ALL: Arena League experiments with 4-on-4 format

Whitby Steelhawks’ Cam Milligan. (Photo credit: Anna Taylor)

The Arena Lacrosse League entered week five with the Whitby Steelhawks still undefeated, but tied for wins atop the standings with the Paris RiverWolves. With a winter storm forecast, a major change on the floor, and the kickoff of the Women’s Division the week would prove to be one to watch.

On the men’s side winter weather would ultimately postpone the Saturday night game between the St. Catharines Shockwave and Oshawa Outlaws, but all eyes would be on the other three games. The league made the announcement prior to the weekend that all games in week five would be played at four-on-four floor strength.

League president Paul St. John commented on the ALL website, “I’ve always had a passion for change… How can we open up the offensive end, make some room for O guys to possibly get to the front of the net more often?” St. John was the founder of the former Canadian Lacrosse League which boasted this strategy in rules prohibiting off-ball slashing and transition promotion through their unique change box rules.

There’s no doubt in normal four-on-four situations the floor opens up, especially for offensive players. The three games in week five were no exception. This was reflected in the final outcomes of each game, with all but one team (Toronto) scoring higher than their season averages. St. John called the weekend experiment a success adding, “Four-on-four opened up the offence and if teams were playing this style on a weekly basis I believe with more strategies we would see even more in-close scoring opportunities.”

While crease play is still a part of the box game, it’s not as prominent as it once was. Perhaps rule changes such as off-ball slashing, or moving to four-on-four may bring these plays back in and encourage more balanced offense. The games were not without growing pains as officials halted play a few times to explain floor strengths and, to their credit, were reluctant to call illegal substitution (Saturday’s game marking the first time this season there hasn’t been such a call in a game). Admittedly at the beginning of each game the format looked, frankly, weird. But the eye soon adjusted and what fans saw from there on out was skilled, offensive lacrosse.

Peterborough Timbermen defenseman Todd Chapman admitted that, having grown up with the five-on-five system, the game was an odd change, but not a bad one.

“It was tougher from a D perspective how to play it well because in a five-man game you’re used to having that extra guy to be able to slide, that can float and shut off the swings,” he said. “Four-on-four you have to switch up your mindset. But if that’s the way that they want to go then I think we’re fast enough to keep up with the rate of play that we have to be at.”

The Arena Lacrosse League is the perfect place to experiment with rules and formats of this nature. But, what was the reasoning for this experiment, when the announcement caught most by surprise? St. John has shown a track record of, as he says, having a “passion for change” and looking for ways to improve offense in the game.

And this marks the second season of a partnership with the National Lacrosse League, which is striving to continually reinvent the wheel when it comes to marketing. One wonders if this experiment will pique their interest as well.

As St. John said at the time of the announcement, “We have been thinking about trying this for two years now” and added following week five “I think it was a success and something that we will entertain again next season.”

In week six league returned to five-on-five lacrosse for their three scheduled games, satisfied with the fact that the initial trial was a success.



With the Saturday evening cancellation, Oshawa was the only team to not play four-on-four. No team played twice.

The Women’s Division kicked off their 2020 season this past week with the Six Nations Lady Snipers winning both games to sit atop the Women’s standings. The Lady RiverWolves and Lady Steelhawks tied, while the Lady ShockWave split their two games and the Lady Outlaws lost both.

Following the weekend games in both ALL and NLL, the Vancouver Warriors announced the signing of Nolan Clayton (Paris).