ALL: Partnership with NLL a success in first season

Colton Armstrong tries to get away from Latrell Harris as the Rochester Knighthawks visit the Toronto Rock. (Photo: Ryan McCullough)

The Arena Lacrosse League grew leaps and bounds this year. Having recently concluded its third season, the Ontario-based indoor league crowned the St. Catharines ShockWave champions after a competitive regular season and playoffs.

The ALL struck a partnership with the NLL this season which “included the continuance of player movement between the leagues, placement of game officials, and the development of potential future NLL coaches, management, and players,” according to the NLL’s original press release.

It also brought in more fans who are interested in watching the next generation of pros develop their skills.

ALL president Paul St. John said the exposure from the deal was a huge benefit.

“The announcement of the partnership between our two leagues created quite a stir. It was exciting for sure; it really brought a lot of eyes to our league, watching our games and seeing players that could be potential NLLers.”

The ALL has always worked under the mandate of being a developmental league. Its rosters include players on NLL practice rosters, drafted players that just missed making a pro team, free agents and younger players at the end of their junior careers looking to get more experience against older and stronger players.

With the NLL’s rapid expansion, more jobs are being created. The ALL gives players a place to hone their skills while they wait they turn. NLL scouts and coaches are paying more attention to ALL players than ever before.

“We need to continue to work on getting the best players not playing in the NLL to play in the ALL,” St. John said. “Some players still don’t realize we are their best opportunity outside of the NLL to play pro rules, providing them an opportunity to develop their game under the watchful eyes of NLL GM’s and scouts.”

Peterborough Timbermen head coach Joe Sullivan said that a more direct line of communication has been established between the ALL and the NLL, but that it’s a relationship that needs to be nurtured.

“The Timbermen put development first and at a very key time in the year we moved three players to the NLL,” he said. “My commitment is to develop and turn players out to be more refined lacrosse players.”

One of those players was Colton Armstrong, now an active player for the Rochester Knighthawks. As a Jr. C standout, Armstrong was never drafted to the MSL or NLL, but after three successful seasons on transition with the Timbermen, as well as some solid play as a free agent for the MSL’s Cobourg Kodiaks, was noticed by the Knighthawks’ brass.

“Playing in the ALL really help me grow my confidence level,” Armstrong said. “The ALL is still growing and… how they partnered with the NLL was cool. The only way to make it is by making a name for yourself and that’s what my goal was. Playing good defense and playing a lot of transition was a key part.”

Armstrong was one of the ALL’s most exciting players, leading the Timbermen’s transition game with 17 goals and 11 assists before being called up.

Other players who moved between the ALL and NLL (practice or active roster) this season included:

  • Gowah Abrams (St. Catharines – Philadelphia)
  • Mike Burke (Paris – Rochester)
  • Tyler Ferreira (Toronto – Georgia)
  • Matt Lee (Paris – Rochester)
  • Josh Medeiros (Paris – Buffalo)
  • Cam Milligan (Whitby – Rochester)
  • Brandon Robinson (Paris – Rochester)
  • Cameron Simpson (Peterborough – Rochester)
  • John St. John (Oshawa – Colorado)
  • Mike Triolo (Oshawa – Rochester)
Gowah Abrams of the Philadelphia Wings. (Photo credit: Hannah Snyder)

Timbermen goaltenders Nick Damude and Ethan Woods came into the season on Rochester and New England’s practice rosters, respectively, while Craig Wende spent the season on Georgia’s practice roster and saw his first action last weekend in Georgia’s loss to Philadelphia, where he faced Gowah Abrams in the Wings’ net.

Adam Perroni and JP Kealey both started the season for the New England Black Wolves before being sent back to the Whitby Steelhawks.

Another benefit to the league’s partnership is the addition of NLL referees to ALL games.

“We also saw many NLL officials work games in the ALL to stay game sharp in between their games in the NLL,” said St. John. “That is a huge benefit for us as it provides the ALL the top officials in the game outside of the NLL working ALL games.”

Most notably, veteran referees Roger Nurse and Blair Ferguson worked ALL playoff games to help mentor younger referees who also have NLL aspirations.

Now St. John’s focus is on the ALL’s fourth season and continued growth between his league and the NLL as he works to make it the NLL’s official minor league. He recognizes that it will be a collaborative process to develop the league’s full potential.

“We really like the fact that each of our seven teams are operated by some terrific lacrosse people. Each of the GM’s work hard to ensure they put a competitive team on the turf as they develop players for the NLL. These guys deserve a lot of credit for our success. We don’t have success without them.”

Players like Armstrong are the league’s best marketing tool. He paid his dues and worked his way up. His work ethic and talent should be striven for by other players who want to follow in his footsteps, and playing in the ALL is a part of that for players who need more time to develop.

“A lot of guys go from the ALL to NLL but some make it and some don’t,” Armstrong said. “But that’s the best part of ALL – if you don’t make it to the big leagues right away you have somewhere to play lacrosse and showcase your talent in the winter in addition to traditional summer ball.”