(CHATHAM, ON) – There are two types of lacrosse players.
No. We are not talking about the differences between field and box lacrosse players. Instead, Canadian box players who also play hockey and those who don’t.
The two sports go hand in hand. Summer and Winter. Fire and ice.
Regardless, the major difference in the two sports is enrolment. The number of hockey players in Canada dwarf their lacrosse-playing brethren. Because of lacrosse’s smaller numbers, the bond, the fraternity between its players, is stronger and more resilient.
You hear this from lacrosse coaches from across this country and at some level it is true. Meeting another lacrosse player randomly in a social setting often leads to lengthy, long-winded exchanges in personal exploits.
Austin Thompson has been a long-time fixture of both the Windsor Clippers lacrosse club and Chatham Maroons of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. A core member of both teams and an offensive dynamo in hockey, he has been joined this season by long-time Clippers teammate Noah Bushnell for the playoff push.
Bushnell has spent the past four seasons in major junior with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL and Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL.
Thompson started his junior hockey career with the Wheatley Sharks in Junior C and quickly made a name for himself, getting promoted to Junior B in 2015. During his time in Wheatley, Thompson was paired up with another former Clipper, Brendon Anger.
“When it came to playing with Anger during my first two years of junior hockey, it allowed me to grow a form of solidarity, knowing that I was able to look up to him, ask for advice when it came to playing the game,” said Thompson. “So now, playing with my teammate, Bushnell, there is already a familiar connection which works in our favour.”
Bushnell emphasized that the lacrosse-based familiarity is more about comradery than on-ice synchronicity due to their varied roles in hockey.
Austin, who scored his 100th point with the Maroons on February 4, is a skilled forward, while Bushnell is a solid forward and plays the role of the tough guy in both sports.
“The familiarity from lacrosse I have with Thompson doesn’t transfer to hockey as much as a person would think,” Bushnell opined. “Thompson plays two very different roles in lacrosse compared to hockey.”
In lacrosse, they are both considerably different players. Obviously, Bushnell is still the tough guy on the Clippers, but he can score too, and has no fear in regards to bombarding the net in the summer.
On the other hand, Thompson is a transition player in lacrosse and has less responsibility in the scoring department, despite being an important part of the Clippers’ core. One thing they definitely agree on as important is the role of lacrosse in a hockey player’s development.
“Hockey is meant for the winter and kids shouldn’t just be playing hockey year round for ten or more years,” said Bushnell. “It is important to take a break from hockey in the off-season because it lets you appreciate the game so much more and develops many other skills for hockey while playing a summer sport like lacrosse.”
“There should be a break for the kids,” agreed Thompson. “Every hockey player deserves down time before the next season begins. Just because it is summer break does not mean they should not continue to work on their skills by getting into another sport.”
Both players also praised how lacrosse had affected their play in hockey.
“My hand-eye coordination continues to improve with the constant use in lacrosse,” said Thompson. “Foot speed is another important part in playing both sports, so when it comes to speed, both sports complement each other.”
Bushnell added, “Lacrosse offers a large range of skill development for hockey players and other dual sport athletes.”
But, their focus now is on the GOJHL playoffs; they are in hockey mode.
“My season with the Maroons is going very well,” said Thompson, who leads his team in scoring. “We are very excited for the upcoming playoffs. We have a great group of guys with a tremendous amount of talent, which gives us the potential of making a deep run in the playoffs.”
“Everyone in our dressing room wants a ring,” added Bushnell. “We are all very excited and, yes, we have a very good chance to make [a championship] happen.”
The Chatham Maroons sit second in the GOJHL’s Western Conference and are chasing the LaSalle Vipers for the regular season crown. The Maroons made a large number of high-profile acquisitions at the trade deadline in hopes of their first Sutherland Cup since 1999.
But, when spring hits, it will be back to white balls and sneakers, as Thompson enters his final year of junior lacrosse with the Clippers.
“When people say time goes by fast, it really does,” reflected Thompson. “I am really looking forward to this upcoming lacrosse year, getting together with my teammates, and making my last push to winning a Founders Cup.”
Bushnell has a year to go after this coming lacrosse season, but he also feels it is time for their team to make the quantum leap.
“I’m looking forward to this season a lot and have been since the end of last year,” said Bushnell. “We should have won last year, and with only a few players leaving this year, we have another very good chance of making another big push.”
The Maroon’s playoff picture will become clear when the season ends on February 26; a home game against the London Nationals. Their next home game has major implications as they go head-to-head with the first place Vipers on February 19 at 7:00pm.
The Windsor Clippers lacrosse season commences April 26 when Windsor travels up the 401 to meet the London Blue Devils. The Clips’ home opener takes place on April 29, when they host the Hamilton Bengals at Forest Glade Arena. Game time is 7:00pm.