Charlie Bertrand Adapts, Thrives in First Real Box Experience


Charlie Bertrand has an impressive resume, one that includes championships at both the Division I and II levels in addition to a pair of Division II player of the year nods from the USILA.

But when he showed up at Rochester Knighthawks camp this winter, he was back to being the new kid on the block. An undrafted rookie, his prior box lacrosse experience was limited to pick-up games growing up in Baldwinsville, New York.

“I was open to coming in and being on a practice roster spot or doing what I had to do to just develop for the year,” Bertrand said.

Who would have guessed a few months later he’d be tied for the rookie lead in goals? Bertrand has notched seven heading into the K-Hawks’ Week 9 matchup with Toronto on Saturday, putting him even with Jeff Teat, Mac O’Keefe and Patrick Dodds.

Pretty good for a guy who was surprised to even make the opening day roster.

“I had a good first week [of training camp], but after that, I couldn’t really find the back of the net,” Bertrand said. “I thought I would be on the practice roster until really that last week when I saw that I made the final active roster. When I was told I was suiting up for the first game, it was all a bit of a surprise to me, to be honest.”

His lack of box experience didn’t indicate a lack of interest in trying the style of the sport. Following a collegiate career split between Merrimack and Virginia, he hoped to get a tryout with one of the two teams closest to his hometown — Rochester or Albany.

When it came to the Knighthawks, Bertrand had the benefit of a connection. Chris Willman, a member of the new Knighthawks since 2020, was a graduate assistant at Merrimack while Bertrand was leading the Warriors to a second straight national title.

The coaching staff asked Willman about Bertrand, and soon after, general manager Dan Carey gave him a call.

“He had a great shot, obviously, and he was willing to get into the dirty areas, too,” Knighthawks assistant coach Pat O’Toole said. “From the Knighthawks standpoint, it was something that intrigued us.”

He also had the frame to fit in the National Lacrosse League at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, though he admitted he felt out of place that first day of camp. Adjusting to bigger goalies and smaller nets took work.

He had built-in knowledge of the two-man game gained at Merrimack to fall back on. A goal in his first scrimmage with the team added a boost of confidence, as did the team’s decision to roll with him in the regular season.

And once the season opener arrived, it didn’t take long to see what the K-Hawks saw. Bertrand scored twice in his debut against the New York Riptide, including once on a spectacular spin-o-rama.

“He came out that first game, and he just got some box lacrosse style goals,” O’Toole said. “He was in corners and got that shot away. Not that we didn’t think he could do it, but the first game out doing it, we were kind of like, ‘Wow.’”

This isn’t the first time Bertrand has needed adapt. At Merrimack, he was the focal point of the offense, leading all of D-II in both points and goals per game in 2019. With a transfer to Virginia and the ACC, Bertrand learned how to be a cog in the machine.

“Switching to Virginia, it was completely different,” Bertrand said. “But I was excited for that challenge, to have a different playing style in a sense and just come in and be a humble, coachable guy that could fit into any role that they needed to be.”

Redwoods head coach Nat St. Laurent mentioned the value of that experience when he selected Bertrand in the Premier Lacrosse League Collegiate Draft last spring.

“The thing we love about him is he’s gotten different roles,” St. Laurent said during the draft broadcast. “At Merrimack, he was the man and he had the ball in his stick all the time. At [Virginia], they had so many great players on the field with him, he’s proven that he doesn’t necessarily always need the ball in his stick to score or to help his team.”

The Knighthawks have seen that malleability, too.

“It just seemed like he was a sponge from Day 1,” O’Toole said. “Everything you told him, he made it work within his game.”

Traditionally, Americans jumping indoors for the first time have had to work their way up to an offensive role, putting in the time as a transition player or out the back door before eventually getting a shot at accumulating points.

But expansion and recent success stories like Tom Schreiber and Matt Rambo have opened the door for more opportunities.

“Teams are taking the chance, and guys are taking advantage of that right away,” O’Toole said. “Teams are seeing the success, and the more times you see that success, the more teams are willing to take the chance.”

Bertrand has successfully made his transition indoors. He encourages others to follow.

“I would certainly recommend it,” Bertrand said. “There’s no growth in being comfortable, so I think challenge yourself in a new way.”

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