After Winning 5 Titles in 407 Days, Zach Currier Seeks New Challenge in PLL

Do you want to win? Then get tough. Get mentally tough. It takes more than muscle, more than practice, more than sheer determination to get to the top. It takes the mind of a champion. — The Sports Hypnotist

There is no sport on the planet that can quite compare to the speed, approach, athletic prowess and discipline of ice hockey like lacrosse. It’s not unusual for athletes of either sport to grow up playing both.

For Zach Currier, playing lacrosse was a means to an end. “My dad put me into lacrosse at 8 years old to toughen me up for hockey,” he said.

The irony of that fateful decision is not lost on anyone. Not considering that the invention of box lacrosse in Canada is attributed to a couple of NHL owners, the intention of his father, Roger, set Currier on a path that years later would highlight just how tough he really is — something that would take some time to manifest.

“I believe box lacrosse is one of, if not the toughest sport out there,” Roger Currier said, “and the main reason why I put Zach in lacrosse. He not only had to get physically tough, but mentally tough as well. I’m really glad I did. Lacrosse has opened up so many doors for him.”

Playing hockey for 15 years at an elite level, Currier was blessed with the athletic ability to escape big checks, but his ego could not.

“I’ll give you a great example,” he said. “During a hockey game when my brother and I were on the same team, we won a game in overtime and Josh scored the winning goal. But in the locker room I was crying because we had a 2-on-0 breakaway and Josh didn't pass me the puck. So in my mind as a 6-year-old, I had lost to my brother because he scored, and I didn't.”

For Currier, though, it was more than just his pride that took a beating.

“I was the kid that got hurt and cried all the time,” he said. “When I got into lacrosse, I would get knocked down and cry and come out of the game. At first, I was getting hurt 3-4 times a game. Looking back, it was embarrassing and wish I could change that but it 100-percent toughened me up.”

A graduate of a military high school (Culver Military Academy in Indiana), Currier admits it was during this time when that the word fortitude really started to resonate with him.

“It all made sense, and I started to truly understand more about team dynamics and putting the team before yourself,” he said. “That being said, I always find that to be a funny one. I want to be the best, but I want to win even more. That means balancing my skills against what is best for the team.”

“I want to prove to the world that I belong in the conversation as one of the best players in the world.”

As irony goes, it wasn’t the blades of his skates that Currier took to the next level, but rather the pocket of his lacrosse stick. Considered an all-around, Swiss-army-knife, jack-of-all-trades player, Currier’s skill set and ability to play on both sides of the ball made him a superstar at the NCAA Division I level and renowned in the professional ranks.

During his standout career at Princeton, Currier was a unanimous first-team All-Ivy League selection, a second-team All-American (don’t get Tom Schreiber started on how Currier was snubbed as a first-team selection) and has since become the showpiece for proving he is the toughest guy in the sport today.

“He won five championships last year,” said Max Adler, Currier’s former teammate with Major League Lacrosse’s Denver Outlaws. “No athlete has ever done it the way he did it, and probably no athlete will ever do it again. You don’t win five championships at the highest level without being that tough.”

Not only did Currier win five championships, with four different teams, but he did it in just over one year — 407 days to be exact. You don’t need to be a mathematician to figure out the improbability of such a feat.

“It's remarkable,” said Schreiber, a midfielder for the Premier Lacrosse League’s Archers LC and Currier’s teammate for one year at Princeton. “I don't think it's any coincidence having a guy like [Zach] on those teams. I know that Major Series Lacrosse Peterborough team he played for is ultra-talented, and I know just how hard it is to win in that league. It’s arguably one of the hardest ones to win, and he was a big part of that.”

In fact, Currier, who graduated from Princeton in 2017 having never won a national championship, won two Mann Cup titles for the Peterborough Lakers during this stretch. In addition, he also won an MLL championship with the Outlaws, a World Indoor Lacrosse Championship with Team Canada and a National Lacrosse League title with the Calgary Roughnecks.

Currier plays so much lacrosse for so many different teams that he keeps a game log that includes results and his statistics. In 16 months starting in June 2018 and ending in September 2019, he competed in 98 games en route to those five rings.

“It was a whirlwind, to be honest,” he said. “I didn't really even have time to celebrate any of them because I always had something else I had to get back to, whether that was my full-time job or games for my other teams.”

It’s almost impossible for anyone to wrap their brain around the kind of stamina Currier had to have to excel at everything he was doing. In just his second season in the NLL, Currier was named second-team all-pro and nominated for the NLL Transition Player of the Year for the second year in a row. He was also a finalist for MLL MVP last year. And if his schedule of overlapping seasons hasn’t left you mentally exhausted just thinking about it, Currier did all of this while working as a product development engineer at Warrior — an industry leader in lacrosse equipment and technology.

