Heritage Cup Venue Was Home to First Canadian NLL Team

Glenn Clark, assistant coach for Team Canada, played for the NLL's Ontario Raiders in 1998 before they moved to Toronto and became the Rock.

Team Canada coaches Ed Comeau and Glenn Clark will have precious and painful memories stirred when they walk into First Ontario Centre in Hamilton for the Heritage Cup lacrosse game against the United States on Oct. 21.

The last time they were involved in a lacrosse game at this venue was 2003. Comeau was one of the coaches and Clark was a standout defenseman when Canada won the inaugural world indoor championship in what was then known as Copps Coliseum. It is a precious memory for both.

Canada defeated the Iroquois Nationals 21-4 in the game for gold.

“We edged them 15-13 in the first round, but the final was a perfect storm for us,” Clark said. “Things started rolling and kept going. They found themselves in a hole and couldn’t get out of it.”

Back in 1998, Comeau was an assistant coach and Clark was a defenseman with the Copps-based Ontario Raiders. It was the first Canadian team to join the NLL. After one year, it was sold and moved to become the Toronto Rock.

“Our uniforms were a strange color combination of gold, red and black,” Comeau said. “They were pretty flashy.

“I remember a good crowd for our first game at what was then Copps Coliseum. It was a great game. We lost in overtime to the defending champs, the Rochester Knighthawks. That game launched a great NLL career for Colin Doyle. He was supposed to be a scratch opening night but Chris Gill was not able to make it and Doyle was activated. A great night led to many more that year and rookie of the year honors.

“We had a few players with pro experience and a lot of first-year pros. It was a learning curve for all of us under the tutelage of [head coach] Les Bartley. We improved as the year went on and ended up building the basis for a great Toronto Rock run over the next five years. Others besides Doyle continued on to have great playing careers in the league. Some are still coaching in the NLL or at various other levels.”]

The lineup also included Pat Coyle, Dan Stroup, Russ Heard, Jim Veltman, Terry Bullen, Bob Watson, Kim and Rodd Squire, Mike Accursi, Dean Harrison, Brian Beisel and Brian Shanahan, who retired before the move to Toronto to pursue media opportunities.

The Raiders went 6-6 and missed the playoffs while average attendance was about 6,000. Clark wasn’t around for most of it, and that is a painful memory because he broke his left leg in the team’s first home game.

“I got hurt on a faceoff,” he said. “Back in the day, you could hit guys within nine feet of the ball. Terry Bullen hit his guy and his guy landed on my calf with my foot firmly planted. I have a vivid memory of my leg snapping in front of the bench. I had to have reconstructive surgery. It was pretty serious. At the time, I was told that I likely wouldn’t play again.”

Clark proved them wrong as he went on to earn all-star NLL honors.

Lacrosse fans in southern Ontario are wondering if an NLL expansion team could work in First Ontario Centre. It is a 19,000-seat venue surrounded by communities where lacrosse thrives. San Diego and Philadelphia have recently joined the NLL to make it an 11-team league, and more franchises are expected to be added. A new team in Hamilton would need the blessing of the nearby Toronto Rock and Buffalo Bandits to set up shop.

The fan experience for this Heritage Cup game will differ from the NLL experience in that there will be no music during play. International rules ban music and announcements while play is in progress.

Comeau, who has a busy travel schedule as head coach of the NLL champion Georgia Swarm, looks forward to his briefest commute to coach a lacrosse game this year. It’s 15 minutes from his Hamilton-area home to the arena.

“Many NLL players are used to getting on planes and flying across the continent for home games, so being able to drive 15 minutes to a game is a welcome treat,” he said.

The last Heritage Cup game was played in Montreal in 2013, when Canada edged the Iroquois Nationals 12-11.

Tickets for the 2017 Heritage Cup can be purchased online through Ticketmaster. All group sales requests (8+ tickets) must be made to Toni Hayward (905-546-2391 or groupsales@coreentertainment.ca).

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