Special weekend as NLL honours past, celebrates future

Adam Poitras, Dyson Williams and Callum Jones were the top 3 picks in the 2023 NLL Draft. (Photo: David Pickering)

In just over 24 hours, the National Lacrosse League celebrated the greatest from the past, and welcomed in the future stars of the league. On Friday night at the Burlington Convention Centre eight players – Colin Doyle, Kevin Finneran, John Grant Jr, Pat McCready, Casey Powell, Regy Thorpe, Steve Toll and Shawn Williams – and for the first time ever two officials – Roy Condon and Bill Fox – became the largest class inducted into the Hall of Fame. One day later, at the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre in Oakville, 97 young players heard their names called at the annual entry draft.

The 10 inductees represent 24 NLL titles, 3 league MVPs, 2 Rookie of the Year awards, 1 Defensive Player of the Year award and the first ever Transition Player of the Year award winner. Friday’s ceremony was the first since the 2021 class was announced. Commissioner Brett Frood admitted, “We’ve been waiting to do this for a few years,” adding in his opening remarks, “We waited to do it right.” While those not part of the 150 guests in attendance lamented there was no broadcast, it was an evening to celebrate the 10 member class. Those celebrations included stories from the past, which caused laughter at times and tears at others, all while shining a spotlight on those who, as co-host Ashley Docking said, are often quick to “deflect” attention to others.

Many of the honourees were connected, either by being teammates or close friends.

Frood remarked the gathering was the, “Epitome of fraternity.” He said, “There’s a unique bond we all share,” adding, “Six degrees of Kevin Bacon doesn’t have anything on this group, which makes inductions like this special.”

Bill Fox and Roy Condon officiated games together, and literally helped write the rule book that is used today. Condon thanked the other inductees saying, “[We] had a front row seat to watch your greatness,” a thought echoed by Fox when he said, “We got paid to have the beat seat in the game.”

Steve Toll was teammates with many of the inductees, including Colin Doyle. The transition specialist broke Kevin Finneran’s ironman record. It was Casey Powell who broke Finneran’s scoring record for American-born players. Toll and Pat McCready are both also in the St. Catharines Sports Hall of Fame.

And, of course, Toll and Shawn Williams not only wore the same jersey multiple times, along with John Grant Jr. and Regy Thorpe, but were roommates and became best friends. To share the night Toll said “Makes it all the more special.”

Williams added “How close we are, and how close he was with my son [Tucker Williams] and all those memories, it’s very special.”

The league is about to pass 2000 players ever to play in the NLL. With this class’ induction, the Hall includes approximately one per cent of those who have played in the league. Frood commended them saying, “On your shoulders our product has grown to be one of the greatest in the world. You have ignited the future and positioned the NLL to be the next major league.”

It didn’t take long for the ‘future’ of the league to take centre stage. Fifteen hours later, Williams’ son Dyson from Duke University and the Brooklin Lacrosse Club was selected first overall by the Albany FireWolves in the 2023 entry draft.

Even though Friday was his night, Shawn admitted, “I haven’t been able to let myself go because I know what’s going to happen tomorrow for my son, and that’s more important.”

Dyson, the consensus No. 1 pick shared the sentiment of being able to share the weekend saying “Especially after last night, getting to go to the Hall of Fame ceremony, with all those great players was really cool.”

Dyson was followed by his father’s Las Vegas Desert Dogs using the second overall pick, which they acquired from Vancouver, to draft Adam Poitras. The Loyola Greyhound won a Minto Cup with the Whitby Warriors under Shawn in 2022, a fact he’s excited for. “Having a familiarity makes it a lot easier,” he said, but added, “The expectations will be high … They’re putting a lot of future into these picks and I’m going to do my best to fulfill all their expectations and surpass them.”

Fresh off a Presidents Cup bronze medal with the Oakville Rock, former Burlington captain Callum Jones went third to the New York Riptide, their first of two picks prior to trading up to 10th to select Jake Stevens. In total, seven of the 19 first round picks were from either the Whitby Warriors or Brooklin Lacrosse Club.

Curt Malawsky’s revamp of the Vancouver Warriors continued with four picks in the first round. The new head coach and general manager bolstered his offense with Payton Cormier at fourth overall and Brock Haley with pick seven.

Cormier expressed his excitement saying “There’s still a bunch of nerves, but now that it’s over I’m really excited. Vancouver’s a real nice place.”

He will reunite with former Mimico Mountaineers teammate Jackson Suboch, who was part of the trade moving Vegas into second.

“I’m pretty sure he’ll reach out, or I’ll reach out to him and emphasize how excited we are to play together again.”

The Virginia national champion may also have the opportunity to play with Brayden Laity (ninth) and Connor O’Toole (18th), the other Warriors’ first-round selections.

Commissioner Frood took to the podium and welcomed 97 new players in total. Yes, even the final two players left in the room – Duncan Carte, who Buffalo selected with the 82nd pick, and Camden Smith drafted by Halifax at 92, some five pain-staking hours after the process began – were able to hear their names called.

The weekend events annually signify the bridge between the official end of the summer season, and the unofficial beginning of the NLL calendar. Next up for the 97 players selected is either to return to their NCAA schools for final eligible years, or NLL camps which begin in November ahead of the season opener in early December.

Continue to follow InLacrossWeTrust all week for more stories from the NLL Hall of Fame and Entry Draft.