“I wish I could describe what kind of grind that was,” said Currier, who credits exceptional time management skills and a laser focus in helping him manage his priorities. But those intangibles were meaningless in controlling the physical toll his body took.

“Before I even played Game 1 of the [2019] Mann Cup final against Victoria, I had to get my ankles, wrist and shoulder taped up from injuries while also nursing a pulled hamstring,” he said. “The MSL summer circuit is a grind in itself, and then throw in the traveling across North America and working a full-time job, and there really isn’t much time for a personal life.”

Until he left his job at Warrior in December, a typical week for Currier looked like this:

Monday-Thursday: Work full-time as product development engineer at Warrior.

Thursday: Drive five hours from Michigan to Peterborough for an 8 p.m. game the same day.

Friday: Drive to Toronto and fly to the location of the Denver Outlaws game.

Saturday: Play in Outlaws game.

Sunday: Fly back to Toronto, then drive three-and-a-half hours back to Michigan.

Monday: Back to work at Warrior.

“A lot of guys play a ton of lacrosse, but that is one heck of a pretty impressive streak there,” said Schreiber, who doubles as a PLL and NLL star with Archers LC and the Toronto Rock while also competing for both the U.S. senior and indoor teams. “At the end of the day, just that dedication, it’s something that you really have to respect. It's not easy, you know, playing a game and having to recover two days later. And then just the car rides, right, that adds up — a five-hour drive, three-hour drive, then having to work on Monday morning. It’s really impressive. It was a hell of a year, a hell of a 407 days, and I think he’s just getting started. I’m envious.”

As remarkable as Currier’s commitment to the sport is, it comes as no surprise to Schreiber, who was a senior at Princeton when Currier was a freshman, majoring in engineering.

“I used to see a similar kind of work ethic and dedication back then,” Schreiber said. “After practice, I’d see him going down to what's called the ‘E Quad,’ which is just for engineering students. I didn't spend a second there [laughs], but you could already see what he was made of in terms of being motivated and being really disciplined about his time.”

Those are just some of the qualities that attracted Andy Copelan, head coach of the PLL’s expansion Waterdogs LC, which drafted Currier first overall in the entry draft in May.

“Zach checks all the boxes,” Copelan said. “What really impresses me is just how humble and unassuming he is. Yes, he’s remarkably competitive and is the ultimate team player, but his ability to connect with people is extraordinary.”

And it’s something that defines the PLL, which is strategically modeled for players to connect with the fans.

“At Greenwich Country Day [in Connecticut], I'm building the high school program down there,” Copelan said. “When COVID hit, we did a bunch of Zoom program just trying to keep kids engaged. I had Zach jump on to one of these Zooms, and I was honestly blown away by him. To see just how easy it was for him to connect with the kids was really something special.”

To those who know Currier, his tireless work ethic and devotion to the sport is legendary. But his ability to  take over a game and make those around him better is why Copelan drafted him first.

“I followed Zach's career in high school all the way throughout Princeton and certainly the professional world,” Copelan said. “The first part of what I did when I was named the head coach was to go back and watch film of all the games from last year trying to kind of come up with what style and what philosophy would be best suited for this team and allow the Waterdogs to really take a run at a championship here.

“I think you have to be great between the arcs, and that is where Zach really thrives. He is a throwback middy in the sense that he can do absolutely everything. He can face off, he can be on the wings, he can play offense, play defense, he’s great going in transition both ways — I could see [him as] the short stick on our man-down being on man-up, so literally, like, every aspect of the game.”

If there was any doubt that Currier was expected to have an immediate impact in the PLL, Copelan chuckled at the question.

“These games are 48 minutes,” Copelan said. “I don't know that he’ll play all 48 minutes, but I can imagine he gets awfully close.”

Currier, who is in the PLL’s concussion protocol and missed Tuesday’s game against the Archers, is ready to meet those expectations.

“I don't know anybody else in the world that has their game tailored better towards these new rules than me,” he said. “I don't plan on spending much time on the bench.”

Schreiber couldn’t agree more. “I'm sure he could too [play 48 minutes],” he said. “You know, that’s just the type of guy he is, like an endless motor, and that’s really the way he's played for as long as I’ve known him.”

What really impresses Schreiber, who Currier says is his idol, is Currier’s ability not just to play a lot of minutes, but to make the most of every one of those minutes he plays.

“He has so many different skill sets. You just don't see guys operate at such a high level in so many different parts of the game,” Schreiber said. “His ground ball play is second to none. If the ball is on the ground and Zach Currier is within 10 yards of it, it’s probably a pretty solid chance he's going to end up with the ball. He’s as good as anyone with the ball in his stick. To prepare to play against a guy like that, it’s a nightmare. He's an elite player in all facets of the game.”

