4 things you should know about Canada's 'other' national sport

Jan 4 2018, 3:50 am

When asked about Canada’s national sport, most people around the world would probably first think of ice hockey.

Hockey is Canada’s national winter sport, but our great country has a national sport for the summer as well – lacrosse. It’s a sport on display on a regular basis throughout winter and spring at the Scotiabank Saddledome, as home of the Calgary Roughnecks.

Though it has similarities to hockey, lacrosse has a ton of things to make it unique not only from hockey, but from any other sport.

1. History lesson

The origin of lacrosse actually goes much farther back than hockey. While hockey is said to have originated sometime in the early 1800’s, lacrosse can be traced back about 700 years earlier – around 1100 AD.

Of course, the variation played then differs widely from the current version.

Played mostly in the eastern half of North America, the game was first known as stickball.

Back then, the game was on a much larger scale. Groups of hundreds, even thousands would play on fields that were sometimes several miles long.

But the game didn’t really take off until Europeans saw the game played. That’s when lacrosse got its name (in 1636 by Jean de Brébeuf) and over time developed into the more structured game that’s played today.

2. The basic rules

Lacrosse has a few different formats, but the most common one – the one used in the National Lacrosse League where the Calgary Roughnecks play – consists of six players on each team; five runners and one goalie.

The game is played in a similar arena to hockey, with the obvious difference being the turf replacing the ice as the ground surface.

Lacrosse games are 60 minutes long, divided into four quarters. Games typically have around 25 goals scored (combined), and the team with the most goals at the end wins. If there’s a tie, it goes to overtime until another goal is scored.

Each player has a lacrosse stick which is used to carry, shoot, and pass the ball. Unlike in hockey, since the ball can be held fairly securely in a lacrosse stick’s pocket, there is a shot clock implemented.

Similar to basketball, a 30-second shot begins when a team gains control of the ball. This continues to tick down until the team loses possession or puts a shot on goal. The 30-second clock begins again when a team regains possession.

There is also an eight-second timer. A team must bring the ball across centre (into the offensive zone) within eight seconds of gaining possession. Failing to do so is a violation that results in the other team getting the ball.

Just like in hockey, there are face-offs to start each play after a whistle, although there are far less stoppages in lacrosse due to no icings or offsides.

Bodychecks and stick-checks are also part of the game, and subsequently, penalties can be called when an infraction occurs.

3. Players and salaries

NLL rosters consist of 20 players although, as mentioned, only six can be on the floor at once.

Unlike the major sports leagues in North America, the NLL isn’t large enough to provide players with lucrative salaries. In fact, players don’t even get enough to make a living off of.

Consider that in 2013, the average player salary was $19,135, with max salary (for the best players in the league) of around $34,000.

That’s not much, which is why most NLL players have full-time jobs when they aren’t playing.

The best of the best lacrosse players can play full-time due to sponsorships, endorsement deals, and outside merchandise.

But most have to grind, working nine-to-five jobs during the week to live out their dreams on the weekends.

4. Schedule and league format

Image: Calgary Roughnecks / Twitter

The NLL regular season runs from December through April, with playoffs taking place in May and June.

The Roughnecks play home games on Friday and Saturday nights, beginning at 7 pm. Teams typically play one game each week, and there are 18 games in each season.

Here’s Calgary’s remaining home schedule:

Date Opponent
Sat, Jan 13 Georgia
Sat, Jan 27 Saskatchewan
Sat, Feb 10 Colorado
Fri, Feb 16 Vancouver
Sat, Mar 17 Rochester
Sat, Mar 24 Toronto
Sat, Apr 14 Buffalo

The NLL currently has nine teams divided into two divisions, with Calgary among four teams in the West, and five in the East.

At the end of the regular season, the top three teams in each division qualify for the playoffs. The top team in each division earns a bye, while the second and third seeds face off in a one-game playoff.

The winner of that game then faces the top seed of their respective division in the Division Final. This was previously a best-of-three series, but as of the 2018 season, this is now a single game knockout as well.

The two winners of the Division Final advance to the finals, which is a best-of-three. The winner is awarded the Champion’s Cup.

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