When Riptide General Manager and Head Coach Regy Thorpe was behind the United States bench this past September at the World Lacrosse Men’s Indoor World Championships in Vancouver, he was able to get a first-hand look at a player that has turned out to be a key member of the Riptide during their expansion season. On that USA team was forward Connor Kelly, who the Riptide had selected from the San Diego Seals in the third round of the expansion draft.
All Kelly did was rack up 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points in four games in leading the United States to the bronze medal.
“Just getting to know Connor during our U.S. Indoor process the last couple of years, we feel his upside is huge,” said Thorpe. “He had a great (tournament) for us. We were really happy getting him from San Diego. He’s filling the role nice and fitting into (offensive coordinator Marshall) Abrams’ offense.”
Not only was that an opportunity for Thorpe to get to know Kelly but it was also a chance for Kelly to have a chance to play for Thorpe.
“That was an awesome experience to be part of the USA team and wear those colors and get to know Regy was huge,” said the former star at the University of Maryland. “That’s when we started to build our relationship. He’s just an awesome coach so it was awesome to get to know him and now play for him.”
The 24-year old Kelly had his breakout game of the season this past Saturday with four goals and an assist in the Riptide’s 13-9 loss in Calgary. Through eight games this season, Kelly is tied for 2nd on the team with 11 goals, tied for third with 14 assists and tied for third with 25 points. Known for his outside shot, Kelly was able to get some good looks down low in front of the net on Saturday and the result was his best game of the season.
“It was definitely nice,” said Kelly, a native of Easton, Connecticut. “I’m learning game by game, trying to get better. It just was what Calgary was giving us in the game. We were working a lot of two man from our offense. I was able to go underneath a couple of times so I just took what was given to me.”
Kelly is a potential future star in the National Lacrosse League and along with the other young players on the roster like Tyson Gibson, Jean-Luc Chetner, Tyson Bomberry and Travis Longboat, the Riptide has assembled a nucleus of youth that will be essential for building a championship level franchise.
For San Diego last season, Kelly played in 7 games totaling 9 goals and 8 assists for 17 points. He has taken that experience from being with an expansion team a year ago and has certainly built on that this year with the Riptide. He is tied for second on the team with 90 shots and is third on the team with 56 shots on goal.
But what he has shown, especially this past Saturday night, is that he no longer has to rely on his outside shot. Aided by the likes of Gibson and Tyler Digby clearing some space for him in front of the net, Kelly was able to get to the dirty areas and produce a lot of offense for the Riptide.
“He’s developing his inside game and I think he can be a dual threat which is huge for us,” said Thorpe. “He’s young but Connor is a pretty poised player. He’s pretty calm and his high lacrosse IQ. He just plays with a lot of poise and it’s contagious.”
At Maryland, Kelly enjoyed a great career for the Terrapins with 128 goals and 63 assists for 191 points in 76 games over four seasons. In 2018, Kelly had a terrific senior campaign with 46 goals and 36 assists for 82 points and he was a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award (the lacrosse version of the Heisman Trophy). Kelly was a two-time first-team All-American, a three-time NCAA All-Tournament Team selection and was named to two All-Big Ten squads.
In addition to playing for the Riptide, Kelly plays in the outdoor Premier Lacrosse League and on Wednesday was selected first overall in the PLL Expansion Draft by the Waterdogs Lacrosse Club. Kelly will be reunited with Riptide teammate Kieran McArdle who was taken in the 7th round. Kelly played for the Whipsnakes in the PLL last season tallied 10 goals to go along with 8 assists for 18 points in 8 games.
After being taken by the Seals in the third round of the 2018 NLL Entry Draft, Kelly spent one season in San Diego before joining the Riptide this season. He’s glad to be on a team that has so much promise for success down the road and an opportunity to play closer to home.
“I’m so happy to be a part of this new franchise,’ said Kelly. “I think we have a lot of talent and great leadership and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s awesome to play in front of a lot of friends and family. It’s been awesome to come back east.”
Kelly and the Riptide (1-8) are back in action on Saturday night when they visit the Georgia Swarm (7pm Bleacher Report Live and MSG). Back on January 18th, the Riptide recorded their only win of the season so far beating the Swarm 13-12 in overtime at the Nassau Coliseum.
There is certainly an expectation that Georgia (4-3) will be out for some revenge this week.
“It’s going to be a hard-fought battle,” said Kelly. “They’re going to be looking to come back at us so it’s going to be a battle for us just like every game. We’re really excited about heading down there and trying to get a “W”.”
Connor Kelly certainly has a bright future in the NLL with the Riptide. He’s a young up and coming star in this league and he will have the chance to grow with a young team just starting out. If last week’s performance is any indication, there are great things ahead for Kelly and that will also mean great things for the Riptide.