Player Spotlight highlights the finer details and elements while supplying insight to the fans on what a player's thought process may be pertaining to a certain play, game or situation. It brings the intensity, passion, and inner most thoughts of the individual player that otherwise may not be felt or heard.
Pat Saunders of the Buffalo Bandits is in the PLPA Player Spotlight. by By Di Miller
Pat Saunders grew up in the small town of Arthur, Ontario, Canada a rural farming community about one and half hours north of Toronto where the population consists of about 2,400 people made up of mainly farmers and commuters. He like many other young Canadians also played hockey during the winter, but Pat's lacrosse career was a bit different than most. He started playing lacrosse at the age of six. His big brother Mike was his inspiration sparking his desire to play the game, however Pat's father and brother were both huge baseball players which was quite different from what you would expect from a lacrosse heavy town like Arthur. When his brother Mike was coming up through the Minor League System, Jamie Rooney of the Philadelphia Wings who was the same age as Mike talked him into making the switch to lacrosse. So of course, little brother Pat who looked up to his big brother said basically "If he's playing, I'm playing" and that's where it all began.
Since there wasn't a whole lot to do growing up in Arthur, every summer Pat had a lacrosse stick in his hand, either practicing out back or just walking around town with his stick because it was so small you could get around quick. Luckily growing up in a small town, Pat had mentors to look up to like Chad Culp; Jamie Rooney; and Rob Marshall who are also from Arthur.
As many Canadian's do during the winter, Pat also played hockey like his cousins because it was a family thing. But instead of his normal role in lacrosse of being out there on the floor scoring, he was the one setting up between the pipes and played goalie. He reversed his role as opposed to the other players who stayed in their comfort zone. But when Pat reached bantam age, that's when he knew lacrosse was his sport.
The road that Pat travelled during the start of his lacrosse career had its ups and downs. He entered the draft at the age of 19, two years earlier than most players, and in the 2008 NLL Entry Draft was picked up in the sixth round by the Chicago Shamrox. After going through training camp with Coach Jamie Batley, making the last cut and ready to start his professional career the Shamrox management announced on December 18, 2008, only 15 days before opening night that the team was folding. He said "Obviously you're happy when you get drafted, make it through training camp, andare told by the coaches that you've competed well enough to make the squad. Then to be told the team was folding, it was a big shock."
It was a huge shock to the entire league. Instead of taking the team elsewhere, they decided to just close the doors. Anytime a team folds, the National Lacrosse League holds a Dispersal Draft allowing those players from the failed teams a chance to be picked up by another franchise. In the second Dispersal Draft in 2009, Pat was picked up in the fourth round and 25th overall by the Rochester Knighthawks. Pat went through two training camps with Rochester, was released and then picked back up and put on the practice squad. He ended up playing one game for the Knighthawks in 2009.
After that, Pat played for a few teams and during that time had friendships grow, became roommates with different members of the teams, bonded and learned how to play with the squads. So one would wonder how being traded mid-season affects a player. Pat commented that it was hard after playing four years with the Philadelphia Wings, who are now the New England Black Wolves, after getting established with a team, and finding out you've been traded mid-season is a bit tough, but you've played with so many guys and as a professional you adjust pretty quickly. A lot of that has to do with the fact that during the summer guys play with different teams, so you're always playing with different players, and you adapt pretty quick.
Pat was signed by New England in 2014 and played almost four years with the Black Wolves, so when he got traded to the Buffalo Bandits after having established himself in New England fans wondered the reason for the trade. Obviously the Bandits wanted Pat on their team, as this was their second attempt to get him on their squad. Pat said "I just think the Bandits showed an interest the summer before, and with the season I was having, management thought they were going to go a different way. That's just a part of the sport and as a professional; you can never take a grudge against a team."
