By Craig Rybczynski – The Jr. NLL Tournament brings out some of the greatest names in the game with current players coaching the future stars of the indoor game. It is also common to see NLL owners, general managers, past players and Hall of Famers in the stands.
For former Knighthawks players Tim Soudan and Ron Cogan, the connection to the tournament goes beyond allegiance to their former club. What brought the past K-Hawks to Oakville, Ontario the final weekend of August was to watch their sons play for the junior versions of the Knighthawks.
Tim was attending his second straight Jr. NLL Tournament as his son, Tanner, has followed in his footsteps into the indoor game. Last year, Tanner played for the Bantam team and moved up to play at the Midget level this time around.
“I love how much he loves box lacrosse,” said the 49-year-old Soudan. “I don’t know why he was so drawn to it, but he has been. What a great improvement from last year that he and the team have had.
“We did a winter program last year with Blaze, Rhino Lacrosse and the Knighthawks, and I think that helped him a lot. I take a lot of pride in the fact that he really enjoys it. You are proud of your kid anyway. I am most proud of how hard he works when he is on the field.”
During the games, Tim sat in the stands with his wife, Colleen, and keenly watched the action. He tried to go unnoticed. He is not a lacrosse parent who yells and screams at his son’s every move. Tim knows his advice is best left for after the game.
“I just try to float to the background and just let him do his thing. It’s his time now,” he said. “It was fun to watch. These experiences are just going to make him better as a lacrosse player and better as a human being.”
Tanner gets his work ethic from his parents. He also had a pretty good lacrosse idol to follow in his dad, who played 11 of his 15 seasons of professional lacrosse with the hometown Knighthawks. The Fairport native played with the Knighthawks from the team’s inception in 1995 to 2005 and was inducted into the Knighthawks Hall of Fame in 2009.
On induction night it was a chance for Tim to share his career accomplishments with the fans and his family. Tanner, who was just 6 years old at the time, finally saw his father’s impact on the organization.
Fast forward to eight years later and that little boy is now a 14-year-old high school defenseman at Fairport High School and one of the standout transition players for the Jr. Knighthawks.
“I love to show my parents how much I have improved over the years,” said Tanner. “I really like to make them proud and try to be just like my dad.”
The Midget team, composed mainly of American-born players, surprised their competitors as they raced to a 3-1 division record to finish tied for first place with Calgary and Edmonton. The Jr. Knighthawks earned a reputation for winning close games as they edged the Jr. Stealth, Jr. Roughnecks and Jr. Mammoth all by one goal.
The Midgets advanced the farthest of any Jr. Knighthawks team, reaching the semifinals. Rochester dropped a 9-5 decision to the eventual champion Jr. Roughnecks, but did hand the Calgary team its only loss of the tournament. Tanner even scored one of the highlight-reel goals of the playoffs as he picked off a pass, eluded a defender and scored – all while being down two men.
After the game, he reflected on his second experience with the Jr. Knighthawks.
“I am actually very excited because last year we didn’t win a single game,” said Soudan. “I have seen our team improve so much over the course of this tournament. It was just a real great experience.”
Finishing with a 4-2 record and among the top teams in the Midget Division was something that impressed Tim Soudan. He praised Knighthawks players Brad Gillies and Luke Laszkiewicz, and the rest of the players for their commitment to the kids. That came in the form of an extended preseason training schedule and hosting the Knighthawks’ first Upstate Box Lacrosse Invitational. Tim noticed the Jr. Knighthawks teams improved across all three age groups: PeeWee, Bantam and Midget.
“I was impressed. Having such a good showing was really good to see,” said Soudan. “There was a lot of growth out of our guys; a lot of practices helped this year. I couldn’t be happier with the program and I think the coaches did a great job of playing everybody. There’s a lot of camaraderie that goes on in the locker room, too. It was a great experience all together.”
Along with “Soudo”, Ron Cogan was another former Knighthawks player who watched his son compete in the Jr. NLL Tournament. Ron’s son Chace was the youngest member of the Jr. Knighthawks at just 9 years old. A product of the Onondaga Redhawks, Chace was not intimidated by the older players and played fast and physical.
“It was an honor to see him play,” said Ron. “He worked hard, being as young as he is, and getting a chance at this level was great.”
Chace wore the same crest his dad did during the 2009 National Lacrosse League season. Prior to making his NLL debut, the former Knighthawks draft pick had a stellar career in senior, junior, junior college and international lacrosse. At the Senior “B” level, he won back-to-back President’s Cups (2010-11). In 2011, he was an assistant captain for the St. Regis Braves, and the previous season he served as the team captain for his hometown Onondaga Redhawks. In 2009, Cogan was awarded the Can-Am League’s Most Valuable Player award. In 2005, he was a member of the Can-Am champion Redhawks.
Cogan was also a veteran of the Iroquois Nationals, representing his nation on five separate occasions. In addition, he played junior college lacrosse at Herkimer County Community College and was a two-time First Team NJCAA All-American. Before making the jump to collegiate and senior ball, he was a three-year standout for the Junior “A” Six Nations Arrows and was named the All-Star Game MVP in 2000.
These days, the 38-year-old Cogan is watching his son play the game he loves. This summer, he got the chance to come back to Rochester each week to see Chace practice with the Jr. Knighthawks PeeWee team. He was also there to support his son at the Upstate Box Lacrosse Invitational, where Chace scored two goals and added one assist.
Two weeks ago, the family drove to Oakville to watch the Jr. Knighthawks compete against teams from Buffalo, Calgary, Edmonton, Georgia, New England, Philadelphia, Saskatchewan, Toronto and Vancouver. In the stands, Ron and his wife, Allison Crouse, cheered on Chace and the rest of the Jr. Knighthawks.
“It was exciting to watch him play, but scary at times because he is so young and playing with all these older kids,” said Ron. “But it’s a good learning experience and I hope he takes something away from this and realizes how much work he has to put in to achieve his goals.”
The Jr. Knighthawks battled through four hard-fought games, which set up a showdown with the Jr. Black Wolves on August 27 at Glen Abbey Recreation Centre. Rochester used a 7-0 run to open the contest and put away New England 17-5 to record its first win of the tournament. Chace picked up an assist in the victory.
“It was good to see them win,” said Ron. “The kids earned it.”
For Chace, the excitement was noticeable after the game as he flashed a smile when asked about playing for the Jr. Knighthawks.
“It was really fun to play with them,” he said. “I never played with them before. It was more fun than playing with the Redhawks.”
Like Tanner, Chace was too young to remember his dad wearing the teal and purple. However, being able to play for the Knighthawks was a memorable part of his first Jr. NLL experience.
“It’s really cool (to wear same jersey as my dad),” he said. “I enjoyed scoring, running and having fun on the floor.”