The National Lacrosse League (NLL) played ten seasons in Edmonton between 2006 through 2015. Throughout their time here the Edmonton Rush were effectively tenants of the Edmonton Oilers, despite the fact the hockey team did not actually own Northlands Coliseum aka Rexall Place. When the hockey team got themselves a new building, spelling the end of the Coliseum being an active venue, Rush owner Bruce Urban knew he had to leave town if he wanted a fair deal. Now the only hope of the NLL returning to Edmonton is for that same Oilers upper management deciding to jump into the lacrosse pool themselves.
In December of 2005, the NHL was a few months back from returning from a year long lockout. Still too angry to watch the sport, I needed something new. I phoned the Edmonton Rush office to purchase season tickets to a sport I had never watched before.
The highlight of year one was the “Rush Fan Bus” to Calgary. It was the only win the team would pick up all season and featured the horrible but proud chant of “1 and 6, 1 and 6” as we paraded back to the bus to come back to Edmonton.
Heading into 2007, the Rush office decided against running the “Fan Bus” to Calgary. I told them that if they ran the credit card transactions, I’d run the bus out of my own pocket. I would head the “Rush Bus” campaign to Calgary until the 2009 season when I became a full time employee of the Club.
After working full-time for two seasons, I would be parachuted in the next three seasons to help with gameday ticket operations. For nine seasons, not a minute of Rush lacrosse was missed. That tenth season though, every minute was missed including the Championship game victory. Without officially knowing, I knew the team was leaving and could not bring myself to watch.
It took years to be able to sit down and watch a Saskatchewan Rush game and be at peace. The glimpses of the “business side” of the hockey team I saw through the Rush still leaves me unable to enjoy watching an Oilers game.
NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz boldly stated when he took the job he wanted the league to expand to 16 teams. After the recent announcement of the Panther City Lacrosse Club in Fort Worth, Texas the league now has 14 teams. A familiar face is the Vice President of Lacrosse Operations and General Manager of that Club in Bob Hamley. Could Edmonton be number 15 or 16?
A fan base for professional lacrosse is already established in the Capital City. The Rush averaged over 10,000 fans per game in their first two years of existence and drew an average of 6,578 in their final season. With the scheduling of the Oilers, Oil Kings, and concerts taken into account, Rogers Place would still be able to comfortably slide in the dates required to house a lacrosse team.
The Oilers would be able to cross promote their lacrosse team to their hockey fans. A luxury that pays great dividends in many NLL towns such as Calgary, Colorado and Buffalo. If you Google “Wayne Gretzky lacrosse“, you will see that the greatest hockey player of all-time is also an avid fan of the sport of lacrosse. As a fan, the security of having the hockey team own the lacrosse team – with all due respect to private business owners- is comforting.
If and when professional lacrosse comes back to town, they’ve got a season ticket holder and a fellow to run the Rush Fan Bus to Calgary if necessary. Maybe the Oilers should also start asking Santa for Mark Matthews to find his way back to Edmonton also.
High calibre lacrosse is already being played throughout Alberta in the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League (RMLL). The recently re-branded Sr B division, now called “Alberta Series Lacrosse” employs several current and former NLL players. From an Edmonton Rush perspective, former players John Lintz, Ryan Dilks and Aaron Bold all suited up for the Sr B Miners in 2019.
Stu Sterparn, President of the Beaumont Outlaws, was kind enough to give a more extensive look at many of the players in the RMLL who also have the NLL on their resumes.
“Our Captain Michael Seidel has played some games in the past (Georgia Swarm). We have Tristan Rai (Saskatchewan Rush) on the roster. He’s currently playing SrA in BC. Cam Wegreniuk was recently released from Colorado Mammoth training camp. He was playing for Nanaimo last season. Other than those 3 connections we don’t currently have any NLL players, all of our players are born & raised in Edmonton.
Sr B Miners also have rostered Vancouver Warrior Keegan Bal, Colorado’s Josh Sullivan and Calgary Roughneck Brett Baron. Recently attending the Halifax training camp were Graedon Cornfield & Richard Lachlan. Carson Barton was drafted by Calgary in 2015.
The Edmonton Warriors have Colorado’s Erik Turner on their roster although he has played in BC the past two seasons.
Airdie Knights roster the Warriors Patrick Omera and San Diego Seals Tor Reinholdt. The Calgary Mountaineers roster former Edmonton Rush Tyler Melnyk and Buffalo Bandit Travis Gibbons.”
So while one clamours for a return of the NLL, one respects the lacrosse already being played in Alberta. One eagerly anticipates Alberta hosting the Sr B Championships called the Presidents Cup in 2021.
FYI, the cover photo was taken (or at least posted to Facebook) by my wife on January 30th, 2010.