February 1, 2011

Casey Powell: Best U.S. Boxla Player Ever

by Neil Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Casey Powell will soon surpass Jake Bergey as the all-time leading scorer among American indoor lacrosse players.

© Larry Palumbo

Casey Powell is on the verge of becoming the highest-scoring American box lacrosse player of all time.

The Boston Blazers forward, with six goals last weekend, has 242 in his career. He has surpassed former Philadelphia star Kevin Finnernan (235) already this season, and is now moving in on former Wings great Jake Bergey (256) on the list of U.S.-born players.

In regular season points among American players, Finneran ranks first with 564, Bergey second with 557 and Powell third with 552.

"I knew I was getting close to Finneran's points total," Powell said during an interview. "Holding any of the records would be an honor, for sure. I've put in a lot of work over the years. Hard work pays off, and I've played with some good players."

The Blazers play their next two National Lacrosse League games at home -- Saturday against Toronto and the following Saturday against Colorado -- so home fans can watch Powell at work as he approaches a special place in U.S. boxla history.

Powell, 34, from the village of West Carthage, N.Y., not far from the east end of Lake Ontario, first picked up a lacrosse stick at age 12.

"My gym teacher brought in a stick and, after two weeks of hounding my father to get us one, he bought us all sticks."

That included younger brothers Ryan and Mike.

"Lacrosse appealed to us since it seemed to combine different sports," Powell said. "It's a very athletic sport, and we played all kinds of different sports when we were kids. All the hitting and the power of having the ball in your stick -- we fell in love with it right away."

Casey and Ryan were in high school when they first saw Canadian twins Gary and Paul Gait playing for Syracuse University. They got attended the Gaits' instructional clinics.

"I used to pretend I was Gary in our backyard and Ryan would pretend he was Paul," Powell said.

Powell got his first exposure to the indoor version of the sport when, after finishing high school, he spent a summer in Toronto playing Junior A lacrosse for the Toronto Beaches.

"We made it to the second round of the playoffs and we lost to Peterborough," he said.

A lot of lacrosse players know what that's like.

All three Powell brothers would, just like the Gaits, be All-American field lacrosse stars at Syracuse.

"I grew up playing field but I've become accustomed to the indoor game," Casey Powell said. "I love all the scoring, the fact there's no down time, and the excitement of playing in front of big crowds.

"I've grown to really love playing box lacrosse."

The close quarters demand alterations in the style of play Powell is used to on the larger outdoor fields.

"You have to stay on one side of the floor and keep the stick in one hand [to ward off checkers]," he said. "You have to be more technical about where you are shooting the ball and where you are shooting from.

"That took a long time to work on and perfect. I'm either shooting inside underneath or shooting outside up top. All the pick-and-rolls and the spacing... I put a lot of my basketball skills into lacrosse."

Powell has become so good that the NLL named him most valuable player in 2010 when he played for the Orlando Titans, who folded at season's end.

"Casey is a great team guy who leaves it all on the floor," said Ed Comeau, the Titans head coach who now helps coach Colorado. "All of our staff really enjoyed being able to coach Casey. His work ethic both in practice and in games was a great example of his leadership. He never takes a shift off."

Comeau recalled a game in Philadelphia when the Titans were short a player for a faceoff and Powell jumped into the breach.

"He chased down a loose ball and made a huge hit on a Wings player, and we picked up the loose ball and went in and scored," Comeau said. "He did not end up on the scoresheet on that play, but was willing to battle for the loose ball for the team."

Powell is one of the most gifted shooters in the sport, Comeau added. While with the Titans, Comeau convinced Powell he should shoot more.

"We felt he was perceived as a pass-first player. He was pretty excited that we were actually telling him to shoot more. We knew the team would benefit greatly from him taking more shots, and he put up back-to-back 40-plus goal seasons."

Defenseman Pat Merrill, now with Toronto, played for the Titans last year.

"Casey is a great leader and teammate," Merrill said. "On the floor, he is like an Alex Ovechkin or Lebron James: a fierce competitor who can put the team on his back and take over a game. Off the floor, he gets the instant respect of his teammates because he's very humble and positive and easy to get along with."

Powell lives in Boca Raton, Fla., where he is director of lacrosse programs for the 1,300-student St. Andrew's School. He flies out of Fort Lauderdale for weekend NLL games. He also conducts clinics around the United States and represents Easton.

"The travel can be somewhat draining, but this is my ninth season so I'm used to it," he said. "It's what I do."

Defending against Powell is difficult, Merrill said.

"Casey is a tough guy to build a scouting report on because he does so many things well. He's probably the most creative and purely skilled guy in lacrosse. He takes shots from many different areas on the floor, so you always have to be on your toes. Basically, expect the unexpected. Never let your guard down and try to match his intensity every shift. And try not to forget about the two other offensive superstars he plays with."

Those two would be Canadian forwards Dan Dawson and Josh Sanderson. Boston acquired Powell and Sanderson in the offseason to form the "Big Three," and recently added Powell's brother, Ryan.

Casey and Ryan were NLL teammates when the league had a franchise in Anaheim, Calif., in 2005 and now they've been reunited in Boston. Ryan, 33, is commuting to Blazers games from Portland, Ore., where he runs lacrosse youth programs and represents Nike.

"I haven't been this pumped up in a long time," Casey Powell said. "We're both late in our careers and this is a great thing -- not only as brothers but as teammates. We're excited about the challenge, and our goal is to win an NLL championship together."

The youngest brother, Mikey, 28, has played pro field lacrosse but never got into the NLL. He's a musician out of Fayetteville, N.Y. Check out politerebel.com.

Casey has been named to the U.S. team for the world indoor tournament in Prague, May 21-28, and hopes to help knock Canada off the international boxla throne.

"We still have a ways to go in the indoor game but we feel we'll have a competitive team," he said. "If we get some good training sessions in, that'll give us the opportunity to be successful. We have a good bunch of guys committed to winning."

Powell said he is unsure how long he'll continue playing in the NLL. He's signed a two-year deal with Boston.

"The legs feel good," he said. "I'll take it season by season."

No American has ever scored in the NLL at Powell's pace. Taking regular season and playoff goals to arrive at an overall total, Bergey had 269, Powell has 268 and Finneran had 262. Two more and Powell owns that record.

In overall points, Finneran amassed 644, Powell has 605 and Bergey had 587.

Finneran (1991-2003) played 163 games, Bergey (1998-2008) played 142 and Powell has played 121.

By the time Powell hangs up his stick for good, all the regular season and overall goals and points records for U.S. players will be his. A fierce competitor who is respected by his peers around the league, few will argue against his worthiness of the accolades -- or his place as one of the most accomplished players in box lacrosse this side of the border.

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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