I had the opportunity to welcome back and discuss with Colorado Mammoth Forward Athan Iannucci his thoughts about the upcoming NLL season and what he brings to the Mammoth on offense. During our interview, I also asked him about his career; the coaching staff; the new talent signed by the Mammoth; and his “beard” among other things.
Most of you know who Athan Iannucci is, but for those of you who don’t here are a few tidbits. He was born on April 15, 1982 and been playing box lacrosse since he was 8 years old. He’s #23; a forward for the Colorado Mammoth; shoots right; is from Coquitlam, British Columbia; attended Hofstra University; was the 2008 NLL MVP; and holds the NLL record for goals scored in a season with 71.
-After being signed by the Mammoth as a free-agent on January 15, 2o14 I asked him about his thoughts on his performance on the floor this past season as well as the experience he brought to the team. He said:
“My season was alright, it was pretty good but I’m looking to do better. I just want to do more of what I think we all kind of started doing as a team at the end of the year which was come back together and play with some fire in our bellies. I think we’re a very dangerous team if all of our players play at their full potential. We’ve got our left side, and we’ve got our right side. I just wanna be one of those guys just doing their best and doing their thing. I really believe with the team and the players we have, we’re a very dynamic kind of group and I just wanna get in where I fit in. With that being said, I also think I can gain quite a bit more skills.”
-Being signed to a new contract, and all the new talent the Mammoth are bringing onto the team, being a veteran, what advice can you give the rookies; field lacrosse guys; college and club lacrosse players about playing box lacrosse in the NLL?
“The NLL in and of itself is probably a little bit different beast than any other box league. It’s a lot faster, and I’m liking it as a lot of changes have taken place like in the NHL over the last few seasons. It’s kind of making room for more skilled type players; it’s quite a smash and rough game, not as much punch and grab. A lot of players with box lacrosse experience will notice; and obviously the nets are a little bit bigger and goalies are a little bit smaller. Yeah it’s a fast paced game and anything can happen. It doesn’t really matter if you’re down by five or up by five other than that you’ve just gotta get there and figure it out yourself.”
-So how did the mid-season coaching change affect you as a player?
“It didn’t affect me in any negative way that’s for sure. I think that’s probably the smartest move by any GM I’ve seen in a long time. I feel like most coaches are too far removed from the game and this game is changing a lot year-to-year and I think it’s really nice to have players who are coaches, coaches who are so relevant, they were playing just a few short years ago and I think that makes all the difference in the world. I like the idea of the co-coach thing as well. They’re coaches, we don’t need to know who’s the assistant; who’s the head; who’s the offense; or who’s the defense. We figured it out pretty quick on our own anyways and it also removes the whole ego thing from the equation. It’s like ‘We as coaches don’t follow these mandated kind of hierarchical rules or whatever and neither should our guys’. We’re all just a bunch of dudes, we’re just here, we’re here to play lacrosse and let’s just figure out how to win. I really like that atmosphere and I thought it was good.
All the different teams I’ve played on and all the different levels WLA, etc., generally the coaches are so far removed and even if you look around the league, I think if you look at Curt Malasky, he’s had a pretty successful and competitive team throughout the years. I just think it’s a lot easier for the players to pick up what they’re putting down.”
-What do you see with the new players, getting in there, picking up the drills, the patterns, routes, formations and that type of thing?
“I haven’t personally looked and not really abreast of whom they’ve brought in, but from the sounds of what you’re saying, it’s going to be a competitive tryout. I think that’s a good thing getting people amped up for the season as quickly as possible. I think it’s a positive thing. It’s going to make some of the veterans work harder to keep their jobs and make some of those new guys find their footing that much quicker having that higher level of pace in the pre-season. I think it’s good when you have good numbers at tryouts even if half of them aren’t going to be there when the end comes. I just think it’s good to push the competition level and give you something a little different.”
-So, explain to a novice; a new player coming in to the game; and the fans who don’t quite understand the position of “Forward”.
