Last weekend, Major League Lacrosse kicked off its 16th season of existence. Since 2004, the league’s offices have been located in Brighton and the local team - the Boston Cannons - have returned to their roots as their home games will be back at historic Harvard Stadium in Allston. It’s been somewhat of an odyssey for the Cannons, whose home for the first three years (2001-2003) was Cawley Field in Lowell. After that, they played at BU’s Nickerson Field for three seasons (2004-06) and then they went to Harvard. Last season, they played at Gillette Stadium but being closer to the city - not to mention easier access for the countless lacrosse fans that populate Metro West, the North Shore and South Shore - made it an easy choice to return.
“All the fans and people that I’ve talked to are really psyched about us being back at Harvard,” noted Cannons first-year head coach Sean Quirk. “I know the players are excited, they enjoy playing for a Boston team. We’re trying to make this a destination spot for the best players to come here.”
The league itself has seen some up and downs as it started out with six franchises which lasted for five seasons before they expanded to 10 teams, which lasted only three season. It was scaled back to six clubs for three years before growing to eight teams for four more years and now this year - with the addition of the Atlanta Blaze - MLL has nine teams. That might not show it in a tangible way, but the sport of lacrosse is clearly growing by leaps and bounds. All you have to do is check out the sport's national popularity in terms of the youth, high school and college levels. As Quirk pointed out, the game itself is a combination of “hockey and basketball. It’s fast-paced compared to other sports and kids are excited to play it since it is high tempo - plus there is contact.”
At least timing-wise, MLL is set up for success since it plays the brunt of its schedule during a slow period in the sports calendar. The NBA and NHL playoffs will be over in June while MLL’s regular season really starts to pick up at that point: the MLL All-Star Game is on July 9 and its postseason (four teams make it) includes semifinals on Aug.13 (at Fairfield, Connecticut and Minnesota) and the final on Aug. 20 (in Atlanta). An associate athletic director at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts, Quirk is also on the NCAA lacrosse committee. He was thrilled to see the NCAA men’s lacrosse championships (Divisions 1-3) awarded to Gillette Stadium once again for 2017 and 2018. The Super Bowl of lacrosse was previously held in Foxboro in 2008, 2009 and 2012.
General manager Kevin Barney has been in charge of the Cannons for six years and he has seen first-hand how the sport has expanded on a grassroots level.
“I live in Stoughton and when I started with the Cannons, they didn’t have youth lacrosse or a high school team, and now they have both," Barney told Metro. "You’ve seen that in numerous places where towns had partnered up with neighbors and now they’re breaking off to form their own teams.”
Boston opened with a 15-12 loss last Saturday at Charlotte and they return for their home opener on Saturday (7, Lacrosse Sports Network) vs. Atlanta (0-1). For the first time, this season the Cannons will have a TV show on CSNNE called “Cannons Full Contact,” dedicated to their lives both on-and-off the field. It debuted last week and it is an interesting look at these players, many of whom live elsewhere and commute to Boston for the practices and games on the weekends. Based locally as well, The Lacrosse Sports Network is another sign that the sport is taking off in a big way.
With free parking at Harvard and tickets that cost just $22 each - plus games that are high-scoring and typically end in roughly two hours, there is a lot to like about the product that MLL has put together.
“These are the best players in the world and there is plenty of action here for people that like sports,” said Barney.
Follow Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate