Growing the game of lacrosse came full circle for me today as I tuned into the 2017 European Box Lacrosse Championship taking place in Turku, Finland through 15 July and listened to Stephen Stamp call the game between host Finland and the Czech Republic in the opening day’s final match. I have known several people involved for going on 10 years now and it is all because of lacrosse.
In 2008 after the MegaMan Lacrosse Club won the Aleš Hřebeský Memorial (AHM) several of us joined Bill Curtis and his Team Rebel in Stockholm, Sweden, and Turku, Finland for exhibition lacrosse games. Eight runners and a goalie took on the Turku Titans on 29 April at Marli Areena in the first ever international box lacrosse match on Finnish soil. Our goalie was Ginny Capicchioni, a woman, so that was a first as well.
2008 AHM Champs, Source: S. Prestridge
Team Rebel won the match but it was more about growing the game and exposing the Titans and their fans to high-level box lacrosse. The Titans did a great job with marketing having materials printed and posted throughout the shops of Turku. It was somewhat surreal walking around town and spotting one of the postcards in a shop window. We were all impressed with the venue, which if memory serves, was relatively new at the time. A dedicated hockey facility that could be used for box lacrosse when the ice was not down it was modern, fan and spectator friendly, with terrific, spacious locker rooms.
During warm-ups and our walkthrough earlier that day, we had a few moments of panic. At one point during the shootaround Mike Ladouceur managed to send a ball off the center court scoreboard and a large piece of the scoreboard came crashing down to the floor. Not an hour into practice and we were already breaking our host’s beautiful facility! Luckily, it was only a thin plastic sheet that allowed the board to be customized, it did not break when it fell, and it could be easily re-installed. International crisis averted.
Fans that evening were treated to several highlight reel goals by Mike Ladouceur, Andrew Wasik, and Bill Curtis our designated offensive players. Tom Lafferty, the only non-Megaman on the team, anchored the defense along with Dave Colbourne as our only designated defensive players. Transition players consisted of Dino Cotilletta, Scott Joyner, and Scott Prestridge.
Exhibition Game Postcard, Source: S. Prestridge
The Turku Titans roster was young and new to the game of box lacrosse but they played their hearts out. The athleticism was evident with the Tähkäpääs (Mikko and Matti), Jussi Kokkola, Mikko Varjo, and others impressing. One player that clearly stood out was goalie Lauri Uusitalo. Years later in 2016, Uusitalo would backstop the Turku Titans to their best placing in the AHM, 4th place, as they defeated the MegaMen in the quarterfinal match before eventually falling to the Green Gaels in the third-place game. Uusitalo has improved much since the early days and is now regarded as one of the top European goaltenders in the game. For his performance in today’s game in the EBLC against the Czech Republic Uusitalo was awarded player of the game by The Finnish National team.
Exhibition Game Rosters, Source: S. Prestridge
Close examination of the Turku Titans roster shown above from the 2008 exhibition game’s program and the Finnish team’s 2017 EBLC roster will reveal several names in common. Those young men have grown, learned the game, and are now leaders and experienced veterans of their national team. Another connection between the Rebel squad and the 2017 Finnish National box lacrosse team is Anssi Kaisalmi. Several years ago Kaisalmi came to the US for school and he played a season or two in the Baltimore Indoor Lacrosse League with Rebel thanks to Risto Worhtington’s connection to Finland and Rebel. Six degrees of separation and all that - it’s probably even smaller in lacrosse.
Less than 10 years removed from that 2008 exhibition game in Turku and the Finnish program is hosting the first ever (I believe) European Box Lacrosse Championships in Turku with one of the arenas being the same one which hosted that 2008 game. Thanks to modern technology I can watch all the action in Turku live streamed on the Internet. Catch all the EBLC2017 action on http://www.fanseat.com through 15 July. Good luck to all my friends playing, coaching, refereeing, organizing, and otherwise growing the game of lacrosse via this fantastic event. Congratulations to Finland on elevating lacrosse in your country and internationally - the hard work has paid off.