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Ryan Dilks: Exceeding Expectations as NLL’s Top Shutdown Defender

Vancouver Warriors’ defenceman Ryan Dilks is now a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. 

When the Vancouver Warriors’ coaching staff was building their team last summer, Dilks was one of the first free agent signings the Warriors made. 

Before coming to Vancouver, Dilks had spent a decade of his 12-year NLL career playing for the Saskatchewan Rush. 

Warriors’ Head Coach and General Manager Curt Malawsky has built winning programs before and knew they needed veteran players and a defensive group that would be hard to play against.  

Dilks fit the bill. 

“I think the biggest thing for us was that he’d won championships before, he’s an outstanding leader, we knew he was going to be very good in the room, especially with the young players we were looking to bring in. He’s very like-minded when it comes to the culture, the standard, the direction the organization wanted to go and not to mention he’s a premier defenceman in the National Lacrosse League,” Malawsky said. 

The 33-year-old defender is like a Michelin Star restaurant you’ve always wanted to go to, which then far exceeds your expectations. 

The coaching staff knew he was one of the NLL’s shutdown defencemen, but it wasn’t until they started working together that they saw just how special of a player he is. To Malawsky, it’s things like how Dilks handles pressure on the floor and how he works at building team cohesiveness. 

“We had a lot of battles over the years when I was in Calgary and he was in Saskatchewan. He was always picking up our best players and I knew how good he was from afar. Getting to know him, he’s better than I ever thought he was,” Malawsky said. 

Warriors’ Defensive Assistant Coach, Rob Williams echoed Malawsky’s sentiments, also mentioning Dilks taking some of the younger players under his wing was crucial in the team success and personal success of those players as well.  

“I’m coaching a group of guys and there’d be questions here and there and Dilks took moments and time where he could and helped explain positioning, footwork or what works for him in certain situations on the floor, player to player. He’s a great leader and he’s got a future in coaching too – if he wants to – from what I’ve seen,” Williams said.  

For the Warriors’ team awards, Dilks won Teammate of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Co-MVP (with forward Keegan Bal). 

Williams says Dilks’ effectiveness comes by way of his lacrosse IQ, flawless footwork, and his anticipation and ability to see the play before it happens. When the Warriors’ found themselves at 2-8 just over halfway through the season, Dilks’ never back down mentality helped the Warriors win six of their last eight games. 

“Fighting through that stretch where we weren’t winning, he kept battling and fighting through it and bringing guys along with him through the fight and that’s a big part of it too. He’s got a huge heart, he plays so hard all the time, and he’s intelligent, that’s really a recipe for why he’s so great,” Williams said. 

Dilks won Defensive Player of the Year during the 2015-2016 season at 25-years-old. That season, he had 51 caused turnovers, collected 77 loose balls, scored five goals and had 13 helpers.  

This season, through 18 games, he had a league-leading and franchise record 46 forced turnovers, collecting 102 loose balls, potting one goal and five assists. 

Being able to play at the same level he did eight years later takes dedication and he’s a great example for younger players of how to approach the game.  

“Being able to show up week in, week out and play at such a high level and pick up the other team’s best players, whether it be on his natural defending side or his non-natural side, defending the right, it’s something special to watch and I think that was another part of us bringing him in was that the young guys can see his commitment level, his dedication, his sacrifice to the team,” Malawsky said. 

As the Warriors continue to build a winning program, the coaching staff says building a defensive group around veteran players like Dilks is beneficial in being able to attract top young talent.  

“I don’t know if you can really quantify it. It’s how he conducts himself, how he plays the game, how he competes, I really do think if people look there and say ‘If it’s good for Dilks, it’s good for me’. It was just such a good fit for everybody in the organization. He’s such a humble and respectful guy. He understands culture, he understands winning, and he exemplifies our core values,” Malawsky said. 

Overpromising and overdelivering is rare and Dilks is gem. 

To ask the coaching staff if they’re proud of Dilks goes without saying. 

“Super proud,” Williams exclaimed. “I’m coaching him, but I feel like we made a connection and friendship for life kind of thing. He’s that kind of person, coachable and a great teammate, it’s well-deserved.”  

Vancouver Warriors