By GERALD ESKENAZI APRIL 27, 1975
A sport in which crosschecks are legal, goaltenders score and the ball crosses the goal line 30 times game, leaps into Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday when the National Lacrosse League makes its first appearance in the New York area.
The Long Island Tomahawks, who spent last year in Rochester before moving to suburban Uniondale, L.I., will face the Montreal Quebecois in the opener. There are four other clubs in the league as it starts its second season: Maryland, Philadelphia, Quebec and Boston.
“People are gonna love it,” says the Tomahawks’ Doug Hayes, a former laundramat salesman from Vancouver, British Columbia. “This indoor lacrosse is faster and rougher than anything they’ve ever seen.”
And when indoor lacrosse people talk about their sport, they compare it inevitably to hockey, with some exceptions: lacrosse, they say, is dirtier, faster, and rougher.
The teams play over the same “rink” size—200 feet by 85 feet. There are penalties and short‐handed situations. There are six players, including a goalie. But in lacrosse, there are echoes of the time in North America when Indian tribes played the sport and killed the losers, or perhaps only maimed them.
The indoor game has caught on in recent years. Now in Canada—where it was the national game before hockey took hold in the early part of this century—more youngsters are playing indoor lacrosse than the traditional outdoors version.
“Indoor lacrosse is more of a game of rebound and reflex,” explained the Tomahawks’ coach, Morley Kells. He was the first winner last year of the Lester B. Pearson Award for contributions to the sport in Canada.
Because the indoor area is much shorter than the 100‐yard outdoor area, a premium is put on quick, short, forward passing. There are few “line rushes,” with lateral passing, as in hockey. The ball is constantly in the air. There is a 30‐second clock, and a shot must be taken in that time.
When a team is shorthanded, it has only 10 seconds to bring the ball into the other team’s zone, where it must kill the penalty. If it fails to bring the ball in, it loses possession.
“You need good legs in this sport,” says the Long Islanders’ rookie goalie, Tim Barrie, who wears glasses. “You have to be in good shape. If you’re not, you stick out. The last man down the floor doesn’t fool anyone, which you can in hockey.”
He is a college student from Peterborough, Ontario, and like most of the players in the league he is well under the age of 30. The Tomahawks have only one player who is as old as 30.
The average salary in the league is about $15,000. This season the schedule has been increased to 56 games from 40, but it remains a relatively short season (over in October) and many of the players are Canadian college students. The money is acceptable to them.
The backbone of the league —and chairman of the Tomahawks—is Bruce Norris, the head of the Detroit Red Wings and a powerful man in financial and sports circles. Even with his formidable image, the league has not gained instant acceptance.
In the last two years new World Hockey Association entrant and a World Football League team left New York with a trail of debts as the only reminder that they once were here.“This makes it tough on us,” admits Kells. “When we go any place, they want us to pay in advance.”
“This is a completely physical sport, and that’s one of the major Ingredients American fans like,” says Norris. “That’s one of the drawbacks that soccer has had so far. There hasn’t been enough action for the United States fan.”
Fans are needed, of course, to help pay the food and hotel bills and salaries. The ticket prices at the Coliseum will be $6.50 and $4.50, with special rates for youth groups. About 7,000 fans a game are needed for the Tomahawks to break even. The club does not expect to break even for a while.
In a few weeks, the squad may be joined by Rick Dudley, who punched in 31 goals with the Buffalo Sabres during the recent National Hockey League season. Dudley and the Sabres are in the Stanley Cup semifinals now. He scored 81 goals in 28 games last season with the Tomahawks, who then were the Rochester Griffins. He has to talk contract with the Tomahawks (“he’s in the 50 per cent tax bracket, and we have to make it worth his while to play for us,” explains Kells.).
Another player for the Tomahawks may be Graeme Gair, a physician who runs a general practice in Mississauga, Ontario. If his business slows down enough in the summer, and the Tomahawks really need him, he probably will suit up for them.
Without the high‐scoring Dudley, and after a strange spring‐training arrangement, the Tomahawks have dropped their first two games. They play game three at Boston tomorrow, and then their home opener on Wednesday.
Because the Coliseum has been tied up with the Islander’s ice, the lacrosse team worked out at one of NasSau County’s best‐kept secrets, a magnificent gymnasiumrink complex in Freeport.
“When the weather’s been good we practiced on the outdoor ice rink,” said Kells. “But whenever it rained we had to workout inside.”
In the spanking‐new gym the club has had to use a no‐bounce ball, which does not scuff the floor. As result, their timing has been off since in regular games they use a high‐bounce ball.