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Warriors’ Defensive Group Earns Multiple Accolades for 2024 Season

The evolution of the Vancouver Warriors’ defence kept them in games this season and was a driving factor in their run down the stretch. 

Under a new coaching staff, Vancouver revamped its defensive group, making it a priority to secure veteran defencemen and draft talented rookies, giving them depth to compete with the NLL’s best forwards. 

Rob Williams was brought in as the new Defensive Assistant Coach under Head Coach and General Manager Curt Malawsky. Williams says that having a back end with decades of leadership experience is immeasurable and he leaned on the veteran rear guards to help bring the younger players along. 

“Having guys that can calm things down and deal with runs is huge,” Williams said. “They’re just such good veterans and so calm in those situations, able to realize we have to get back into our systems and not panic.” 

This season, the Warriors averaged 11.72 goals against per game, compared to 13.7 goals against last season. They also finished second overall on the penalty kill with a 62% success rate and the most shorthanded goals for (12). 

The team’s commitment and belief in defence is a testament to the group as a whole and has led to individual successes and now much deserved accolades.  

In addition to Ryan Dilks recently being named the Defensive Player of the Year and All-NLL First Team, Warriors’ rookies Brayden Laity and Owen Grant have been named to the NLL All-Rookie Team. 

Throughout their rookie campaigns, Grant and Laity felt like they couldn’t be learning from a better group of defensive veterans. As much as they learned from those around them, the two young stud defenders helped raise the level of play for their teammates. 

“It drives the compete level up across the board when you have young guys that are so competitive. They just fit the mold of doing whatever they need to do to help the team be successful,” Malawsky said. 

Laity and Grant learned quickly how to be successful in the NLL and will help be the cornerstones of the defensive group for years to come. They both push transition up the floor, are athletic and as Malawsky says and play every shift like it’s their last. 

“We’re fortunate to have two young guys that are a part of our future, we’ve just got to build around them,” Malawsky said. 

The Warriors coaching staff wants to put players in positions to be successful and Grant and Laity are willing to do whatever they can to help the team win.  

“As an organization, it’s a feather in our cap and we’re proud that they’re doing it with our jersey on. Couldn’t be prouder of both of them,” he said. 

Grant led all rookies in forced turnovers with 25 and led the league with four shorthanded goals. The 24-year-old also collected 96 loose balls and had 10 blocks. His 14 points, 8 goals and 6 assists, place him 10th among NLL rookies (second for rookie defencemen) and tied for sixth with teammate Reid Bowering and Patrick Kaschalk among all NLL defencemen.  

Grant was the Gatorade Rookie of the Week in Weeks 4 and 18. In Week 4 he had a hat trick on three shots on goal and seven loose balls collected, and in Week 18 he scored one goal and picked up four loose balls. 

Laity collected 101 loose balls, 15 forced turnovers, and had a team-high 16 blocks. On the other end of the floor, the 20-year-old also scored one goal and had five assists. He had a monster game in Week 17 against the Philadelphia Wings earning the Gatorade Rookie of the Week. He scored his first goal of his NLL career against Philly, also collecting seven loose balls and picking up two caused turnovers in the Warriors’ 21-12 win. 

Williams has coached Laity over the last decade and was impressed with the way he made the jump from Junior A lacrosse to the NLL so swiftly. Laity was drafted ninth overall in the 2023 NLL Entry Draft.  

Grant played five seasons at the University of Delaware and was drafted third overall in the 2022 NLL Entry Draft. 

Typically coming into the NLL there’s a learning curve and it’s common to see rookies in and out of the lineup throughout the season or spend their first season on the practice roster. Grant and Laity were quick studies, accelerating their growth to accomplish something special. 

“Their ability to come into a league full of stars and men who they haven’t played against yet and to play the way they did – play in an arena of 13,000 and it not affect them, seeing Lyle Thompson across from them and not have it affect them, or seeing some of the star players in this league and just being able to play against them – that’s what it means to get an All-Rookie Team award,” Williams said. 

When Grant and Laity played on the same line it was like seeing double with both of them 6’3” and hovering around 200 pounds. They’ve got brains to match their brawn though, the coaching staff saying their rookie defenders are wise beyond their years as seen in their decision-making on the floor and the respect they have for the game and for the people around them. 

Grant played on the first line short man the entirety of the season, with Laity being promoted after Matt Beers was out with an injury. The rookies have had great mentorship over the past season and Williams said they’re already blossoming into leaders themselves. 

“I think having the ability to have those guys play next to Beers, Brett Mydske, Ryan Dilks, and their willingness to learn, to get better, I think they sky’s the limit for those two guys,” Malawsky said. 

Rookie seasons are about taking what you’ve learned and building on that for the next season. 

Grant and Laity’s incredible rookie seasons have set a strong foundation for their future, promising even greater success for the Warriors in the years to come. 

Vancouver Warriors