January 13, 2011

Coast to Coast with Calgary's MacRae

by Neil Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Dan MacRae, the No. 6 draft pick out of RIT, took a circuitous route to make his NLL debut.

Dan MacRae will always remember his National Lacrosse League debut. There's no way he could forget it, given what he went through to do it.

MacRae, a 22-year-old native of Oakville, Ontario, and rookie defenseman for the Calgary Roughnecks, attends Rochester Institute of Technology in upstate New York, where he is completing his degree in hotel and resort management. His new team opened the season with games at home Saturday against Buffalo and in the Seattle suburb of Everett against the Washington Stealth.

MacRae finished classes at 6 p.m. last Thursday, and a friend drove him halfway to Buffalo. His father picked him up there and, after creeping along Queen Elizabeth Way at 25 mph past St. Catharines in a snowstorm, they arrived in Oakville at 11 p.m. They were back on the road at 6 a.m. to get to Toronto's international airport for a rendezvous with other fly-in Roughnecks from the East in Daryl Veltman, Brandon Ivey, Mike Poulin, Derek Hopcroft and assistant coach Bob McMahon.

There was a stopover in Winnipeg, an arrival in Calgary at noon and, after hotel check-in, a bit of time to do some homework before his new equipment arrived.

''That was easily better than Christmas," MacRae said.

There was an 8:30 p.m. practice and a shootaround in the arena Saturday afternoon. MacRae didn't dress for the game against Buffalo, which his teammates won, 10-9.

"What a huge win," he said.

Sunday morning at the Calgary airport: ''We were flying in a prop plane and, when we were checking in, we were told that not all of our bags would be making the trip to Seattle with us. So checking in took a lot longer than usual, and then takeoff was delayed about two hours because of a storm."

Upon arrival in Seattle: ''We were curious to see who was playing and who wasn't depending on which bags made the trip, but somehow all of our bags made it."

Coaches broke down game film of the Stealth during the 30-minute bus ride to the arena in suburban Everett. MacRae would be in the lineup.

"Once we were there, we had just enough time to get taped and have a 20-minute warmup," MacRae said. "It's not how I expected to prepare for my first-ever NLL game but, man, it was awesome."

Not much sleep and a 6 a.m. bus ride to the airport later, there was a 30-minute flight to Vancouver, a five-hour haul to Toronto for pickup by his father and a stop in Oakville for some clothes.

''Then, finally, I drove myself back to Rochester, pulling in around 2 a.m. My 10 a.m. class Monday morning was a little rough to say the least."

MacRae graduates from RIT in February and said he'll move to Calgary for the balance of the NLL schedule. He was a two-time Division III All-American as a defenseman and long stick midfielder for the Tigers.

Meantime, MacRae will keep commuting. All 16 Calgary games are road excursions for the MacRae, the No. 6 overall pick in the NLL college entry draft.

"Why not?" he responded when asked why he's prepared for the hectic winter. "I get to fulfill my dreams of playing in the NLL, which has been a dream of mine ever since watching the last game ever in Maple Leaf Gardens when Toronto won the championship. Whatever it takes to play in this league, I want to do it."

To just about everyone's surprise, the Roughnecks approached Week 2 and a home game against Colorado on Saturday sitting atop the overall standings.

"Coming out of the weekend 2-0 was a great statement for us as a team," MacRae said. "We know no one out there expects us to do well and thinks we are rebuilding this year. But our goal is to win the championship this season through hard work and believing in one another. I think this past weekend we did a great job of doing that, winning two close games against two great teams."

Neil Stevens has covered professional and Canadian summer lacrosse since 1971 for various media outlets, including the Canadian Press. He retired from the CP in 2008. That year, Stevens joined the late Tom Borrelli -- a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor -- as the only media members recognized by the National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame. He played from age 5 to 23, including three years in the junior ranks and one year (1969) as a professional in St. Catherines, Ontario.

Check laxmagazine.com/nll throughout the season for more from Stevens and coverage of the NLL.

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