To Pat, this was just a new opportunity to play for a franchise that obviously put 16,000 to 18,000 fans in front of you so it was exciting for him, there was less travel time involved and he was closer to home. He commented that playing for a franchise like Buffalo was just a great place with great fans and it's a raw crazy spot. Even as an away team there was a kind of excitement and to be able to come in and help out the Bandits made it even better.
When I asked him about how it felt bringing indoor lacrosse to a city that had never had a box lacrosse team, he said "Obviously playing that one year in Philly which is one of the cities with historical franchises in the league, it was a very good opportunity to play for them. It was news to the team that they were moving to Connecticut because of a lot of them didn't really know much about Mohegan Sun Arena. I remember the first year there. There were some struggles with attendance and they had to market the team very quickly because the decision to move happened right before the season was starting. But as a player it was cool to see the fans. Obviously the first year we finished last, and so the team followed up with some big trades one of which was Shawn Evans. The last game of the season we had a sellout, it was very loud and the fans loved it there so for a new center and playing there it was great to see how they went from pretty much nothing to a really good fan base. That's all you can ask and hope for with a franchise coming into a new city. It took a year or two but they finally got the right marketing into place and started getting the fans in the stands".
When the announcement was made on February 28, 2017 that Pat had been traded to Buffalo in exchange for a second round pick in the 2017 NLL Draft, I wondered what had gone through his mind after having played with most of the same group of guys for four years. He said, "Obviously it was tough because every team runs different systems, every coach has a different way of running things which made it a bit challenging. I came into Buffalo and in my first weekend had back-to-back games with the Bandits. I had to learn their plays and what the other guys liked to do. Obviously lacrosse is a chemistry game; it's so fast that good chemistry is one of the most important parts of the game. It was tough coming into the first few games not knowing what the coaches expected of me and what role they wanted me to play, but at the end of the day you just have to work as hard as you can, listen to what they want, get out there and put it on the floor."
Pat said it's tough with the friendships you make, and knowing the guys that you've traveled with every week are gone, but at the same time you come into a new group of guys and most lacrosse players are good guys and very helpful, so it's not too bad. The lacrosse community is a close knit family and during the games there's that rivalry which makes the games exciting, but when the game is over the rivalries are put aside.
It is tough growing up playing in center and even tougher in the west, but it's a bit different in the mainland. Everyone knows one another so you're either playing with someone you've played with before, or you're playing against them. So when you're on the floor its different then when you're off the floor. It's all just a part of the game and you get used to it.
Many American's don't realize how many different leagues there are up in Canada. Pat played for the Langley Thunder in the BC Lacrosse Association in 2015, which is a Senior A loop in Ontario the major senior league. Out west in BC you have the Senior B loop. Each province plays for their championship and the two winners meet in the Mann Cup. It's one of the biggest prizes to win and to get your hands on the Cup is the same as winning an NLL Championship.
Pat has had the fortune of playing in one Mann Cup and two Minto Cups. He said it was a great experience and obviously you're playing at the highest level of all the different groups. Although he's played in three championship series, he hasn't won a championship yet, but it's a week of hard fought games against the same teams so the rivalry between the two teams is pretty nuts as Pat said, because you're fighting for a Canadian championship. So for him, being at a young age and having the opportunity to play at such a high level brought him up to the next level and prepped him for playing in the NLL.
Of course, in the states the NLL plays on turf floors so I wondered what types of different floors are used in the Canadian leagues, and what type of floor the Mann Cup is played on. Pat said the surfaces in the arenas vary. Some arenas like Peterborough in Ontario have turf, but there's about a 50/50 split in Ontario for turf versus concrete; Six Nations and Oakville also have turf. Now out west, he said the team at Langley plays on turf; two teams in the west and the floor in Burnaby, BC have hard wood floors. So when it comes to the Mann Cup, it all depends on who is hosting the tournament so you could be playing on any of the three.
