Eight months ago Ryan Cousins raised the Champion’s Cup for the first time in his pro career. That’s what made his decision on January 30th even tougher for the 31-year-old National Lacrosse League veteran.
“Once again, I experienced a pre-training camp injury that set me back. That was basically the main reason for me retiring. I have sustained a number of injuries the past five years and I always seem to comeback, but I don’t think it’s the greatest thing in the long-term for someone’s body. I still have the passion to play and the drive. I am physically active and I want to be physically active for years to come,” he said. “It was a tough decision for me, but it was the right decision. I will definitely miss playing and all of the guys. The toughest part of the decision was I had full intentions of playing this season.”
The husband and father of two young children, Audrey and Colton, the full-time firefighter retires as a two-time National Lacrosse League Defensive Player of the Year, and an NLL Champion. He capped off his 11th season in the NLL with an incredible run to the NLL Championship. He ends his career with 78 points (32+48) and 598 loose balls in 138 games, playing for teams in Rochester, Minnesota, Arizona and Columbus.
“He is going out at the top of his game. He was a winner at every level,” said Dan Dawson, who played with Cousins in Columbus and Arizona. “He was one of the greatest teammates I have ever played with.”
His final season in the NLL was challenging and rewarding, as he played in 10 regular season games and three playoff games. Arriving in a trade with the Edmonton Rush, Cousins nearly missed his final opportunity to play for a championship. After suffering an offseason injury while weight training, the NLL veteran was on the verge of retirement. Fearing he might have played his last game, Cousins used the opportunity to travel to games and meet his new teammates. It was a valuable experience, especially after he was cleared to play in early February.
“Last year, I had a preseason knee injury and was convinced by Curt Styres and Jody Gage, as well as different players, to get back in shape and get back to playing,” he said. “Obviously, I am hoping I was part of winning that championship. Looking back, I am really glad I was able to come back and play.”
Cousins made his Rochester debut on February 18th, as the Knighthawks won an emotional 15-12 victory over the Washington Stealth. Rochester used a seven-goal fourth quarter to earn the come-from-behind win. The victory proved to be one of the turning points of the season. Fellow defenseman Mike Kirk said Cousins was one of the key pieces to the team’s 2012 NLL Championship. The perennial NLL All-Star Game participant and four-time Mann Cup champion helped anchor a Rochester defense that earned a home playoff game for the first time in five years, and captured its first ever playoff win in Toronto.
“Ryan’s experience, leadership and grit helped solidify an already strong defensive core,” said Kirk. “Ryan is a very talented ball player and was able to bring his expertise in big games to help us get over that hump.”
The 2012 season produced another highlight for Cousins, who along with his wife, Lauren, welcomed their daughter Audrey into the world. Their second child was born during the All-Star Break on February 28th, allowing Ryan to join his teammates in Philadelphia for a key 11-8 win over the first-place Wings.
“It was an exciting year. I overcame a few things like being back in the lineup so quick after an injury, feeling good out there and playing, and having the birth of my daughter, Audrey,” said Cousins. “As a team, we jumped into a nice groove toward the end of the season. We took that right into the playoffs and obviously, winning the Championship was amazing.”
Cousins’ NLL career began in 2002 after getting drafted by the Columbus Landsharks with the fifth overall selection. In that same draft, Columbus selected Dan Dawson in the sixth round of the draft. The duo played together for three season – two in Columbus and one in Arizona – before Cousins departed for a seven-year stint in Minnesota. Dawson commented on the character of his former teammate.
“He was the ultimate team player. He could do it all, defend the opposing team’s top player, score goals in transition and stick up for his teammates,” said Dawson. “We were both 20 years old and just happy to be playing. We became extremely close during our 20-hour bus trips.”
“Those are the things you remember when you look back,” said Cousins. “You gain a lot of friends from trips like that, like Dan Dawson. We started our careers together. Guys like Peter Lough. We had some real fun times. I think I had some highlight years in Minnesota and living with a group of guys and basically doing everything together. There are a lot of memories off the floor I will never forget.”
Cousins spent the majority of his career with the Swarm, playing in seven seasons with Minnesota (2005-11). While with the Swarm, he served as the team captain all seven seasons and was named the NLL Defensive Player of the Year and a First Team All-Pro selection in 2007 and 2008. He was selected to the All-Star Game from 2005-09.
“The first year I came into Minnesota, Marty O’Neill was the general manager and basically game me an open door to play my style of lacrosse. I was given the captaincy at that point and that gave me free range out there. I think that was the turning point of my career. I stepped it up another level. We had some good surrounding players and we fed off each other. We were a tight-knit group there for a number of years. That environment helped me elevate my game.”
His next stop was Rochester, where he retires as a Knighthawk. Cousins made sure to mention he will attend future games to support his teammates. Away from the turf, he will now focus on his firefighting career and spending more time at home with his family in Markham, Ontario.
“There is a lot of spare time now. It’s this time of year where you feel like you’re supposed be at the arena, jumping on a plane or jumping in the car going to different places and playing lacrosse,” he said. “It’s been enjoyable to have more time at home and not have such a hectic schedule. It’s a slower pace than the last 11 years, where for four or five months you’re running around not sure where you are going. I am definitely going to enjoy the extra time with the wife and kids.”