There is a traditional route to a lacrosse career in Canada. This is the story of a competitor in the Mann Cup who followed a drastically different trajectory: Bobby Danilkiewicz (dan-ul-KAY-vits). Generally, the path goes like this. You start playing the game when you’re very young, say four or five. You grow up playing hockey in the winter and lacrosse in the summer in your hometown. After your midget years, you may play a couple years of Junior B, either at home if your city has a B team or with an affiliate. Then you play Junior A, out of which you’re drafted to the WLA or MSL and to the NLL. Increasingly often these days, players will head south of the border to play field lacrosse on scholarship in the United States. Those players usually join senior teams while they’re still in school but hold off on entering the pro draft until they graduate. Well, Danilkiewicz took neither of those approaches.
He didn’t actually start playing the game until he was about 13, the last year of pee-wee lacrosse. In fact, he didn’t really do sports at all before that year, other than a bit of track and field in grade school. But someone who worked with his dad “mentioned that he had thrown his kid in it. That was it, I was hooked right there, just the sound of it,” Danilkiewicz says.
Still, rather than trying out for rep teams in Maple Ridge, he played house league, starting at the C level and working his way up. “I always kind of felt that maybe I could have played rep but my priorities were elsewhere when I was younger,” he explains. “My parents had a boat and we were always going out boating for weeks at a time. Lacrosse tryouts are in the spring and that’s perfect boating time. We’d be always going to the Gulf Islands. I’ve gone for up to three weeks at a time. It’s awesome. You’re eating fresh fish out of the ocean that you’ve caught yourself and fresh prawns that you’ve trapped. I missed out on a lot of lacrosse tryouts.”
From the obvious joy in his voice talking about those Gulf Island trips, it doesn’t sound like he regrets those decisions. Another possibility soon arose, though. Bobby grew up with five older siblings and “every one was rougher than the other, so I grew up kind of rough and tough on a little bit of farmland.”
His oldest brother, Brian Danilkiewicz, saw Bobby playing lacrosse and decided he wanted to get in the game as well. Being just too old for junior, Brian joined the Senior C Abbotsford Attack. Senior C in British Columbia is a mix of guys who are pretty good players but for some reason can’t commit to the time required to play Senior A or B, and guys who belong in a C league.
Bobby went to all of Brian’s games and the player-coach took notice. Tom Potter told Brian to bring him over to the bench to help by opening one of the doors. That became his regular role. Until, one day, the Attack were short on players. Potter said, “Hey Bobby, have you got your gear?”
“I had it in the truck because I always brought it around,” Danilkiewicz says. “That was pretty much it. I got thrown into the mix and it was a very interesting experience.” You look at him now, a strapping 6′3” farm boy who likes to bang around and has never hesitated to drop the mitts when it’s called for, and you might think, sure, that’s reasonable.
But cast your imagination back to his Bobby’s first season in Senior C. He was 14 years old, about 5′8” (he had a big growth spurt in grade 10) and maybe 140 pounds. He was also playing in his own age-group league each summer, but he loved playing with the older guys and was glad the scheduling usually worked out that he could do both. He even says being small at the time helped to accelerate his learning curve in the game.
“I was 14 when I first started playing and I was playing with grown men that were double the size of me and double the weight,” he says. “I credit a lot of my lacrosse knowledge and skill to that, because you have to be a lot craftier and think a little harder when you’re playing against guys twice the size of you.”
Danilkiewicz worked his way up, from C through B2 to B1 and finally to A2 in Maple Ridge. Then he aged out of midget lacrosse and went into intermediate. Maple Ridge only had a B team, so that’s what he played. After his two years of intermediate he moved up to the Maple Ridge Jr B team. The lessons he learned playing against older and bigger men must have worked, because after his lone Jr B season, the A teams came calling.
Langley invited him to try out, so he went to their camp. Then he got a call from the New Westminster Salmonbellies, a traditional power. So he went to their camp, too. “I was trying out for two teams at the same time,” he says. “It was a lot of lacrosse. It was a lot of fun.”
“It was a very big change. I was going out for Langley and I thought, this is pretty impressive,” Danilkiewicz says. “Everyone was catching and passing with some speed. You didn’t have to worry about people dropping the ball here and there and ruining drills. Then I went to New West and it was even a step up from that. The ball was moving faster and you could clearly see that there was just a little bit more skill.”
A bit to his surprise, he made the Bellies squad. “I asked New West what made them interested in me because you don’t see very often kids being taken from Senior C or Maple Ridge. I was talking to Doug Zack from the Bellies on the phone and he said, well we see that you got quite a few penalty minutes, we’re sure you had a couple of fights in there.”
They also made it clear they thought he had some lacrosse skill and could help the team with more than just his fists. So Danilkiewicz joined New West and did what he’d always done: “don’t back down from anyone, get in there and just work hard.”
It paid off in being selected by the WLA’s Langley Thunder in the third round of the draft, at which point he was a huge steal. He’s developed into a solid WLA defender who contributes to the Thunder’s impressive team defence approach, and his game continues to grow. “I absolutely think my game has evolved. I’m blessed to be here in Langley,” Danilkiewicz says. “I’m playing under the likes of Brett Mydske, Ian Poole, Rob Van Beek, John Lintz, Matt Leveque, Mike Grimes last year. Todd Stockdale is a WLA vet. The list goes on. Everyone brings a different thing to the table and they are all just stellar guys.”
Now that group of stellar guys is two wins away from securing Langley’s first-ever Mann Cup championship. They made it to the finals last year with the team’s first WLA title, but were dumped by Brampton in five games. As is often the case in sports, losing was a preliminary to winning and the Thunder are stoked to be back for another shot.
“It’s most definitely exciting. I think everyone took a big part from [going to the finals last year]. It was a huge learning curve,” he explains. “If you look at our Mann Cup experience before last year, I think Jamie Lincoln, who’s playing for Peterborough now, was pretty much our only guy with a couple of games experience. Now you look at this year we have tons more and we all learnt what it takes to get there. Then adding Lewis Ratcliff and Garrett Billings and Joel McCready and Shayne Jackson is a huge part of it, too. It’s just pieces of the puzzle and we’re all going to battle hard for it.”
Their approach to trying to win it is pretty simple, Danilkiewicz adds. “We like to keep it fast. We feel like we’re a fit team and it benefits us if the pace is quicker. We like to push the ball. [Head coach] Roddy Jensen always preaches that: push, push, push, run, take it deep and then attack. That is the evolution of the game really. I don’t think any team could have that much success without that kind of mentality. Peterborough does a great job of that. They showed that they can really score off the fast break, they have some good finishers.”
Langley has a big hurdle to overcome if they are going to win their first Mann title. Peterborough played in Game 3 the way everyone expected them to from the outset, earning a 14-10 win and for the first time causing the Thunder defence to lose their composure. Danilkiewicz didn’t play in that loss, and with the defensive depth Langley has it’s hard to say who’ll wind up having to sit the rest of the way.
One thing is clear, though. If Bobby D is in the lineup he’ll just get in there and work hard and use his head. It’s something he learned early, facing Senior C players twice his size. Nobody’s twice his size anymore, but the same approach is his calling card.Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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