In 2010 Pat played for the Orangeville Northmen a Junior A League located in Ontario. For the Junior's, this is the highest level you can play. Originally he was on the Junior B squad and was a call up. Pat felt very fortunate to be playing for a very strong Orangeville Northmen as they were competing for their third Minto Cup that year.
Pat's not just a lacrosse player though, he's also one of those players who prefers to string his own sticks and do special dye jobs on the heads. He's helped out many of his teammates as well. Each year he tries to come up with something different and growing up in a small town he took an interest in it. There are fancy dyes that he's done and over the years has learned how to perfect his skills. He prides himself on doing one or two sticks each year, changing the design up and has never used the same design more than once. For the upcoming season he hasn't really thought about what he wants for his new stick, but will start working on it before training camp opens up. To him it's one of the things he enjoys doing, the pride that comes with it, figuring out what dye job you want and so it really means something to him. Pat actually started stringing sticks when he was eight years old. He did stringing for Sanderson Source For Sports a big sporting goods store in Orangeville, and over the years he's been asked to string sticks for his teammates and as a teammate enjoys helping them out. Pat creates the designs for the stickers on his computer, layers them like a tie-dye, then cuts the stickers and puts them on the heads. A simple design can go as quickly as 45 minutes whereas a complicated design can take two to two and half hours.
In his day job, Pat is a carpenter by trade and builds "Insulated Concrete Form" (ICF) homes. He builds this type of home as opposed to your typical siding or brick home due to the cold temperatures in Canada. The ICF homes benefits the homeowners because they are more energy efficient, green and the R50 value increases. His former boss built homes this way and Pat enjoyed it so much that he got ticketed in. He still does normal renovations and has a big variety of jobs that he can do; it just depends on the year and what people want. Pat feels that houses these days should be built energy efficient and even though you put a little extra money out up front, the bigger the savings in the end.
At this point in Pat's life, he hasn't had a chance to get involved in much charity work because of his job and obviously playing lacrosse, but he does help out the minor league system in his home town and attends their practices now and then. But in the future, he definitely wants to becomemore involved to help others out in whatever way he can.
He's currently playing in his summer league for the Senior B Kahnawake Mohawks in Quebec and played two games the last weekend of July. This was part of a four of seven series and if they win, they will head to the Presidents Cup which is the year end tournament for the Senior B Championship in Canada.
I asked Pat if there was a special moment he remembered in his career. What came to mind was an outdoor tournament he played in the Czech Republic the year before he was picked up by the Philadelphia Wings. The Green Gaels invited him to go and he said if you're a lacrosse junkie, you always want to go and enjoy a good outdoor lacrosse tournament. It allowed him to travel the world, meet teams from multiple countries including Team Israel and Team Germany. He said it was like the Syracuse Tournament with a bunch of happy lacrosse people from all over the world who just want to have fun and enjoy the sport they love. It really opened up his eyes at a younger age to be there and appreciate how much people around the world love the game of lacrosse. He realized then that it wasn't just popular in North America, but it was growing worldwide.
This brought to mind another huge event in the game of lacrosse. The 2018 FIL World Lacrosse Championships, one is held for outdoor lacrosse and another for indoor lacrosse occurring once every four years. Pat said he would love to play in the games, but believes that he would only be eligible for Team Canada and said that's a tough team to crack so he didn't think it was promising, but if he ever got the call he would definitely make the best of it.
Diane Miller is the founder of LacrosseIsAwesome.com and has been covering the sport of lacrosse since 2009. Originally a lacrosse photographer, she began writing articles for the Denver Outlaws and Colorado Mammoth in 2013, and also covered all 14 days of the World Lacrosse Championship games in Colorado in 2014, focusing on the Blue Division. She has been photographing lacrosse professionally since 2014 and covered the Denver Outlaws first championship title in 2014. She has worked for Lax.com photographing the University of Denver men's lacrosse team, and currently sponsors one of the expansion teams in the Regional Box Lacrosse League in Colorado, the Denver Buzz.