Saturday, September 3, 2011

Boston Blazers Suspend Operations, Leave a Hole in the Boston Lacrosse Scene

The professional lacrosse teams in Boston are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

The fact that one plays the field version of the game in Major League Lacrosse and the other was part of the indoor National Lacrosse League isn’t the only thing that separates the two teams.

Four days after the Boston Cannons won the MLL championship—their first in franchise history—management for the Boston Blazers announced that the team would suspend operations for the 2012 season. While not participating in the league, management will look for a place to relocate the Blazers for the 2013 season, in a local and national search.

In both leagues the Boston franchises were top draws. This past year the Cannons finished the regular season with a league-best record of 9-3 in addition to their championship. They had a total attendance of 51,971 and an average of 8,661 fans per game, both good enough for second-best in the six-team league.

The big draw for the Cannons is midfielder Paul Rabil, who is arguably the best lacrosse player in the world today and is also the most marketable. The Johns Hopkins alumnus and is a two-time MLL MVP.

Joining him on the field is local-product Max Quinzani, who grew up in nearby Duxbury, Mass. and was a familiar face to lacrosse fans playing his college ball at Duke.

The championship was long overdue for the Cannons, a member of MLL since the league’s inception in 2001. In the past two seasons the Cannons, although a favorite to win it all, lost in the semifinals both years. They’ve made the playoffs nine seasons out of 11 (including this season) however they only reached the championship twice, finally winning it all this year.

Watching Rabil lift the championship trophy was a joyous moment for Boston lacrosse fans. It is unfortunate for such a passionate fan base that darker winter days lay ahead.

In three seasons since joining the NLL, the Boston Blazers never were able to make it out of the first round of the playoffs, losing in round one all three years. Despite the lack of success in comparison to the Cannons the Blazers were still a big attraction in the league.

In the 2010 season they averaged 8,712 fans per game which was 51 more fans than the Cannons and an increase from the 2009 season, where the Blazers had an average attendance of 6,620 fans.

The Blazers made headlines last year when they added star power to their lineup. The team already had Dan Dawson, the 2009 league MVP, and All-Star goalie Anthony Cosmo. They then went out and acquired Josh Sanderson, an NLL veteran who eclipsed the 1,000 point mark this past season, and 2010 MVP and lacrosse legend Casey Powell.

Powell, Dawson and Sanderson—nicknamed “The Big Three”—all finished in the top three in voting for the league MVP in 2010 making it the first time in professional sports history that the top three candidates for league MVP one season were teammates the next.

Expectations were high and ultimately the team disappointed, unable to break .500 during the regular season (8-8) and not winning a championship. Fans still came out and supported the team however and were excited to see what would happen in 2012 when the players would have even greater chemistry after playing a full season together.

The Blazers fans now face a lose-lose situation, in addition to missing out on the upcoming NLL season.

A major reason for the team’s financial woes is because they rented space from the TD Garden (where the Celtics and Bruins play) at a high cost but did not see any of the money made off of parking and concessions. So team president and general manager Doug Reffue will conduct a six-month search to evaluate potential new venues that are more economically beneficial to the team.

The search could mean that the team moves outside of the Boston or New England area all together. This would leave the fans with no team at all, which is never a happy thing.

The Blazers could also potentially stay local to Boston. However, while lacrosse fans would still have the team it wouldn’t be THEIR team, the one they made personal connections with so many players, the one that made headlines.

All players on the current roster will not be retained by the Blazers; rather they will go into a dispersal draft and spread around the league. That means no Dawson, who has been with the team all three years of its existence and been a fan favorite with his series of YouTube videos dubbed “The Danger Zone”.

That means no Powell, Sanderson, and Cosmo. They’d be without Kyle Rubisch, the team’s 2010 first round draft pick that was named to the NLL All-Rookie team last season.

The fans would also miss Kevin Buchannan, Greg Downing and Jack Reid, all prominent Blazers that also play for the Cannons.

It’s a better option than losing the team all together, but it won’t be the same.

So while the Cannons rejoice after finally lifting the trophy, the other side of Boston professional lacrosse will go dark with the long Boston-winter nights.

Happy days for Boston lacrosse fans have come to a stop in such an abrupt fashion. But maybe that will make them yearn for the Cannons even more come May and help them avoid the same fate as the Blazers.

2011 Boston Blazers Video Introduction from YouTube.

Photo Credits.
Dan Dawson: photo from the New England Lacrosse Journal,
Paul Rabil: Larry French/Getty Images

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