January 5, 2011

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Long-Awaited Jamieson Era Begins

by Corey McLaughlin | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Gary Gait presents Cody Jamieson with the famous No. 22 jersey on draft night. Jamieson, however, will wear No. 88, his childhood number, for the Knighthawks this season. Rochester opens Saturday at Minnesota.

The Rochester Knighthawks coaches and ownership may try to downplay high expectations for Cody Jamieson on the eve of his rookie National Lacrosse League season, but why really?

They thought enough about him to begin a plan nearly three years ago to put Jamieson in a Knighthawks' uniform. Just trace the series of trades that landed them multiple first-round picks over the last two years and the No. 1 overall pick in both the 2009 and 2010 entry drafts. The idea was to put the club, owned by Jamieson's uncle Curt Styres, in position to pick his nephew whenever he was ready to leave Syracuse University

This wasn't just a family matter, either. Cody Jamieson, on skill, is supposed to be the next great star in professional indoor lacrosse. He would have been the top pick by any team.

He already has been the go-to guy everywhere he's played. Once called the "ghost of Syracuse lacrosse" by a teammate after he scored Syracuse's championship-winning overtime goal in 2009 against Cornell — because after he transferred from Onondaga Community College the NCAA only cleared Jamieson to play for the Orange in the second-to-last game of the regular season — the electric left-handed finisher from the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve in southern Ontario has built a reputation at each of his previous stops.

In 2007, he led the Six Nations Arrows Express to a Minto Cup title for the first time in 15 years. It is Canada's highest junior indoor championship. In '08, his final year of Junior A box lacrosse, Jamieson led the nation in scoring (101 points in 21 games). During the past two years, the now 23-year-old, 5-foot-9, 205-pounder played with bigger, stronger men in the Major Series League for the Six Nations Chiefs. Despite that, he was the league's MVP as a rookie and led all scorers with 96 points and 48 goals. In two seasons of playing field lacrosse at Onondaga Community College, he posted 237 points and 122 goals. The team went 33-0 in that span and won two NJCAA titles.

It's difficult to find years in which Jamieson wasn't a key part of a championship team.

"He's going to be a guy who can put the ball in the net," Knighthawks first-year head coach Mike Hasen said in an understatement. "He can score so many different ways, feed the ball to the left side, feed the ball to the right or whatever. He's quick and he can do everything at full speed. He's one of those players that doesn't come around often."

Another one of those, Gary Gait, was summoned on draft night in September to Toronto's Westin Harbour Castle hotel to theoretically pass the torch of greatness and present Jamieson with a No. 22 Rochester jersey with Jamieson's name on the back. That did happen. But Jamieson will wear No. 88 this season, the number he wore everywhere except Syracuse. As a senior he donned the 22 first made famous by Gait. In the six-game stint as a junior, he wore 43 in honor of Marshall Abrams, a Six Nations native, former Syracuse All-American and Knighthawks defenseman.

"I flirted with 22 for a little while," Jamieson said. "But 88 makes me play better. I've worn it since I was 7 or 8."

Gait, by all indications, will play again for Rochester and wear 22 for his 17th NLL season, which opens Saturday at Minnesota (7:30 p.m. Central).

On the field, the Knighthawks say they do not want to put too much pressure on Jamieson. They don't necessarily need to with a surrounding offensive cast that includes returning second-team all-pro Jordan Hall, veteran Shawn Williams and Jamieson's former Six Nations Arrows teammates, Shawn Evans and Craig Point.

But Rochester scored a league-low 155 goals in 2010. And it did make a blockbuster move to trade away icon John Grant Jr., the franchise's all-time leading scorer and 10-year K-Hawk veteran. Jamieson will have plenty of opportunities to show his stuff.

"I know there's bigger and better things coming for him than what he's done already," Hasen said of Jamieson, who will be reunited with a friend and college teammate in Rochester defenseman Sid Smith.

Off the field, Jamieson said having his family in one place opening night (Jan. 15 at home vs. Toronto) and at other home games is a thrilling possibility. His uncle, Styres, took over majority ownership in 2008 and is the general manager. Another uncle, Jeremy Jamieson, will work for the team in a video role. Jamieson's parents, brother and sister will have the chance to see him realize a dream.

"We all hoped that I'd play pro lacrosse someday," Jamieson said recently by phone from Syracuse's campus, where he was finishing a five-class fall semester to graduate with a degree in communications in December. "To do it this way is special. I don't think it's really hit us yet, the impact it's going to have on my family."

This was a dream growing up on the 46,000-acre Six Nations reserve, which Jamieson equates to a town where everybody knows everybody. It features a landscape similar to the country in upstate New York and homes ranging from large houses to trailers. Styres remembers driving up to his sister's house one night almost 15 years ago to see a 9-year-old Cody playing lacrosse outside with friends in three feet of snow, diving toward a goal and pretending to be Gary Gait.

As Jamieson grew up, the focus to be the first in his family to graduate from college narrowed. Many speculated when Rochester got the No. 1 overall pick in 2009 that Jamieson considered leaving Syracuse with a year of eligibility. That was never the case.

Now, Jamieson wants to inspire Six Nations kids to realize they can succeed away from home.

"Use me as motivation like I used the few people who played before me," he said.

In saying that, expectations clearly don't bother Cody Jamieson. Here comes the next great thing.

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