It’s no secret that the province of British Columbia has been known as a hotbed of box lacrosse for generations. Team names like the Salmonbellies, Adanacs, and Shamrocks from the summer leagues have become synonymous with the area, and you’d be hard pressed to find a person around here that does not know what Canada’s National Summer Sport is.
What may shock some, though, is that the National Lacrosse League lacked a British Columbia based team for much of the league’s existence. While there was a brief stint in the early 2000s, B.C. went without an NLL team for over a decade before finally reestablishing a franchise in 2014. In 2018, the team was moved from the suburbs in Langley to its current location in downtown Vancouver and rebranded entirely to what we know it as today: The Vancouver Warriors.
… that would be a long story turned very short. The reality is the establishing of an NLL team in Vancouver had its fair share of trials and tribulations before finally settling in. Let’s take a deeper dive into the history of the National Lacrosse League’s existence in Vancouver.
Vancouver Ravens (2001-2004)
On April 9th, 2001 the National Lacrosse League announced that the City of Vancouver would be granted its first ever franchise, the Ravens, which was slated to play out of the Canucks home arena GM Place. On December 1st that year, the Vancouver Ravens played their inaugural home game against the Toronto Rock, and came away victorious in front of 13,772 spectators, which set the record for highest attendance for an inaugural home opener.
On the floor, the Ravens were seeing great regular season success the first two of their three seasons, posting a combined record of 19-13 and consecutive playoff appearances. The final season was lacklustre though, as the Ravens posted a 5-11 record and missed the playoffs. The saying “money talks” rings true more so in lacrosse than any other professional sport, and with attendance falling dramatically the Ravens were forced to suspend operations prior to the 2005 season.
In 2007 there were attempts by new ownership to bring the Ravens back, but for a multitude of reasons that never came to fruition, and Vancouver was stuck without a team for the foreseeable future.
Down the West Coast though, a team relocated from Albany, New York to San Jose, California. This may be confusing to some at this juncture, but trust me when I say it is important to the story, and we will be touching on that a little bit later.
While the Vancouver Ravens were short lived, there were some players that left their mark on lacrosse in the area. Current Warriors Head Coach Chris Gill led the way offensively through the three seasons, collecting 115 goals and 85 assists for 200 points in 47 regular season games. Another local legend, Dan Stroup, chipped in his fair share offensively, posting 57 goals and 64 assists for 121 points over his 32 games with the Ravens. In goal for all three seasons was current Warriors goaltending coach Dwight Maetche, who posted a combined 19-20 record and a .775 save percentage, while picking up 46 assists.
Vancouver Stealth (2014-2017)
Remember that aforementioned team that moved from Albany to San Jose? Well, in the time between they moved their way up the coast and into the Pacific NorthWest region, this time landing in Everett, Washington in 2009.
The four years in Washington were incredible for the Stealth franchise, making the finals in three seasons, winning the NLL Championship once. The last Championship appearance in 2013 was supposed to be played at the Stealth’s home, Comcast Arena in Everett, but due to a scheduling conflict at the arena the Stealth had to scramble to find a place to play. Ultimately the team would land on playing the game in Langley, B.C. at the Langley Events Centre.
That summer, the Washington Stealth’s ownership announced they would be permanently moving the team from Everett to Langley and renaming the team to the Vancouver Stealth – British Columbia finally had an NLL team of its own again.
Unfortunately the success the Stealth franchise saw in Everett didn’t cross the border into Canada. In an attempt to bolster the offence, then General Manager Doug Locker traded a boat load of first round picks for then budding superstar Johnny Powless – a gamble that didn’t pay off as the team continued to struggle and would ultimately flip Powless the following offseason to the Georgia Swarm. The return? Current Warrior and NLL star Logan Schuss.
The Stealth era of Vancouver pro lacrosse saw its fair share of NLL stars and future Hall of Famers come through, but three main staples come to mind when anybody thinks of the Vancouver Stealth.
Rhys Duch put up staggering numbers in the Vancouver era of the Stealth, tucking 182 goals and 271 assists for 453 points in 88 games. Corey Small had quite the stint in Langley too, potting 142 goals and assisting on 201 for a total of 343 points in 69 games. Out the backgate, captain Curtis Hodgson played each of his 211 career NLL games with the Stealth franchise from 2005 to 2017. The epitome of a steady, stay at home defender Hodgson was known for his hard nosed, hardworking playstyle that would leave opposing offences bruised and battered each and every game. He now calls the shots for the defence on the Warriors bench as their defensive coordinator.
A struggling team lacking first round picks turned out to be a recipe for disaster. A combined record of 25-65 in Langley led to poor attendance numbers, and as was the case with the Ravens in 2004, things weren’t looking good for the fate of the NLL in Vancouver.
Enter the Aquilini family.
Vancouver Warriors (2018- )
On June 18th, 2018 it was announced that the Stealth had been purchased by the Aquilini family (which also owns the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks). With the team struggling to fill the Langley Events Centre, and needing a change of scenery, the team moved again – this time to Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver. After years of on and off floor struggles, it felt necessary to change the brand of Vancouver lacrosse, too. The rebrand came soon after the Aquilinis took over, changing from red, black, and white to black, gold, and white with a fresh new name: the Warriors.
So far the move has paid off. Attendance is up from the Langley days and playing in a modern professional sports stadium allows for a better atmosphere. New lacrosse fans know where the arena is, and can enjoy the production with seating that shows the magic of the game from any and all angles.
On the turf, the first two seasons left much to be desired. New management was hindered by a lack of early draft selections (zero first round picks for six consecutive years), and an ageing roster left behind by the old regime. The return of top draft picks, and some savvy free agent/trade work from General Manager Dan Richardson has created an impressive turnaround for the franchise. Currently holding a playoff spot, the Warriors are young and looking to make some noise again.
This era of NLL lacrosse in Vancouver is seeing peak success for established NLL players like former MVP candidate Mitch Jones, goal scorer Keegan Bal, and playmaker Logan Schuss (who just scored his 200th career goal and 500th career point). It is also witnessing the rise to stardom for young players like forward Kyle Killen, and rookie defensive phenom Reid Bowering.
After some trying times establishing a National Lacrosse League franchise in Vancouver, present times and the times ahead are about as bright as they’ve ever been, which leads many to believe this team is here to stay for the foreseeable future.
It’s SPRING BREAK NIGHT on April 2nd. It’s crunch time and a countdown to the playoffs down at Rogers Arena. Come and check out the Fastest Game on Two Feet. For single game tickets, flex packs, group tickets and VIP suites for the Warriors home games are on sale at tickets.vancouverwarriors.com/.