PHOTO COURTESY OF PREMIER LACROSSE LEAGUE

PLL MVP Blaze Riorden Among Goalies Hoping to Suit Up for U.S. in 2023


John Galloway could hardly believe his eyes the first time he watched Blaze Riorden on a lacrosse field. Then an underclassmen at Fairport (N.Y.) High School, Riorden accompanied the Rochester Rattlers and their head coach Tim Soudan, who was also his high school coach, to an away game against the Long Island Lizards at Hofstra University.  

“He was unbelievable,” Galloway recalled after seeing Riorden on the turf at Shuart Stadium during pregame warm ups. “I mean, just unbelievable hands.”

Instead of stopping shots racing at him over 100 mph, Riorden uncorked a few of his own. Galloway only later learned that the lefty with a powerful shot — the next Brett Queener, Soudan billed him — split his time between attack and goalie.

This summer, Riorden firmly cemented himself as the preeminent player at the latter of those positions. In doing so, the three-time Premier Lacrosse League Goalie of the Year for the Chaos who also plays forward for the National Lacrosse League’s Philadelphia Wings bolstered his case as being in a league of his own.

“There’s no question that he’s right now the best goaltender in the game, and you’d have to say top-five player,” Albany coach Scott Marr said.

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

Riorden was named the 2021 PLL MVP in the week leading up to the Chaos’ championship rematch with the Whipsnakes on Sept. 19. He then made 15 saves (63 percent) to lift the Chaos to a 14-9 victory and earn championship game MVP honors at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. It was his eighth game of the season stopping at least 60 percent of the shots he faced. As he did all season, Riorden also made plays outside the crease, collecting four ground balls and triggering the Chaos’ transition attack with immediate outlets after clean saves.

“This was the year where everyone could see how much a goalie could really change a season,” said Atlas goalie J.D. Colarusso, who backed up Riorden for three years at Albany.


“There’s no question that he’s right now the best goaltender in the game, and you’d have to say top-five player.”

— Scott Marr


Riorden played behind Galloway for three years with the Rattlers — first in Rochester after he was selected in the sixth round of the 2016 Major League Lacrosse draft by Soudan, and then in Dallas.

Even back then, Galloway said, it was easy to tell Riorden was destined to become an elite goalie in the pros. That trajectory was so apparent that Galloway asked him to stay with the Rattlers’ core and be the team’s starter when they made the leap to the PLL as the Chrome. But before Riorden showed the world what he could do with the Chaos, Galloway was most impressed with how supportive and humble he was in his less visible role.

After every practice, instead of getting extra reps for himself, Riorden took shots on him from 2-point range.

“He was willing to pay his dues and his time,” Galloway said.

Riorden has started every game for the Chaos in the PLL, but that practice has continued. Before the championship game, he warmed up Austin Kaut while still wearing his chest protector. He’s done the same for every other goalie (Dillon Ward in 2020 and Charlie Cipriano in 2019) on the team’s roster.

“He defines his success by our team’s success,” Chaos coach Andy Towers said in the week leading up to the championship game. “You’re not going to find a guy that is less impressed with himself. When the best player in the world and a team leader takes on that characteristic, which is a decision, it spreads in a very positive way throughout the locker room.”

Besides the warm-up drill called “Footy,” which Galloway taught him, Riorden said those three years with the Rattlers helped shape his leadership style. At the core is a relatively simple premise he learned from observing how Galloway and Joel White, who both played on the gold medal-winning 2018 U.S. team and retired together at the end of this season with the Chrome, operated in the locker room.

Actions speak louder than words.

“It’s not about how much you talk,” Riorden said. “It’s about how much you care and are a man of your words.”








That sentiment rang true with the Chaos, even after the team stumbled to an 0-3 start. Riorden kept his composure. Like the way he hones in on a shooter’s tendencies, he instinctively knew when to help the team settle down or when he needed to, in Riorden’s words, “light a fire.” When Riorden talks, Chaos defensive coordinator Ryan Curtis said, everybody listens.

“The reason people listen when he talks is because Blaze honestly believes 100 percent what he's saying,” Chaos defenseman Jarrod Neumann said. “He doesn't always say a ton of things, but when he does, he says something that’s really powerful. That’s what sets him apart.”

That belief and trust was evident throughout the second half of this season. The Chaos did not allow more than 10 goals after Aug. 1. The defense that experienced a letdown late in the 2020 title game held both the Atlas and Whipsnakes in the semifinal and championship, respectively, to single-digit scoring. Riorden even managed to outdo his historic level of play, improving his average save percentage from 61 to 63 percent in the postseason. Even more impressive, though, might be that in no game this season did that number fall below 54 percent.

“Anytime you play that consistently over a long period of time, your teammates become inspired to play in front of you,” Galloway said. 

Riorden will be back in goal Oct. 15 at the USA Lacrosse Fall Classic in Sparks, Md. He’ll be joined by Neumann, along with four other Chaos teammates (Mark Glinici, Mac O’Keefe, Patrick Resch and Jack Rowlett), suiting up for the U.S. team against Team Canada and the Virginia men’s lacrosse team.




PHOTO BY GREG WALL

Blaze Riorden is a two-time member of the U.S. men's box team.


The timing of the event makes Riorden’s presence all the more intriguing because of his dual existence as a PLL goalie and forward with the Wings. As such, he divides his life into seasons, indoor and outdoor.

“Besides Fall Classic, my goalie stick won’t be touched,” Riorden said eight days after the PLL final and during his first day of NLL-tailored training. “I focus on the season at hand.”

Apart from the training component, the biggest shift Riorden makes between the two disciplines is his outlook. Box requires a more free-flowing, creative perspective. To play his best in the goal, however, he feels like he needs to plant a chip on his shoulder. “Like it’s you against the world,” he said.

“This is the first time that I'm going to have to kind of balance the mindset of doing both,” Riorden said. “I’m going to have to find the fire and put together a good weekend of trials in the hopes that it lands me a spot that I’ve always dreamed of.”

A two-time member of the U.S. box team, Riorden still keeps the dream catcher in his bedroom that he received at the 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship hosted by the Onondaga Nation, where the U.S. took home a bronze medal. Given the chance to prove himself once again, the goalie who tracks the ball even when it’s on the other side of the field hasn’t lost sight of his next goal.

With Galloway retiring and Jack Kelly (Redwoods) only recently returning to professional lacrosse after a three-year absence due to complications from ACL surgery, the goalie competition for the 2023 U.S. team is wide open. Jack Concannon (Atlas) and Tim Troutner (Redwoods) also will play at the Fall Classic. Kelly and Adam Ghitelman (Archers) will suit up the ensuing weekend at USA Lacrosse headquarters in the World Lacrosse Super Sixes event.

“He’s had to earn everything he's gotten to this point,” Galloway said of Riorden. “If he goes in there excited and humble about the opportunity, I can't imagine there being anybody else that has the same leg up in terms of a position.”