Dallas Stars teammates Brett Ritchie and Devin Shore grew up playing lacrosse in Ontario and were teammates at the Hill Academy.

Lacrosse Roots Run Deep for Four NHL Players

After years on the lacrosse turf, four NHL players have come full circle in the most unique of ways.

Nick and Brett Ritchie grew up on the lacrosse fields in Peterborough, Ontario, while also skating in the winters. The brothers dominated at both sports while also starring for the Orangeville Northmen program.

Now, both in the NHL as opponents, there’s more than one connection between the two.

“We all played lacrosse when we were younger,” said Nick Ritchie, now playing for the Anaheim Ducks. “I knew those guys the whole way up. It’s cool to play with a guy now, and against those others.”

Nick Ritchie’s Ducks teammate, Brandon Montour, also had a chance to pursue a lacrosse career. Montour played with the Six Nations Arrows and even won a Minto Cup, Canada’s Junior A box lacrosse championship series.

After Montour’s lacrosse career ended and he headed to UMass for hockey, that time playing lacrosse was in the past. But playing on the same professional hockey team with one of his former lacrosse opponents wasn’t anything he could have predicted.

“It’s pretty crazy,” he said. “I played him once or twice in a few tournaments. He played most of his life, and I did too.”

Next to him, one of Montour’s Ducks teammates asked who won more.

Montour joked, “Probably my team.”

Which is likely true. The Arrows team that won the title in 2014 featured lacrosse big shots such as Brendan Bomberry, Johnny Powless and Doug Jamieson.

“I grew up playing with those guys,” Montour said. “You watch lacrosse, they’re all pretty good. It’s good to see.”

Nick Ritchie’s lacrosse career ended a bit sooner, when he was 15, but he went out with a bang, winning the Midget championship.

“I kind of miss it a little bit,” he said. “But it’s been a while.”

“He was from where I was from. We never played hockey. It was always lacrosse.” — Dallas Stars forward Brett Ritchie on the lacrosse background he shares with Stars center Devin Shore

His brother, Brett, was a member of that team as well. Now skating with the Dallas Stars, he has his own hockey career that came after an early life on the lacrosse fields of Ontario. Stars teammate Devin Shore also played major lacrosse in Canada with the Whitby Warriors.

“You never think that’s going to be the case,” Brett Ritchie said. “I grew up playing against them and with them. It was a rivalry. He was from where I was from. We never played hockey. It was always lacrosse.”

Brett Ritchie and Shore were even teammates at the Hill Academy, where they played both field and box lacrosse.

“I enjoyed [both],” Brett Ritchie said. “It was fun to turn the page. I preferred box over field. They’re both great games, but I preferred the intensity of box. It was my passion with lacrosse. It helps with your stamina and training, the physicality, it’s a rough sport.”

Dallas Stars teammates Devin Shore (left) and Brett Ritchie played Junior A box lacrosse for the Whitby Warriors and Orangeville Northmen, respectively.

The coincidence of Shore and Ritchie being teammates in the NHL goes beyond the sports they played together growing up. Their families are also close, giving their dual path to the NHL another layer.

Shore, a year between Brett and Nick, played more often with Nick, but certainly against both brothers often.

“We love lacrosse. Brett and I still talk about it,” Shore said. “Hockey is my true passion, so I wanted to pursue that. But I love lacrosse, and if hockey didn’t work out, it would have been an option. I loved it.”

Any one of the four players interviewed for this article can rattle off the names of the guys they played lacrosse with or against who now star in the NLL. Shore mentioned Reilly O’Connor, Ryan Keenan, Matt Hossack and Austin Shanks. Brett Ritchie remembered Jeremy Noble, Dillon Ward, Adam Jones and Jon and Mark Harnett.

“I see how those guys are doing,” Brett Ritchie said. “Even the guys at the Hill have gone on pretty far. If we’re in Colorado or something, I’ll see the Mammoth play to see these guys.”

It’s also far from coincidence that four talented lacrosse players had those skills translate to hockey. The crossover isn’t uncommon, and that’s due to unique skillsets that carry over between the two.

“It’s a similar game with five guys on the ice and a goalie, and we play on the same rink,” Nick Ritchie said. “All of those things are the same. You can take a lot of things from lacrosse, like the physicality, that translate the most.”

They all miss lacrosse, despite their NHL success. The four athletes have made their mark on the ice, but their lacrosse roots run deep.

Montour found the most success of the group with a Minto Cup, and even with as good he has become as a defenseman in the NHL, it’s hard to forget those days with the Arrows.

“I played my whole life, so it’s something close to my heart,” he said. “I knew I wanted to pursue hockey, and now it’s more of my passion. I still go back in the summer for games and keep tabs of guys I played with. You look back and think, ‘I could have been there with them.’ But I’m happy where I’m at.”

The NHL's Ritchie brothers Nick (left) and Brett and their friend Devin Shore brandished lacrosse sticks as youngsters.

To add an even deeper connection, Shore was coached by current Saskatchewan Rush head coach and general manager Derek Keenan from the time he was 8 until he was 15, in box and field, where his teams fared well with several provincial titles.

As their hockey skills developed, the choice to play in the NHL or go forward in lacrosse was obvious with the impact a hockey career can have.

But the lacrosse path that took all four to the ice had an impact itself.

“Hockey-wise, I was always smaller. I was running every day in the summer,” Montour said. “That was a downfall, being smaller. But I was able to stay in shape going into the season. The way lacrosse is and you move with hand-eye coordination, and how quick it is, that helps — conditioning and even the physical aspect of playing hard and tough.”

Anaheim Ducks defenseman Brandon Montour starred in lacrosse for the Six Nations Arrows.

That hockey and lacrosse were in different seasons also helped the Ritchies, Montour and Shore, as they were able to focus on different things they otherwise couldn’t do on the ice.

“It works perfect with hockey in the winter and lacrosse in the summer,” Brett Ritchie said. “The skills you learn in lacrosse, you’re not on ice, but you can take over onto the ice. Not all the hockey guys play lacrosse, so you’re working on different things all year round. You might have an advantage in certain ways.”

While both the Ducks and Stars have work to do on the ice, the Ritchies, Montour, and Shore all have an impact on their success in their playoff push.

More than a handful of NHLers played lacrosse en route to the pro hockey realm.

How deep those connections go will always remain an intrigue, as evidenced by the four players between two teams who grew up in neighboring lacrosse communities.

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