Just Keep Going: Commotio Cordis Survivor Suits Up for USA Select

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Peter Laake at the USA Lacrosse National Team Development Program Combine in August. The Loyola Blakefield (Md.) sophomore will compete for the USA Select U16 team in the Brogden Cup.


Peter Laake still gets questions from other players, sometimes even during games.

“I’ll get asked every once in a while — it’s kind of slowed down a little — if I’m the kid,” Laake said. “Some people come up to me. It’s not the worst. I’ve heard it a lot.”

Yes, Laake tells them, he is the kid who nearly died on the lacrosse field — the Loyola Blakefield (Md.) defenseman who absorbed a shot to the chest and went into cardiac arrest April 16 only to be revived by an AED. He survived the rare but lethal phenomenon known as commotio cordis. Thanks to the swift response of athletic trainers and spectators, Laake lived and now goes by nicknames like Cardiac Pete and Harry Potter. He made a full recovery, returned to play for the Dons on May 4 and finished his freshman season in which he started on defense.

“It was a lot of fun when I came back,” Laake said. “The two weeks I was out, I realized how much I loved the sport. The whole summer I was playing throughout. Some people were tired of it. I just kept going. I thought it was so much fun to just keep going.”

Laake has kept performing at a high level. Already impressive as a starter at Loyola Blakefield alongside top rising seniors Billy Dwan (Syracuse) and AJ Larkin (Maryland), Laake was named to the 22-man roster for the 2021 USA Select U16 national team that will compete this weekend in the Brogden Cup.

“It’s definitely a little bit of a confidence booster,” said Laake, a promising prospect also with Division I potential. “There’s a lot of people that tried out for it and a lot didn’t make it, a lot of good players. So making it is a confidence booster going into the fall and hopefully into the spring season.”

USA LACROSSE FALL CLASSIC

Men’s Teams: Canada, USA, Virginia
Women’s Teams: Boston College, Canada, USA
Brogden Cup: Ontario 16U/18U, USA Select 16U/18U, Haudenosaunee Nationals 16U/18U
Dates: Oct. 15-17, 2021
Location: Sparks, Md.
Schedule | Tickets

The U16 team will compete against teams from Ontario and the Haudenosaunee Nationals as part of USA Lacrosse’s Fall Classic in Sparks, Md., on Saturday and Sunday. The U.S. teams swept the Brogden Cup the last time it was contested in 2019. Coincidentally McCabe Millon, the Duke-bound McDonogh (Md.) star whose shot hit Laake in the April incident, starred on the American attack.

“It’ll be different,” Laake said. “I’ve played against Canadians and we’ll play the Iroquois. One of the kids at Loyola is coming in this year from Canada. Two of our attackmen, [Hayden] Celio and [Matthew] Burnam, both play a Canadian style of lacrosse. I feel like I’ve seen it before what they’re going to run, but it’s definitely going to be a little different. All six guys are going to be doing that, and it’s going to be a lot of flips and a lot of fancy passes. It’ll be a little different.”

It’s the sort of challenge Laake relishes. A sturdy 6-foot-2 defenseman who can play with a short stick or long pole, he fit everything that the select team was looking for in a defenseman.

“Peter is a standout as soon as you see him on the field, from a size perspective, athleticism and also from his lacrosse IQ,” USA Select U16 coach Adam Ghitelman said. “He’s a clear inspiration for our team. There’s not a player that’s been through what he’s been through on the lacrosse field. We’re going to call on him to be a leader right away.”







Laake isn’t expecting this weekend’s opponents to ask about commotio cordis, nor his rescue and return. But he knows his story has reached further and wider than he ever imagined it would. In the days and weeks that followed the episode, the lacrosse community showed an outpouring of support to Laake and his family.

“I thought it was really cool,” Laake said. “It shows how close the lacrosse community is that my story got around and a lot of people knew about it pretty quick. It was very cool throughout the summer keeping it going.”

Laake’s story brought calls for on-field AEDs, and it raised awareness of the importance of the implementation of the newly mandated shoulder pads that meet the NOCSAE performance standard ND200 for chest protection. Starting Jan. 1, 2022, all shoulder pads must contain the NOCSAE logo and be certified by the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) to be legal for play. Laake has been wearing the new pads since his return, as well as a Kevlar compression shirt to cover where he was hit at the insistence of his mother.

“The new technology doesn’t exactly cover the spot where I got hit, but I think it was a pretty freak accident,” Laake said. “With the other pad I have now, which I’d encourage other people to use if they’re scared about that, I feel pretty good.”

Through its Center for Sport Science, USA Lacrosse helped fund the groundbreaking research that led to the development of a NOCSAE chest protection standard that specifically guarded against commotio cordis. The sport’s national governing body also led efforts to require that all goalies (regardless of gender) this year and boys’ and men’s field players starting in 2022 wear equipment that meets the standard. USA Lacrosse worked with both the NFHS and NCAA to ensure the rule changes were universal.

Laake said he supports all these developments, but he added he does not worry about another incidence of commotio cordis as much as those who witnessed his dramatic rescue. Laake put his Loyola Blakefield teammates at ease when he laughed off being hit in the chest again in his second practice back. Dons coach Gene Ubriaco said he hasn’t see any apprehension or hesitancy in Laake.

“He honestly couldn’t have handled it any better,” Ubriaco said. “He’s a really easy going. He’s always got a smile. Nothing really phases him too much. He handled it very maturely. He’s more of a behind-the-scenes type guy, but I think he realized it was such an impactful event for so many people.”

Laake didn’t need the national team selection to confirm that he has come all the way back from commotio cordis. He understands all the attention it garnered, but has shifted his focus to his play and development. Ubriaco believes Laake is just as good as both Dwan and Larkin. Now a sophomore, he already has demonstrated growth this fall as a more vocal player.

“The options he’s going to have in front of him are pretty much everywhere,” Ubriaco said. “He has all the raw materials, but I think his self-belief, even for a humble guy, internally he knows he has the chops. It’s just a matter of working and getting better.”

Laake’s USA U16 selection also came as no surprise to Crabs Lacrosse coach Spencer Ford, who raves about his size and quickness, which is also an asset in his second-favorite sport, basketball.

“If you beat him on a move, you better shake his hand because it isn’t happening again,” Ford said. “His feet work so well. It has a great deal to do with his ability to play hoops and handle the ball. His movement is just amazing. The kid is one, big and physical, and the other thing that stands out besides him being an incredible young man, is his feet. You don’t have to say a word and you can put him on the best player in the country and he’s eliminated.”

Laake will be tested at another level this weekend against some of the best international players. It’s a chance to showcase his return and help the U.S. try to repeat as the Brogden Cup winner.

“We get the one practice Friday,” Laake said. “We’re going to have a good team. I hope we can go in, win a couple games and win the whole thing. I get to play with a lot of good players in the ’23 class and ’24 class. It should be a lot of fun.”

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