Vancouver Warriors lose out on local free agent stars to NLL rivals

Kevin Crowley, from New Westminster, and Port Coquitlam product Curtis Dickson were two of the biggest names on the National Lacrosse League’s open market

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The San Diego Seals are loading up in National Lacrosse League free agency, undoubtedly to the chagrin of some Vancouver Warriors fans along the way.

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New Westminster native Kevin Crowley and Port Coquitlam product Curtis Dickson were two of the biggest names on the open market. 

The right-handed snipers, who had been key players with the Philadelphia Wings and Calgary Roughnecks, respectively, both signed one-year agreements this weekend with the Seals, adding to an offence that already featured former league most valuable player Dane Dobbie, Austin Staats and Wesley Berg. 

It’s an impressive array of talent and particularly for a Seals team that won the West Division regular season last year at 10-8 and lost in the best-of-three West playoff finale to the eventual league champion Colorado Mammoth. Vancouver, who missed the playoffs at 6-12, went 2-1 against San Diego last season.

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The Seals hadn’t returned requests for interviews with any of their brass as of Sunday. It’s unknown where they sit with the salary cap, which is $530,000 for the 21-man active roster. Teams can go over but have to pay a luxury tax. The league usually doesn’t announce such things. The same goes for individual player salaries.

The Seals are owned by Joseph Tsai, who also owns the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets

As for the Warriors, general manager Dan Richardson says he made a pitch for Dickson “but he had already made his mind up.” Dickson, 34, has scored 40 or more goals in seven of his 11 seasons in the league. 

Kevin Crowley, then with the Chesapeake Bayhawks, during a June 2015 Major League Lacrosse game in Annapolis, Md.
Kevin Crowley, then with the Chesapeake Bayhawks, during a June 2015 Major League Lacrosse game in Annapolis, Md. Photo by Mitchell Layton /Getty Images files

Vancouver did have extensive discussions with Crowley, according to Richardson. Crowley had 25 goals and 89 points in 18 games last season with Philadelphia, marking the ninth time in 10 NLL campaigns that he has put up 70 or more points.

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“We offered him a substantial financial package,” Richardson said of Crowley, 33. “We were frustrated and upset, but we have to move forward.”

Richardson said the Warriors pursued other free agents, but declined to get into details. Other notables available included defender Kyle Rubisch, a Brampton, Ont., native who re-signed with the Saskatchewan Rush, and defender Chris Corbeil, an Oakville, Ont., product who left the Rush in favour of the Toronto Rock. 

An estimated 25 per cent of the league’s player pool is from the Lower Mainland. Most players in the league also work regular day jobs. The Warriors can sell to players from these parts that they only have to fly out for nine road games, instead of the entire 18-game schedule if they play in another city.

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Team captain and top defender Brett Mydske, a New Westminster native who signed on December 2019 with Vancouver after 10 seasons with the Rush, is the most significant free-agent signing to come home, so to speak.

“Even though we’ve made some strides there is some reluctance. We’ll have to keep showing our fans and these players that we are progressing and that this is going to be a playoff city,” Richardson said.

Then-Buffalo Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley strikes a pensive pose during a 2018 National Lacrosse League game in Buffalo, N.Y.
Then-Buffalo Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley strikes a pensive pose during a 2018 National Lacrosse League game in Buffalo, N.Y. Photo by Harry Scull Jr. /Buffalo News files

The season is expected to open in December. The schedule has not been announced. The Warriors’ biggest change will be behind the bench, where they brought in Troy Cordingley as head coach, replacing Chris Gill, whose contract wasn’t renewed.

The Vancouver Canucks had hired Richardson and Gill in June 2018 shortly after buying the Vancouver Stealth and relocating them from the Langley Events Centre to Rogers Arena. They rebranded the club shortly after that.

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The Warriors have gone 15-34 in the three seasons under the Canucks umbrella. They’re 40-99 in their past eight regular seasons, with a single playoff game to show for it.

Cordingley, 55, is one of the most successful coaches in NLL history. He was 103-83 in his 10 seasons behind the bench of the Roughnecks (2008-09), Rock (2010-13) and Buffalo Bandits (2014-18) and guided the 2009 Calgary team and the 2011 Toronto side to NLL Champions Cup titles.

He had most recently been an assistant general manager with the Bandits, but wanted to get back into coaching.

Cordingley lives in Orangeille, Ont., where he’s a Grade 2 teacher.  He was in town this weekend to meet with Richardson and players, as was assistant coach Phil Sanderson, another easterner who signed on with the Warriors at the same time as Cordingley.

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“It’s a challenge,” Cordingley said of building up the Warriors, “but there are some really good pieces here. 

“It’s a matter of everybody being on the same page. Our attitudes have to change from being interested in winning to being obsessed with winning. We want guys who will live and die for the team and will bleed black and gold and white. That’s the way it’s going to be. We’re not interested in guys who are half in.”

Vancouver will also be bolstered by the return to action of Mitch Jones, their best player who only got into four games last season due to a broken bone in his foot that required surgery.

Cordingley sees Jones as a “top three player in this league.”  Jones, a lefty forward, played for Cordingley in Buffalo before a trade brought the Delta native to Vancouver.

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Jones was second in NLL scoring, with 74 points including 28 goals, when the league shut down in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic with five games left on Vancouver’s 18-game regular season schedule. Jones had 12 goals and 26 points in his four starts with the Warriors last year.

Jones got into 14 of the New Westminster Salmonbellies’ 18 Western Lacrosse Association games this summer, producing 26 goals and 65 points along the way.

“Over the years I’ve seen him get better and better,” said Cordingley. “He’s a guy we will rely on heavily — not just production wise, but leadership wise.”

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