Blogs and Commentary

posted 11.16.2011 at 9.45 a.m. by Jac Coyne

MJ: Box Goalies Crossing Over, Too

After pulling up a comfy chair and pouring myself a snifter of brandy, I clicked on Joel Censer's online novella about the still-burgeoning impact of Canadian field players on the college field game. As usual, JC took us on an interesting, long-form journey into the depths of the North-of-the-Border game that, combined with his piece on the emergence of the two-man dynamic, has once again solidified Censer's station as Lacrosse Magazine Online's resident Canuck fetishist.

One of the aspects that didn't make Censer's piece was the role of box goalies in the current field game. It's understandable. With all of the similarities one can draw between the box and field game, the role of netminders stands in stark contrast. The disparity in field dimensions is the most glaring difference between the two brands of lacrosse, but the goalie play follows quickly in second place.

Box goalies not only tend a net a third smaller than the field version, but they are also able to pile on the pads to a point where they exceed the size of NHL goalies, giving indoor keepers the appearance of barely ambulatory hunchbacks suffering from a bizarre form of gigantism. While there is undoubtedly a science to being a box goalie, the technical agility that is so apparent among field goalies is not quite as noticeable to the casual indoor fan.

The night-and-day difference between the two types of goalies is one of the reasons you haven't seen much crossover from those guys in the crease. Runners can swing between the indoor and outdoor game with relative ease, but has there ever been a high-level goalie who has toggled between the two disciplines? Chris Sanderson comes to mind, but that's about it.

Well, it's time to add a pair of dual-threat goalies to the mix. Senior Zach Higgins and sophomore Alex Buque not only paced Davenport (Grand Rapids, Mich.) to an MCLA Division II national championship, but turned around this summer and paired up to lead Whitby to the 2011 Minto Cup.

In the spring, the two goalies split time for the Panthers, with Higgins typically starting things off and Buque closing the door. This was the case in the national semifinals and finals, with the two netminders working together to trip up top-ranked Grand Valley State and then St. Thomas in the championship game.

Shedding the field equipment for the indoor tools of the trade this summer, Higgins and Buque combined to give the Whitby Warriors their first Minto Cup since 1999. Higgins was the winning goalie in the final two games of the best-of-three tournament with the Coquitlam Adanacs, posting a save percentage of 85.0 for the entire tournament. Buque was 2-1 over the course of the tourney with a combined 66 stops.

Bob Clarkson, Davenport's head coach, said that because the two have plenty of experience in both versions, the transition is not as difficult as one might expect.

"It's like an ice hockey player who also plays lacrosse," Clarkson said. "There are some things that transition and some that don't. Obviously, the angle play is similar, although a goalie might come out a little more from the net in the field game, but mentally it's the same. Mentally, they are tough, and that comes from playing some excruciating box games. I don't think they are the best goalies in the MCLA, but they are right there, and they are certainly some of the best for amateur juniors in box."

The runners in the box game will always transition easier to the field game and make a bigger impact, but there's also a group of box goalies who are growing up playing both indoor and outdoor lacrosse. This means Canada should be importing more and more grizzled netminders, like Higgins and Buque, to the U.S. who have the ability to make a large impact on the back end of the field.