Adler unapologetically gushes about his former teammate, hailing him as the “best player in the world right now,” even comparing him recently to Michael Jordan in a story for Pro Lacrosse Talk.

“If I’m competing for a championship, the one player I want on the field next to me is Zach,” Adler said. “He’s that good. And everyone is going to find that out now.”

The comparison to MJ came on the heels of the ESPN documentary series, “The Last Dance,” which chronicled the greatness of Jordan – something Currier laughs at but appreciates.

“It’s a bit of a stretch, but I do think we share a hatred of losing and a competitiveness that drives our work ethic to the extreme,” Currier said.

To fully understand Currier’s hatred of losing, one of the first things he talked about during this interview was the championship he didn’t get to play for.

“I played four years at Princeton and poured my heart and soul into that program, and I have nothing to show for it,” he said. “No Ivy league titles, no NCAA appearances and it still bothers me to this day.”

Before you start to feel sorry for Currier, who just turned 26, he will likely have to make some room on the shelf that is housing the championship trophies he did win.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he has double-digit championships by the time his career is over,” said Adler, who will miss Currier’s presence on the field now that he has moved on to the other professional outdoor league. “For all his talent, the thing I will miss the most is not having my friend in the locker room. He is a natural-born leader, and one of the most selfless players in the game.”

The decision to leave MLL for the PLL was not one Currier made lightly.

“It was extremely hard for me to leave my Denver Outlaws teammates and friends,” he said. “I was treated so well by the organization and developed some awesome relationships with everyone involved.”

For Currier, this next step in his journey is about validation.

“I want to prove to the world that I belong in the conversation as one of the best players in the world,” he said.

One would think that five championships in his back pocket puts him in that conversation already. And what about being selected first in the entry draft?

“That doesn't mean anything until I back it up this summer,” Currier said.

When Currier stepped on the field at Zions Bank Stadium in Utah for the PLL Championship Series, he did so without having practiced with his new team due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been a mental grind, with all the onus on me to get better,” he said. “But that’s mild compared to what people are missing without sports. I’m so incredibly grateful that we will get back on the field, but we want to make sure everyone — from the players, coaches and fans — are safe.”

The fan aspect is a feature of the sport Currier looks forward to capitalizing on.

“The fans are everything. Without them we don't have a league, so it is super important to have them engaged and feel like they are a part of the league,” he said. “I was that little kid not too long ago that would've died to hang out with one of the pro players, so I really look forward to giving back to that aspect of the game as much as I can.”

Following a tireless year of crisscrossing North America by flight plans and road trips, Currier spent the last four months catching up on some much-needed rest and sleep during this pandemic. But not one to sit still for very long, Currier found a way to fill the void of the extra hours he’s not used to having during the day.

“I started a business with a few friends,” he said.

Of course he did.

“My friend Shane Sullivan approached me, my brother and a few of my teammates on the Peterborough Lakers to start Top Draft Lacrosse, which bridges the gap between kids that don’t quite know how to navigate the recruiting landscape, and we match them up with an NCAA school using our network,” Currier said. “There are tons of talented Canadian lacrosse players that may not get seen by a college coach and therefore not get recruited, so it is our job to get these kids to an NCAA school and hopefully get them a scholarship as well. We also offer skill development clinics and camps to help kids improve their game and get to the next level.”

As impressive and inspiring as Currier’s ambition is, he gives much of the credit to his parents for providing him the opportunity to grow into the person he has become.

“I was a super fortunate kid to have my parents put me in organized sports, and it paved the way for my future,” he said. “Without them putting me in hockey or lacrosse, I don't know where I'd be today.”

Eighteen years after his dad put him in the sport to toughen him up, today, Currier is one of the best lacrosse players on the planet.

“It's really hard to imagine Zach shying away on the field or avoiding contact or some sort of physical confrontation on the field, but that was a good decision,” Schreiber said. “They may have done it to toughen him up for hockey, but turns out, he's even better at lacrosse. That was a win for the sport.”

“He's worked for everything that he's gotten,” Copelan said. “I mean, he obviously has a God-given talent. But everything that he has gotten, he has earned.”

“You see guys like that who are really great players, but they are good in one or two things,” Schreiber said. “But there are very few who are as dominant on offense [as they are on] defense. If you're looking for somebody who can do everything, it starts with Zach Currier.”

When asked what advice he would have for his younger self, Currier did not hesitate.

“I would tell myself, ‘Don’t be such a baby,’” he said, laughing.

From a once-8-year-old boy who was never at a loss for words when he didn’t get his own way, there is one thing that Currier remains silent about, and that is what he thinks the state of lacrosse and the PLL is today.

“I'm going to leave this one blank,” he said. “There's still lots of work to do.”