CLax, MILA and PLL clash, sort of, this weekend in Upstate Bears Invitational


How teams from different leagues would fare against each other is a favourite topic of discussion amongst lacrosse fans. This Saturday, December 1, fans will get a chance to witness first-hand teams from disparate venues going head to head in a series of games at the Cattaraugus Community Centre in the Upstate Bears Lacrosse Invitational.

The host team is a strong collection of players from, as the name suggests, the Upstate region of New York, focused around Irving (about 25 miles southwest of Buffalo). They have signed on to play in the Midwest Indoor Lacrosse Association in 2013. They’ll be joined by the Canadian Lacrosse League’s Niagara Lock Monsters and the Syracuse Stingers, who are not a PLL team but have played some games against Professional Lacrosse League clubs and are considered to be a candidate for future PLL expansion.

Lock Monsters coach and GM Jeff Dowling says there will actually be two Lock Monsters teams; he’ll split his training camp roster into two squads with 18 runners and two goalies each. Both Niagara teams will play each of the American squads, then the Bears and Stingers will square off.

Dowling says for his guys it’s a chance to get some game action as they prepare to trim the roster down in preparation for the 2013 CLax season, which starts in early January. “I told the guys, we’ve got a couple of weeks of camp and then we’ve got this one weekend where we play all these games and I won’t make any cuts till after that so I can see you guys in games,” Dowling told IL Indoor. “We need to get the numbers down so we need to make at least 10 cuts after that weekend.”

The Lock Monsters are the relocated Peel Avengers and have made a number of changes to their roster, largely acquiring players who live in or near the team’s St. Catharines home. Dowling said that other CLax teams have scrimmages and exhibition games set up but Niagara was unable to manage any, so he jumped at the chance to take on the Bears and Stingers.

Bears owner and president Stu Miller is glad the Lock Monsters and Stingers are able to take part. “I think it’s going to give our programs an opportunity to get the guys on the floor and play against guys they might not have played before,” Miller says. “To my knowledge a three-league exhibition event has not been done before so we are really interested to see how the teams stack up.”

The Bears have signed on to play in MILA in 2013 “ but we certainly aren’t going to limit our options.” Miller adds. Dowling pointed out that adding the Bears to CLax would produce a natural rivalry since the two teams are only 45 minutes apart. Miller says the CLax model makes for an intriguing possiblity. “I think that CLAX is a great system,” he says. “The management team in place there has created an excellent product.”

For now, though, Miller is focused on getting ready for the Upstate Bears Invitational. “In preparation for this event we worked down a player pool of close to 50 players over the last few months. There is just so much talent in our area and it was a challenge to get down to our current roster of 25,” he says. “We have some new faces out there but I am especially happy to have back some players who were there since we started this program in 2009. Rick Toye and Justin Stevens have been with us from Day 1 and now balance their player duties with those of the GM and Assistant GM, respectively.”

The Bears have had a chance to play some MILA competition. They dumped MILA finalist Grand Rapids Dragonfish 18-12 in a game in September. One concern with entering MILA may be that the league, which largely comprises American field players having a go indoors, will not provide sufficient competition to challenge the Bears. That would be far less of a problem in CLax, which has the best players outside of the National Lacrosse League.

Asked who’ll win on Saturday, Miller was ready with his reply. “That’s an easy answer. The fans. We have a full day of lacrosse lined up, featuring some great teams and players from all over New York and Ontario. The venue is incredible. The Cattaraugus Community Center is the perfect site for an event like this so I recommend that everyone come check it out.”

Syracuse player/coach Neal Powless, meanwhile, is hoping his team will be among those posting a W. The Stingers roster consists mostly of players from the Senior B Can Am league but isn’t entirely settled. They were shorthanded for a game against the PLL’s Charlotte Copperheads. They lost decisively to both Charlotte and the Reading Rockets. But don’t count them out for the weekend’s contests. PLL has a much broader and deeper base of talent than MILA does, and the Stingers draw on a solid cohort of players.

I do anticipate a more solidified roster for this weekend. We are drawing from Syracuse and Rochester players predominantly who have played at a variety of high levels of college and/or box,” Powless says. “Syracuse is historical place for the game of lacrosse, and I think with the quality of players that play in the area both college and local. There should be some sort of competitive team that can have a solid base of local talent that can compete at a high level. I played for the Smash, and I truly believe that pro lax in syracuse could be a viable product.”

To that end, the Stingers are keeping an eye on CLax as a potential landing spot as well. “CLax is an interesting league since it is a very athletic version of the traditional version of Canadian Box lacrosse,” Powless says.

The games this Saturday should give all three teams plenty of feedback on what they are trying to determine, and will give fans a chance to get an idea of how teams involved with each of the three upstart pro lacrosse leagues in North America compare to each other.

One quirk in the games is that Niagara will follow CLax change rules, meaning players must enter the bench through the door nearest their goaltender and depart it through the other door. This will cost them transition opportunities in both directions relative to their opponents. Dowling said the Lock Monsters will follow that rule by choice to help their players prepare for the fast-approaching CLax season.

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 stamplax@hotmail.com.

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