Catch and Release: How Keegan Bal Found His Way Back to the NLL

PHOTO BY DEVIN MANKY/VANCOUVER STEALTH

Released by the then-Vancouver Stealth in 2017, Bal played Senior B ball before reemerging with the Vancouver Warriors and becoming one of the NLL's top scorers.


Keegan Bal knew he had a story that would resonate. After taking up coaching, he also knew it was a story worth sharing if it had an impact on even one kid who found himself in a similar situation.

“Any time you can give back, I think it is really important to maybe show a young kid who is struggling right now, not at the point where they want to be,” said Bal, now a forward with the Vancouver Warriors. “To have that message of keep going if you really want it, keep working.”

That was all the motivation Bal needed to pen an article for Lacrosse Flash in March 2021 detailing his unusual road to the National Lacrosse League. A self-described late bloomer, he faced cut after cut in his teenage years. That included a tryout with his hometown Coquitlam Intermediate A team, a turning point that led him to Port Coquitlam’s squad and on the road to the NLL.

Bal reached the pinnacle of the sport and was off to a torrid start in his sophomore campaign before history repeated itself. After recording 12 points in his first three games of 2017, then-Vancouver Stealth coach Jamie Batley told him he was being released.

Bal considered walking away from lacrosse, turning his focus to his day job in real estate. But he stuck with it, and five years later, he doesn’t have to worry about losing his roster spot anymore.

Entering the closing stretch of the season, Bal is third in the league in goals and is just three back of the leader with 42. His 95 points are good for seventh in the league. Both those totals are already career highs, and by a wide margin. His previous single-season bests were 32 goals and 74 points.

“It’s a culmination of the work that I’ve been putting in the last couple of years,” Bal said.







Bal says he’s a much different player and person than when he first heard the bad news from Batley. Since returning to the NLL and a new-look Vancouver franchise in 2019, he’s become a stalwart on the Warriors’ offense.

“He wants it more and more,” Warriors coach Chris Gill said. “I don’t know if he can get more playing time, but he wants more and more opportunities.”

The journey back to the NLL began thanks to Bal’s relocation to Alberta for work. There he hooked on with the St. Albert Miners, a Senior B squad in the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League. It lacked the luxuries that come with playing in the NLL, but it gave him an opportunity to step back and reevaluate his relationship with the sport.

There were skills to improve on — Bal says his shot was a main focus — but the mental side of the game was just as important. He practiced mindfulness, developing a meditation routine with an emphasis on visualization.

Bal had developed a major chip on his shoulder from all the times he was doubted in his career. He realized that was just as damaging as it was motivational.

“The bigger thing was just a perspective shift,” Bal said. “Not being so focused on the outcome, just actually loving the process, going out there and practicing, working and just having fun.”

The passion for the sport never left him, and the results started turning his way. Bal won three straight President’s Cups with St. Albert – which had never won one at all before his arrival – and led the RMLL in scoring twice. Then his big break came.

The Vancouver Canucks purchased the Stealth, eventually rebranding the team as the Warriors, and named Dan Richardson general manager in one of its first moves. Richardson had familiarity with Bal from the pair’s time with the New Westminster Salmonbellies of the Western Lacrosse Association.

Bal was back with the franchise he started with and has managed a 70-point pace every season since.

“I don’t think he was given a fair chance, whether it was with the Stealth or the Mammoth,” Richardson told NLL.com’s Eric Getzoff in 2019. “What I saw in him and still see in him was the guy that has lightning-fast speed and someone who is not afraid to go in those dirty areas.”

Bal’s uptick in production this season has been necessary given the absence of Mitch Jones. After finishing second in the league in points last season, health has limited Jones to just four games.

Now it’s Bal leading the production, boasting two sock tricks this season and 10 games with six or more points. He scored eight times against Colorado on March 18 as part of a 12-point performance.

The team results haven’t always been there — Vancouver has slipped from third in the West Division to sixth amid a 1-8 stretch — but Bal has been consistent.

“He’s a leader on the floor,” Gill said. “He’s a leader in the dressing room. He’s one of those guys that watches a ton of video, likes to ask questions, takes notes. I think the guy’s all rally around that.

“When you do that off the floor and you can produce on the floor, it gains so much more worth within the group, too.”

When Bal wrote his Lacrosse Flash article, he had 41 games of NLL experience under his belt. He still didn’t feel like he’d “made it.” That remains the case today, even after another 16 games and 95 points.

That’s not his focus, after all. He’s not chasing some prove-it moment.

“The biggest thing is just not seeing that as the goal,” Bal said. “Just actually enjoying the process of playing and getting better.”

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