April 25, 2014

Figuring Out the NLL's Numbers Game

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Stevens Archive

Brandon Miller started wearing 35 because of Dallas Eliuk, but now wears it in memory of his late brother Kyle. (Toronto Rock)

Brandon Miller is the only active-roster NLL player wearing 35 on his back and it is a number that has special meaning to the Toronto Rock goaltender.

''The number 35 came to me a long time ago,'' he explains. ''As a kid, I used to go to Buffalo to watch the Bandits play.

''That was before the Toronto Rock existed and I fell in love with Dallas Eliuk when Philadelphia came to town. That is where the number started with me. My brother adopted it when he went to Cornell and he wore it for Team Canada. So it was something that we shared together.''

Kyle Miller was in remission after being diagnosed with the bone cancer osteosarcoma when he helped Cornell win Ivy League field lacrosse championships and he earned gold as a goalie for Canada at the 2006 world championship in London, Ontario. The cancer returned and he died last June.

''Now, to me, 35 means more Kyle Miller than it does Dallas Eliuk, but that's where it started,'' says Kyle's big brother.

There is a story behind most numbers that players wear in the NLL.

Sid Smith did not get the number he wanted when he joined the Rochester Knighthawks out of Syracuse but the hard-working defenseman won't part with the one he has now because he has captained his team to the last two NLL championships wearing 79.

''I had worn 17 but when I joined the Knighthawks it was taken,'' explains Smith, who had 17 with the Orange. ''So I took a number nobody had. I liked the 7 so I kept it and 79 was a random number nobody had in the league at the time so I went with it.''

Numbers already taken - it's a common theme.

Adam Jones wears 16 with the Colorado Mammoth.

When Jones played minor lacrosse, he wanted 13 because it was the number worn by his grandfather, Harry Kazarian, who was such a talented box lacrosse player that he is in the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame. An annual June tournament in Owen Sound, Ontario, for players of all levels to age 16 carries his name. An older boy already had 13.

''I picked 16 because it was close to 13,'' Jones explains. ''I've kept it. I've had it since I was in novice.''

Lacrosse is a family tradition. Brian Jones, Adam's father, was a member of the 1978 Canadian field team that upset the United States to win the world championship. Jones wore 23 in attaining all-America field lacrosse status at Canisius but likes 16 when he's indoors.

Toronto defenseman Jesse Gamble has a 4 on his back. He preferred 9 before joining the Rock but he couldn't wear it in the NLL because veteran teammate Pat Merrill had it. Seniority is the trump card every time.

''I chose 4 because it looked more like 9 than any other number,'' Gamble explains.

David Brock of the Buffalo Bandits has a good reason for wearing 13.

''I bounced around with a few teams,'' says Brock. ''I wore 17, I wore 71.

''In Buffalo, Tracey Kelusky was wearing 17 when I got there. I've always liked 13. I was born on August 13, 1986. It might be an unlucky number to some people but I like to go against the grain. Born on the 13th, I thought that was a good fit.''

The University of Albany grad would not opt for any other number now.

''I really like 13,'' he says. ''It's been doing me pretty good so far. I won a championship in it last summer. I've been successful with it so I'm going to keep riding with it.''

He played summer ball last year for the Canadian-champion Six Nations Chiefs.

Jay Thorimbert wears 75 with the Bandits. He played Canadian intercollegiate field lacrosse at the University of Guelph after taking to the sport in high school in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

''8 was my hockey number but somebody on the lacrosse team had it,'' he recalls. ''I went up to choose a number and the guy behind me, Jamie Floris, said to me, 'Wear 75. Nobody ever wears 75.'

''I took 75 and I've been wearing it ever since. Up until this season, nobody else in the NLL was wearing 75 but now Mac Allen is wearing it.''

When Allen joined the Knighthawks this season, the number he wore with his previous team, Colorado, was taken so he opted to use the number his father, David Allen, wore with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.

Some players luck out and get the number they wanted.

Stephen Keogh wore 28 at Syracuse University and he has it with the Rochester Knighthawks, too. His desire to wear the number started when his brother adopted the 28 worn by a former enforcer with the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs.

''My brother, Matt, wore 28 when he played Jr. A (lacrosse) with the Toronto Beaches and he was a bit of a fighter so he wore the 28 because that was the number worn by Tie Domi,'' Keogh explains. ''My brother was kind of my idol when I was growing up so I've stuck with 28 since junior.''

Keogh is the only NLL player wearing 28.

The most popular numbers, which are each worn by six players, are 10, 11 and 17.

The only numbers under 40 not being worn are 22, 25 and 34.

There are 51 players wearing numbers over 40.

Jeremy Thompson of the Edmonton Rush is a First Nations player who took care in selecting 74, and he's the only player who wears it.

''There's a lot of significance behind it,'' he explains. ''It's not just a number to me.

''I wear 4 because my dad wore it and because in my culture there are four different directions for protectors. The reason I wear the 7 is because you're always trying to build in a lifetime seven layers of skin because there are always things coming at you where people try to take you off your path. You've got to have those onion layers of skin because people will try to take them off so you have to have more under there. I put the two numbers together for 74.''

Edmonton goalie Aaron Bold is sticking with a good thing, which is 77.

''I started playing minor lacrosse for the Esquimalt Eagles and I was number 30,'' he says of his British Columbia roots. ''The next year was my first year with the Saanich Tigers in bantam. I wore 77. That was the first championship I won so I've stuck with that number. I like it now because I wore it was a young goalie.''

Kevin Ross of the Toronto Rock wears 71.

''I grew up wearing 17 all through minor lacrosse,'' he says. ''I ended up switching to 71 in junior because there was a guy with 17 and I've stuck with 71 ever since. I thought it looked kind of neat (during a 13-9 win over Buffalo on April 18) with Colin (Doyle) wearing 7, Steph (Leblanc) wearing 17 and myself wearing 71.''

The most popular number over 40 is 91, which is worn by Philadelphia's Kyle Buchanan, Edmonton's Cory Conway, Toronto's Billy Hostrawswer and Vancouver's Tyler Garrison.

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