for the year, “Brodie’s the kind of guy that if you ask him to shut down the best player on the other team, he’ll do that. He’ll score goals at both ends of the floor and, in transition, play a mean, physical game.” He’s also been compared to the likes of Bobby Orr, Nicklas Lidstrom and lacrosse’s own, Jim Veltman, all athletes that Merrill shares countless attributes with, maybe the most important, his leadership capabilities. While high profile offensive players like Colin Doyle, Josh Sanderson, John Tavares and a small handful of others, are often described as, “making everyone around them better,” Merrill too falls into that exclusive club, his voice and actions making him one of today’s most prolific leaders. – From IL Indoor’s 2009 Top 50
“ I would have to give Brodie Merrill the nod at first thought. He does so many things in the middle of the floor and then when he gets the ball in his stick it seems like he is down the floor in two or three strides. His loose ball skills are as good as anyone I have seen and his anticipation is outstanding.” – Pat McCabe
“Sure, he’s only got 5 NLL seasons but wherever he goes, he wins. He’s got the set to D it up and shut it down and when the ball’s the floor, he’s able to get it in his stick. If the outlet isn’t there, he’s got the wheels to get it down the floor himself and if he finds himself on an odd-man rush, he’s got enough of a finishing touch to score goals. He’s a generator from the defensive end who gives his team the bonus of having a defensive guy with an offensive mindset. In his 5 short years, he’s proven to me he’s the best. The rest of his career will be spend solidifying that.” – Bob Chavez
6% of the votes
Philadelphia Wings (2001), Colorado Mammoth (04-06)
With only four years spent in the league, Jay Jalbert made a thunderous impression on the NLL during his short pro career, cut prematurely due to concussion related issues. A cup winner with both the Wings and Mammoth, Jalbert was one of the grittiest, nastiest, pain in your ass, dangerous Americans to ever play the indoor game, a US field bred player that was custom made for the physical, bruising Canadian style of play. Able to shutdown and get into the heads of some of the best O guys of his era, Jalbert was also good for a goal or two a game, often of the back breaking variety. At only 33 and away from the NLL since 2006 in order to give his body a rest to hopefully prolong his indoor career, many still pine for the return of Jalbert.
“A close second, and I mean a real close second, would have to be Jay Jalbert. He shot with both hands full speed, hard! He was automatic on the face-off team and his speed was unbelievable.” – Gill
“Recently, Jalbert and Sims played well in a system that allowed them to use their tremendous speed in transition to create multiple scoring opportunities.” – Govett
“A lot of people say most Americans in today’s NLL wouldn’t be able to take the constant punishment dished out in Canada’s more physical WLA and MSL loops. Not only would Jalbert be able to hang in Senior ‘A’ lacrosse, he’d be the one pushing the limits and buttons on Canada’s concrete floors. He is the kind of American born player the league needs more of if they want to continue to push the game on field only players and win them over. Jalbert was anything but soft.” – Tutka
Check out a mic’d up Jalbert during the 2006 Champions’ Cup against the Buffalo Bandits, the Mammoth winning the game 14-11 in a hostile HSBC Arena, below…
3% of the votes
Charlotte Cobras (1996), Rochester Knighthawks (97-01), Buffalo Bandits (02-09), Toronto Rock (2010)
Contemplating retirement the last couple of winters, both the Toronto Rock and Rochester Knighthawks have pulled McCready back into the mix in recent seasons, McCready opting for another kick at the can after 15 grinding seasons already under his belt, signing with the K’Hawks for 2011. A tenacious, relentless, not afraid to get his hands dirty defender, McCready also has the wheels and know-how to ignite the press to perfection.
“My vote goes to “Pat ‘Speedy’ McCready, although, he’s more of a three-way player. Tenacious defender, unbelievable acceleration out of his own end with a scoring touch, and will go buckets off with anyone who cheap shots his teammates.” – Pat Campbell
Others that received votes
10% of the votes
Josh Sims, Chris Driscoll, Mark Steenhuis, John Tavares, Gary Gait, Dave Pietramala
“Tough question because back in the day everybody went both ways! Amazingly, what many people won’t remember is that Gary Gait was one of the greatest defensive players of all time. He wouldn’t admit that but I had first hand knowledge playing alongside him as a lefty back in the Wings dynasty. Not many players ever got by him, which certainly made my job easy. He was the best at stripping players off the ball with a one handed wrap-check that was pretty hard to beat, and then starting the break quickly going the other way. Darris Kilgour would just as soon smack you in the mouth as score on you. He was a tenacious defender and great goal scorer and could drop the mitts whenever necessary, or not!” – Govett
“One of the guys I also admire is Mark Steenhuis. There are not many guys who can stay with his footspeed, and he is fearless. He has become more of an offensive player the last few years but when he first came onto the scene he would score three goals and completely change a game without having a single play called for him. Imagine the game with a team of Brodie Merrills against a team of Mark Steenhuises? No substitutions and no specialists. Just speed and skill. Going back to my day, Dave Pietramala was one of those guys who could fit in any situation on the field. He could lock up your best scorer, pick up a ball in traffic, lead the break and make all the right decisions. Great hands and outstanding athleticism, not to mention as fierce a competitor as you have ever met.” – McCabe
Of our voted on Top 5, who is the greatest two-way/transition player in NLL history?
- Jim Veltman (53%, 332 Votes)
- Brodie Merrill (22%, 136 Votes)
- Steve Toll (17%, 110 Votes)
- Pat McCready (4%, 27 Votes)
- Jay Jalbert (4%, 24 Votes)
Total Voters: 629
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