Chandler Nayman, a box lacrosse goalie out of Cherry Creek (Colo.), is drawing attention from NLL scouts.

Goalie Position Key to Closing Box Lacrosse Gap

As the U.S. plays catchup with Canada, coaches are searching far and wide for goalies with pro potential.

The goalie problem has plagued U.S. indoor lacrosse ever since Americans first set foot on the floor. The lack of box lacrosse development in the United States has created an environment where field players switch sports to compete for their country.

That can work, with the likes of Paul Rabil, Brendan Mundorf, Drew Westervelt and most recently Tom Schreiber crossing over.

For goalies? Not so much.

While some of the field game translates indoors, the box goalie position has no parallel. With a gaping void in goal, the U.S. has struggled to find American-born goalies with any indoor experience.

In light of a rough showing in the Heritage Cup, a 19-6 loss to Canada, the Americans could use some more developed talent between the pipes.

“It’s a problem, but we have more younger goalies,” U.S. indoor coach Regy Thorpe said. “It’s a process. That process has been broken, and we’re trying to fix it and compete at the world games.”

“If you are going to see a U.S. [goalie] get an opportunity to play in the NLL, they are going to need league expansion and exposure to playing indoor lacrosse at that level as a young man.” — Erik Miller

The American goalie in the National Lacrosse League has been a rarity, with NLL Hall of Famer Sal LoCascio and later Erik Miller being the only ones to consistently break the mold. The likes of Joe Evans and Chris Collins have earned tryout bids and practice squad spots at times, but Miller is the last to get a shot in the NLL.

“We’re licking our wounds even with field players,” Thorpe said. “A lot of our guys got cut last week with the NLL announcing rosters. A lot of Americans we thought would get roster spots aren’t on there. I’m sure a lot of those guys will creep back up. But to see goalies not in the mix is disheartening.”

The current goalies for the Americans include David Mather, who has played primarily in Canada, along with Brandon Miller and Evans. Evans hasn’t played professionally since the Rhode Island Kingfish closed shop in 2013, and Brandon Miller hasn’t played above the Senior B level in Rochester.

“If you are going to see a U.S. [goalie] get an opportunity to play in the NLL, they are going to need league expansion and exposure to playing indoor lacrosse at that level as a young man,” Erik Miller said. “The talent pool in Canada is too deep for many of the guys down here to get a look. I was very fortunate with my opportunity. Dennis Townsend, Dave Huntley and John Tucker gave me a chance. I was lucky enough to pick it up well enough to be dangerous.”

A small contingent of American goalies saw their indoor careers end when the NALL folded. There hasn’t been another attempt to develop professional American indoor players, and the goaltending of the national team has suffered.

“The first thing you need is guys who play the position,” said Matt Brown, executive director of the U.S. Box Lacrosse Association. “There hasn’t been a grassroots movement for youth programs. There weren’t many kids who wanted to be box goalies, but now we see young players where being a goalie, that’s the only position they know.”

USBOXLA has picked up the pace in recent years, with youth and junior teams and a successful first year of the Colorado College Box Lacrosse League. And after subcontracting the U.S. indoor team for several years, US Lacrosse assumed all operations of the program before the 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship. While Team USA finished in third place behind Canada and the Iroquois for the fourth straight time, the sport’s national governing body has since deepened its commitment to the box game, insuring players and writing rules to standardize play in the United States.

With young players of high school and college age playing the indoor version of the sport, it creates a new, more experienced talent pool long term.

“I watched those college kids in Colorado this summer,” said Jamie Dawick, owner of the NLL’s Toronto Rock. “You never know what you’ll find there. One field player that comes to mind is Trevor Baptiste, hopefully a guy who will play in the NLL. We want those guys in our league, at all positions.”

After the success of the CCBLL, USBOXLA announced the formation of the National Collegiate Box Series, with Ohio as the next target market. The NLL is on board, and expects that talent to develop into professionals — goalies included.

“It’s the one position that is the most hotly sought after,” NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz said. “Goalies are gold in our league. If you don’t have a good one, you’re in trouble. Something like USBOXLA is perfect for kids that want to get tested playing box lacrosse, and our teams can see them do it.”

That talent alone should feed the U.S. indoor team pipeline with future goalies.

“There are guys early in high school, some in middle school, who by the time they get through college will have played about eight years of box lacrosse,” Brown said. “That’s as much as they’d get in Canada. I expect guys to come out of college and compete to be national-level goalies.”

With the NLL opening up to American players more than ever, the future of homegrown goalies suddenly has become brighter.

It’s no wonder, with no development system in place until recently, that American goalies haven’t broken through the pro ranks. In fact, there haven’t been anywhere for players to even become goalies, unless they were willing to go play juniors in Canada.

“From what I can tell at this point, USBOXLA given some incredible opportunities to kids out west,” Erik Miller said. “I don’t believe you can receive the coaching they have anywhere else at this moment. The guys in charge are true box guys and they have a curriculum in place.”


Erik Miller, the last American-born goalie to latch on to an NLL team as a starter, played for six different franchises from 1999-2009.

Field and box goalies are drastically different positions, to the point that most outdoor goalies play the field in the indoor game, such as Blaze Riorden and Brett Queener, both of whom starred in net at Albany but play transition in the NLL and for the U.S.

Conversely, box goalies, such as Matt Vinc, will play the field outside. Vinc has starred as one of the NLL’s top goalies with Rochester for a decade, but when playing for Canada’s national field team, he’s a defenseman.

The differences of the goalie position in box as opposed to field lacrosse — be it the smaller net and crease, the bulky equipment or how one holds his stick — has eliminated several options of who might suit up for the national team. The only hope going forward is development from the grassroots up.

That means not relying on semi-pro leagues with older players picking up the position, but rather building for the future with true box goalies at the youth level who become pro players and go on to represent the U.S. in international competition.

With the NLL posting their stamp of approval on college leagues and developmental structures, as well as working more closely with US Lacrosse, the landscape is about to look a lot different in future years.

“If you look at the growth from just 10 or even five years ago, the number of goalies who would be considered for a national team or in our league, you could count on one hand,” said Brian Lemon, the NLL’s director of lacrosse operations. “Now there are 20,000 players in USBOXLA. You can do the math and figure out how many are goalies. As they develop, our scouts look at those guys.”

Last season in the CCBLL, goalies came from all over. Chandler Nayman has been especially impressive out of Cherry Creek (Colo.) High School and is on NLL team radars as a future draft pick. A 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior, Nayman also plays football for the Bruins. He was among several goalies interviewed in a USBOXLA article on this very subject.

“Being a box goalie has helped me a lot with field,” Nayman said. “It has made me better at using my body to make saves. It has also helped me stand my ground and not go for fakes.”

Seldom have American goalies that haven’t played in Canadian juniors been considered for professional roster spots.

“As a staff, we know it’s a concern,” Thorpe said. “We have a couple of guys who are younger and in the mix, and we want them to develop. USBOXLA has stuff going, there’s a few college box leagues that could help, but realistically to be a legitimate contender, I feel you have to go and play in Canada.”

But with players developing sooner in the states, that’s providing more options.

And if they can play pro? That just adds more options for the national team to find adequate talent.

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