There is an age-old hockey expression known as “having coffee at the show.” The expression refers to a hockey player that has had a brief stint in the NHL. When it comes to indoor lacrosse, that expression fits perfectly for Charley Toomey, the head coach of the 2012 NCAA champion Loyola Greyhounds. Toomey was a two-time All-America goalie at Loyola and is highly ranked on the all-time saves list before venturing into the Major Indoor Lacrosse League, forerunner of the National Lacrosse League. After graduating in the early 90s, Toomey was asked to try out for the Baltimore Thunder. Having no box goalie experience, Toomey found himself in a familiar, yet foreign position, between the pipes. He worked his way onto the roster and learned the basics from Steve Dietrich — one of the all-time great indoor goalies. The following season, Toomey found himself backing up the legendary Marty O’Neill for the Boston Blazers. Although it was a short career, it may be one of the more memorable cups of java to be had in pro lacrosse.
1. You were a 2-time All-American goalie in college, how did you end up playing in the NLL (MILL)?
I made the decision to play in the MILL because it was another opportunity to play lacrosse after college. Great friendships are created not only in the collegiate locker room, but outside of it as well and a few friends asked me to consider trying out. I clearly had more success in the field game than in the indoor one, but I really enjoyed my time in the MILL.
2. Did you have any previous box or indoor experience before playing in the NLL?
I had no previous experience other than playing a few times at Du Burns Arena in Baltimore. In the fall of 1991, Marc Hoffman organized a team and asked if I was interested in playing with them.
3. Was the transition from outdoor to indoor easy for you, or did it take a lot of work and getting used to?
Transitioning from outdoor to indoor was quite a challenge. It probably started with just getting dressed — I felt like the Michelin man upon getting suited up. A new way of holding your stick (one handed and head down), bending at the knees and keeping your shoulders up with back straight was a challenge in itself. Using your off hand to bat away any offside high shots was absolutely out of the norm.
4. What were the tryouts and practice like?
Baltimore practices were late in the evenings in Perry Hall. They were tons of fun as we had some great characters on the team — Chris Gunkel, the Welsch brothers, Jackson, Tommy Johnson, John Holthaus and others. It was new to just get into shooting drills where guys would just fire away from 10 yards out as a warm-up. Playing in Boston had different challenges — it took me 2 hours to drive to practice. I lived in Newport, R.I., and we practiced in Milford, Mass. I would ride with Peter Schmitz out of Providence to break the ride up.
5. Are there any distinct memories that stand out from your NLL experiences? (Either on or off the floor)
I’ll never forget getting pummeled in the corner of the floor by a couple of Detroit Turbos. We were scrimmaging them in Chicago and I ventured to the corner for a loose ball. Somehow a fight broke out and I was getting wailed on by 2 of the enemy. I couldn’t feel a thing as I had so much equipment on, but I also couldn’t swing back for the same reason. I was a punching bag until my teammates arrived.
6. How were the crowds at the games? or because the league was so new the arenas weren’t packed?
I always felt like the crowds were good. Baltimore really backed the Thunder early on. We finished in 1st place in the American Division before losing in the playoffs. I always thought that playing in Boston was awesome in itself. To play games in the Boston Garden — an arena with so much history, was really cool. The fans in Boston were great as well, they knew the team and really supported us.
7. Describe how you were feeling before your first NLL game?
I was fortunate to have two incredible Canadian goalies in front of me while in Baltimore and Boston. Steven Dietrich helped me to learn the game in Baltimore. Marty O’Neill was the starter in Boston. Both of them had very good careers in the MILL and NLL and I’m grateful of everything they taught me. So with that being said, I was usually entering the game when things were going really well or really bad. I can tell you that the butterflies in your stomach are crazy when playing in that environment. The indoor game has so much energy surrounding it … maybe it’s the fans, it could be the music or possibly it was because I felt like a fish out of water at first.
8. Who were some of your favorite teammates? Who were your least favorite opponents to play against? Or who was the worst person to go up against in practice?
I was fortunate enough to play with some Loyola teammates — Chris Gunkel, John Holthaus, Brian Kroneberger and Tommy Johnson really made things fun. Jimmy Huelskamp, the Welschs and Jackson were probably our better players in Baltimore. In Boston, I really enjoyed playing with Scott Hiller, Chris Cameron, Eric Seremet and Tim Soudan to name a few. They were New England guys that took a southerner under their wing. I never really feared an opponent – I always had tons of respect for the Canadians and felt that they were the toughest saves to make around the crease. Their ability to freeze and finish was absurd.
9. You had an opportunity to play for both Boston and Baltimore — which arena was better and which crowd was more lively?
Loved playing for both towns because I played at Loyola I never more people in the stands which made that environment exciting.
10. You have short hair now, but did you ever have some “flow” in your playing days?
Maybe a little flow in high school and college … don’t tell my current players. While playing with Boston I was actually serving in the Navy and stationed at their Prep School in Newport, RI so the hair was short in 1993.
11. Looking back, do you wish you had more time to develop your indoor game when you were younger?
I was not really cut out to be an MILL goalie. I really believe in the position of goalie, it’s best to leave it up to the guys north of the border. They grow up in that environment and are best suited to play the position. Plus, I’m not sure that my parent’s would have let me keep that smelly equipment in the garage. I thought lacrosse gloves were bad … holy cow the smell of indoor goalie gear. I’m sure hockey moms and dads everywhere can relate.
12. Do you ever watch the NLL now, and who is your favorite team?
I will catch an indoor game when it’s possible. As a collegiate coach — the family gets their fill of lacrosse so I usually get voted down on the TV rights if one is airing. I will always try to follow any Loyola kids that are in the league.
13. I’ve seen the videos of the off season Loyola Box Lacrosse League (LBLL). It is a great way to have your players keep a stick in their hands. Do you encourage your players to try to continue playing at the next level in the NLL?
We created the LBLL as a way to have fun in the offseason with our guys. They love playing it and quite honestly some might be suited for the NLL. A couple Canadian freshmen already have a leg up and were the first two LBLL draft picks this fall. I will always encourage our guys to continue to play the game they love — be it inside or out.
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