“Really a Forward is like an attack in field lacrosse. Literally if you had the two names next to each other you could go ‘forward equals attack’; ‘transition equals midfielder’; and ‘defense equals defense’. The only difference being that we’re only allowed a certain number of players on the floor at one time. So, we’re switching all those guys constantly and just how the midfielders go all the way up and all the way down the field, the same thing happens with the transition. Sometimes they go all the way up and other times they stay back.”
-What do you feel are your best attributes as a player?
“I like to be faster than anyone who’s strong enough to try and check me; and I’d like to be strong enough for anyone who’s fast enough to check me. Ideally what I wanna be my best when I’m playing at my full potential. I feel I can be a game changing player. I can take over a period or a game if I play the right way, that’s just personally. Then obviously I can make other players around me better by working hard and using my body to help get them open. I don’t really think I have a big ego, I don’t mind cutting through the middle, I don’t need to get my points and I don’t need to get my goals. I just want our team to win so I also think that’s really good.”
-For a new player coming into box lacrosse, what types of drills do you suggest?
“Field lacrosse players typically learn to put the stick in their other hand. It’s really good for field, but it doesn’t really ever come into play in box, every so often, but not too often. As a result, when Canadian’s go to school, myself included, it’s pretty funny watching us put the stick in our other hand, but the things we can do with our strong hand are generally a lot better than American’s can do and you can just imagine from splitting hands, the less amount of time you spend with the stick in each hand. I also think with the shot clock and a smaller playing surface you’re forced to play with one hand. Sometimes you have to make a play before the shot clock runs out. It’s a pretty small net, it’s tighter and any kind of drill that’s going to allow you to become more confident with your strong hand, learn how to work in tight spaces under pressure especially for offensive players, I think they generally need to work on. It’s not so much about power, time, room and shots; its tight little wrist flicking and hitting those tiny corners. They’re much smaller those spaces you try to score in with box versus field. It would be like you’re in a tight game and just sort of take weird angle shots, like you’re not always going to get that technically perfect shot off every time. You have to be able to shoot from literally anywhere you can hold your stick and you should be able to hit every spot on the net from anywhere you can hold your stick. That would be the goal and that’s what I’d impart upon a young box player.”
-Why did you start playing lacrosse?
“At an early age I went to the Minto Cup at the Coquitlam Arena to watch Six Nations play the Coquitlam Adanacs. The place was packed, people were sitting on the floor, in the stairways, and literally you couldn’t fit another person in there. Half the place had big Indian drums going and I was sitting on the cement stairs and you could feel the vibrations because there were so many people in there and it was such an intense environment. I’m sure that had something to do with it. For whatever reason, I always had an infinity, a draw towards playing lacrosse. I just really like how it’s so dynamic, you can shoot from anywhere. It’s not like hockey where the puck is coming off the ice. You can shoot high, low, from behind your back, between your legs, like anything you can think of and as I get older, I appreciate the fact that it was an old Native-American game and it’s very spiritual like a medicine game. I think it’s really complete; an interesting sport; fun; and creative.”
-So, my final question because everyone wants to know about the “beard”, so spill it! What’s the reason you grew the beard because the picture posted on the Mammoth website when you were signed in January has you with no beard?
“Well it’s like playing in the mountains, you gotta have a mountain man beard right! It kind of just developed a momentum of its own. I just did it because I figured I wanted to do it at least once in my life just to see where it would go, and what it would be like. It’s funny so many people would talk to me about it and say ‘I used to have a beard like that but my girlfriend made me shave it, or I’m going to a wedding, or I’ll keep it until this or that, and had all these reasons why they never let it come to full fruition. I just kind of wanna see where things go. It’s pretty funny how it kind of takes on a life of its own.”
I asked him if it gets in the way of the helmet and chin strap and he said:
“I am kinda used to it now, it doesn’t really bother me. Honestly eating a sandwich can be the most challenging thing at times, that’s about it. You gotta cut it up into long strips…that’s the trick.”
During my interview with Athan we discussed many things about lacrosse and I got to see a side of him that many people don’t see. We laughed about a lot of things, talked out field lacrosse, box lacrosse, my son’s experience as a lacrosse midfielder and I would have to say that this was one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve had the pleasure of doing.
Thanks so much Athan for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with me on behalf of In Lacrosse We Trust.