And now, it gets very real.
On December 11th of last year, the National Lacrosse League awarded an expansion team for New York to GF Sports that would bring box lacrosse back to the Nassau Coliseum. This past February 18th, that new team was officially named the New York Riptide.
There were other milestones along the way like the hiring of Regy Thorpe as General Manager and Head Coach, the expansion draft and entry draft, free agency, a tryout camp and training camp. And now, the waiting is over as the Riptide begin their inaugural season on the road Saturday night against the Halifax Thunderbirds (6pm B/R Live).
“I can’t tell you how excited our staff is and our organization is,” said Thorpe. “It’s been a combination of building up. Everyone has done a great job. A lot of hard work has gone into it and I’m just excited for the organization, for the players and for the fans to see our product on the floor.”
As an expansion team, the Riptide will feature a mix of veterans and rookies. From a leadership standpoint, the team has a strong group of players with extensive NLL experience including the likes of forwards John Ranagan, Tyler Digby, and Kieran McArdle, goalie Alex Buque, face-off specialist Alex Woodall, and defensemen Dan MacRae and Andrew Suitor.
MacRae, the former Calgary Roughnecks captain, was named this week as the first captain in Riptide history.
“To be appointed a leader within a group of men at the highest skill level and caliber of their profession, it’s a huge honor and it doesn’t come lightly,” said MacRae. “It’s a huge honor to be doing it and looking forward to learning together as a group.”
Youth will be served on the Riptide as well with a plethora of talented young players like first round picks Tyson Gibson, a forward that was taken first overall, and defenseman Tyson Bomberry who was taken tenth overall. Third round pick Travis Longboat, a forward from the Six Nations Arrows had an impressive training camp and is expected to be a big part of the offense.
A lot of work went into putting this roster together and the Riptide hierarchy is excited to see the finished product.
“We like our guys,” said Thorpe. “We like our mix and at the end of the day, we’ll see exactly what it is on Saturday. I know our staff really believes in the guys that we got. We feel that have guys that will rise to the occasion and are hungry and gritty. We’re excited for them to showcase that on Saturday night.”
In their first ever game, the Riptide will invade what is expected to be hostile territory at Scotiabank Centre for the first home game in Halifax Thunderbirds history. To prepare for what lies ahead on Saturday night, the Riptide tried to replicate similar conditions during the final days of training camp.
“I’m assuming it’s going to be a loud atmosphere,” said MacRae. “We had the music playing at the last practice to try and simulate some of the noise and that sort of thing. They have a ton of good players there and a lot of weapons on the offensive side of the ball.”
Halifax is a new NLL market but the Thunderbirds are not an expansion team. The club relocated from Rochester after a 6-12 2018-19 season as the Knighthawks (the new Rochester Knighthawks joined the Riptide as this year’s NLL expansion teams). The Thunderbirds have a talented roster led by forwards Cody Jamieson, Kyle Jackson Ryan Benesch, Chris Boushy and Austin Shanks along with Graham Hossack who is considered to be the premier defenseman in the NLL.
It won’t be an easy task for the Riptide in their inaugural game.
“We have our work cut out for us for sure,” said Thorpe. “They’re a veteran laden team that has a lot of experience. Our guys are excited for the opportunity for the challenge on the road.”
The Riptide played several scrimmages against other NLL teams during training camp, but for the most part they have been practicing against themselves and the start of the season means the opportunity to play for real against another team. It’s one thing to try and bring the intensity in practice against your own teammates but now it’s time to take things up a notch against an opponent in a game that counts.
“We’re excited to finally start battling against somebody in a different colored uniform,” said MacRae. We’re excited to finally prove ourselves against another team and we’re excited to go into Halifax and try to spoil part of their party.”
The Riptide have enjoyed many “firsts” so far since the expansion club was announced last year. And while a big focus is on the home opener at Nassau Coliseum on December 28th, it all starts for real for the Riptide on Saturday night in Halifax.
Time to “Get Pulled In” for real!