Pat Maddalena’s retirement from lacrosse signals the end of an era for some

Pat Maddalena played 12 years in the NLL, and his retirement signaled the end of an era for some. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
Pat Maddalena played 12 years in the NLL, and his retirement signaled the end of an era for some. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

How do you know it’s the end of an era? For me, it was a simple announcement. It caught me off guard on a quiet September afternoon. A waterfall of thoughts followed my reading that Pat Maddalena had decided to officially hang ‘em up. There is nothing especially earth shattering about Pat’s retirement when you consider other significant retirements of late. Bob Watson, Kaleb Toth, Brian Langtry and Pat McCready are players with heavy association to the past decade or more of lacrosse. Recent years have seen the final act for some of the 2000s staples like Jim Veltman, Pat O’Toole, Jake Bergey and Rich Kilgour. Legendary players who got their start in the 90s and built their careers through the following decade in the NLL. The types of soldiers who were synonymous with their home team’s name aka Bird and the Celtics or Yzerman and the Wings. So why all the reaction to Pat Maddelena?

I will always think of Pat Maddalena as the “kid,” that eager, gullible rookie who walked into training camp his first day and made the impression of a ball of fire with his work ethic, hustle and desire. Maddalena was a turnip right off the farm in my eyes, his whole career in front of him.

Like a spoof from a movie that is a slapstick comedy, Pat showed up in Bandits camp that fall of 1999 and was as green as they get off the floor and around the dressing room. Therefore he became the subject of multiple John Tavares pranks so there were lots of laughs when those 2 were around.

On the floor, the “kid” had a motor with one gear, fast! The energy he exuded was just the stuff GMs and coaches are looking for in pre-season and in Mad Man’s rookie campaign he didn’t disappoint in Buffalo.

The 2000 Bandits were infused with youth and Maddalena led the charge. Pat had a solid year scoring a goal a game while developing his nose for loose balls collecting with 52 in 11 games. Bandits Maddalena, D’Arcy Sweet, Chris Sellers and Kyle Couling were rookies who won over their teammates with consistent efforts and positive attitudes. Off the floor they provided some great comedy for the year too, a year in which the organization took a new direction with good results thanks to efforts like Maddalena’s. Pat went on to have a 12-year NLL career that ended with 7 games played in a championship season in Toronto. He took a year to announce he was done, but 2011 was his swan song.

People and places in my mind tend to get polarized with time, especially when they move out of your daily life. The 2000 NLL season in Buffalo was my last season of lacrosse, the end of my era. The NLL got eight years out of me and at 34 years of age I shut her down. Over the last decade I had run into Maddalena several times while he was still playing and I was managing. As a GM I was too immersed in my team and its plight to stop and reminisce about our past, let alone strike up a meaningful chin wag. Time marched on.

Over my 10 years of managing in the NLL, it was an annual event to see guys I played with in the NLL retire or fade away. Every new season there were less recognizable faces I had competed against (or with) and more and more of the next generation of players I had watched and scouted coming up and taking over as the new breed.

Eventually, careers were ending for players I had broken in with the Wings and Minnesota and I was sensing that I may be getting a little out of touch with the 22-year-old guys just starting to make their way. I had become that “older” coach type guy to the younger set. Players showing up for training camp called me Mr. O’Neill, my god!

The shift in youth last year for the NLL as a whole signifies that yes, a new era has dawned again and is in play. There will be draft picks from the last two or three years that will be the John Grants, Tracey Keluskys and Shawn Williams of their era looking back in 2025. How odd does that sound, 2025?

Time flies when you’re having fun. Blink and a decade or two slips past you so quickly. My life has been measured largely by lacrosse events thus far and today I sit damn near 50 years old. I am old and the realization hit that day with the announcement of Pat’s retirement.

I’ve told many a player to make life a priority and don’t hang on when they are facing their possible lacrosse ending. This isn’t the NHL where you are scraping out another year that may only get you $1.3 million so you can top up your investment portfolio. This is the NLL where you have to balance family, work and playing if you are getting up in years.

Doing all these things “well” requires focused time and effort, plus you still have to love going to the rink, even to practice. The NLL is about making a few bucks which is truly rewarding to be paid to do what you love. The catalog of years, a career, is the investment that will be supplying memories and friendships to ponder the rest of your life. Things like playing in the Boston Garden or Buffalo’s Aud and friends from East to West, American and Canadian, I relish for myself.

The fall of 1999 is almost 14 years ago. That was my first encounter with the “kid.” More than anyone in my lacrosse experience, Maddalena is stored in my memory bank as the picture of youth. It’s true there is a “kid” in all of us and lacrosse becomes an extended childhood in many ways.

They say that all good things must come to an end. Yes, I accept I am getting older and the game has long since passed me by but Pat Maddalena is a lucky man, because he will always be a kid to me.

O'Neill is a three-time Mann Cup winner and former general manager of the Philadelphia Wings (2001-2004) and Minnesota Swarm (2004-2010), where he was twice named NLL GM of the Year (2007, 2008).

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