Hard Work Paid Off to Build Panther City LC During a Pandemic


NLL Hall of Famer Tracey Keluski was named the first head coach for Panther City LC.

Panther City Lacrosse Club was largely built off computer screens. With the National Lacrosse League shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic, that was all general manager Bob Hamley and his staff had to work with while trying to assemble the circuit’s 14th team.

The NLL announced its first-ever move into the state of Texas on July 22, 2020. Hamley was hired two months later. That should have given him plenty of time to send scouts around the continent, but he had to get creative when the league sat out last winter.

“I think we’d all like to get new glasses for our eyes because we were staring at video all year,” Hamley said. “That’s the only way we could evaluate expansion rosters.”

Countless hours were spent watching game film. Just as many were spent on Zoom, as the staff tailored the franchise’s inaugural unit.

So it truly was a revelation when Hamley was able to see the players he’s assembled in person at training camp. Finally, a physical representation of all the time spent at desks over the past year.

“We believe all that work paid off,” Hamley said. “I found that out a couple weeks ago when we went to main camp and you see some of those guys that we chose working at their craft. It was very satisfying.”

That feeling of accomplishment will likely be amplified when Panther City takes the floor for the first time this weekend. PCLC will travel to Philadelphia on Saturday before its home opener a week later against Vancouver. That will mark the first professional box lacrosse game ever played in Texas.

“They call it the medicine game for a reason,” Hamley said. “We’re right where we want to be and where we need to be and should be, on the floor playing lacrosse. I’m excited for everyone involved in the National Lacrosse League that we’re getting back here again.”

Panther City is the fifth addition to the NLL in its recent wave of expansion, following San Diego, Philadelphia, New York and Rochester.

Unlike the previous four additions, Panther City will play in a state the NLL has never been before. Increased youth lacrosse participation in North Texas has the front office hopeful. As does the chance to tap into a Fort Worth market dying to have a team to call its own.

That connection to the city, the 13th largest in the United States, helped inspire the franchise’s unique moniker. Fort Worth’s Panther City nickname goes back to the 1800s, inspired by a wry line by a former Dallas Herald editor.

“We chose the name because we wanted something that was unabashedly Fort Worth,” Panther City president and CEO Greg Bibb told NLL’s Devan Kaney. “If you happen to be from this part of the country and you hear the name Panther City, you instantly know we’re talking about Fort Worth.”

As for the on-the-field product, Hamley’s first order of business was hiring a head coach. He found a match in NLL Hall of Famer Tracey Kelusky, set to be a head man in the NLL for the first time.

“You look at Tracey’s playing career, and he was a warrior,” Hamley said. “He was a leader on every team he every played on. He was a student of the game.”

He’ll be joined on the bench by fellow longtime NLLers Dan Teat and Steve Toll. All three brought tremendous knowledge when it came time to assemble a roster.

“It’s kind of always easy to evaluate talent,” Kelusky said in his introductory press conference. “But one of the things that’s very important to me and very important to Bob is bringing in character young men that will represent our organization. The challenges presented, especially in the world we’re living in right now, is building those relationships with potential players.”

For Hamley, the non-protected lists from the other 13 teams offered a clear blueprint. Defense became an early focus.

“With our expansion rules, teams can protect five offensive guys and five defensive guys and a goaltender,” Hamley said. “So right away, teams can protect their man-up or their power play. No disrespect to anybody, but you’re looking at taking the sixth-best offensive guy or the sixth-best defensive guy. And we all know on most benches, it’s six or seven offensive guys and then it’s 10 to 11 defensive guys.”

Building from the backend kicked off with the first pick of the expansion draft, when the team selected former Saskatchewan Rush Matt Hossack. Fellow proven NLL talents like Chad Cummings, Taylor Stuart, Travis Cornwall and Liam Byrnes have been added to work in front of a youthful pair of goaltenders.

There are veterans elsewhere on the field too, like forward Ryan Benesch and transition player Jeremy Thompson. But expectations should be tempered given the team’s expansion status and some notable absences. One of Panther City’s flashier additions, Randy Staats, starts the season on the physically unable to perform list. The team’s first overall pick, Jonathan Donville, is going back to school after transferring to Maryland.

Hamley is focused on the long-term plan, confident in the pieces already in place.

“We’ve just got to stick with the plan,” Hamley said. “Some days, it’s tough. We maybe have a tough practice, or you see a weak spot, and you’ve got to pull yourself back and say it’s a process, which we’re going to continue to work on.”

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