High above the floor in the rafters of NYCB LIVE, home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, hangs a banner “NYSTROM 23” for legendary New York Islanders player Bobby Nystrom. He was a big part of the Islanders’ Stanley Cup dynasty from 1980 to 1983 with his leadership, physical play, and his knack for clutch goals including an overtime winner in 1980 that gave the Islanders their first Stanley Cup.
In their inaugural National Lacrosse League season, the Riptide has been fortunate to have its own “23” in forward Tyler Digby who plays a similar game on the turf as Nystrom did on the ice. Digby leads the Riptide in goals (12), assists (20), and points (32), but it’s what he brings to the team away from the scoresheet that has really meant a lot to a young team.
“I think that’s every player’s goal is to be able to contribute and I think that’s gone well for me this year,” said Digby, a native of New Westminster, British Columbia who now calls Wexford, Pennsylvania home.
What Digby has also been able to do is be a vocal and physical leader on the team.
Before the season, he was named an assistant captain and along with fellow assistant captain John Ranagan and team captain Dan MacRae he is part of an impressive leadership group for the Riptide. Being a leader is not just about putting the ball in the back of the net…it’s also about showing the young players the ropes and sticking up for your teammates when opposing players decide to take some liberties.
There have been a few occasions already this season when Digby has had to roll up his sleeves and come to the defense of a teammate.
“That’s something that I’ve done throughout my career,” said Digby who played lacrosse and football at Robert Morris University. “With a younger group, part of leadership is showing them how we need to be as a team and as a family. You don’t want to let that happen to your teammate so we have to all understand that we have to stick up for each other and that’s something that there’s a time and a place for. I try to pick spots when it’s going to hurt our team the least. I think it’s very important to show your teammates what you’re willing to do and I think that builds that family bond.”
Now in his 7th NLL season, Digby has racked up 163 goals, 212 assists and 375 points over 110 games with the Vancouver Warriors, Calgary Roughnecks, New England Black Wolves and now the Riptide. Left unprotected by New England after last season, the Riptide selected the 28-year old Digby in the 9th round of the expansion draft.
And he’s been everything that they could have hoped for.
“He’s been crucial for us,” said Riptide General Manager and Head Coach Regy Thorpe. “He’s putting some points up but it’s his leadership. We’re asking a lot out of him. He’s a veteran guy, he’s getting lots of touches and he’s playing a lot of minutes for us. He’s a big boy. He’s not afraid to get on people’s backs and get into the dirty areas.”
It should not come as a surprise that Digby has been an offensive force for the Riptide. He scored 27 goals last season for New England and also had a 38-goal season for Vancouver in 2014-15 and a 32-goal campaign for Calgary in 2015-16. But what he has been able to do this season on an expansion team with a lot of young players around him has been remarkable.
Digby knew that he was going to be counted on as a go-to guy.
“It’s something that I expected,” said Digby. “I think coming into a younger group, especially on the offensive end, I knew that I’d be looked upon to produce and to eat up minutes. I think our offense is really a five-man unit when we’re out there so it’s been just going out there when coach has asked me and trying to do my part in that.”
At each of his stops at the professional level, Digby has always been a contributor in terms of scoring and leadership, but he hasn’t worn a letter on his jersey since his junior lacrosse days. There are times when players, in any sport, talk about how a jersey feels a little heavier when there is a “C” or an “A” on it and that’s just something that comes with the territory of having the added responsibility.
Digby has experienced that first hand this season.
“I definitely agree with that,” said Digby. “You’re more aware and you feel the burden of that a little bit more when you have the “A” because you want to be the leader that produces. I try to not let that affect too much to what I do. There’s some extra responsibility that letter comes with but for the most part, I’m going to be the same guy that I have been for my entire pro career.”
Digby made an immediate leadership contribution during the Riptide’s season opening game in Halifax when Kieran McArdle accidently got his stick up high on a Thunderbirds player. A couple of Halifax players went after McArdle but Digby would have none of that and took care of business.
“Digby got rid of them,” said Thorpe. “He’s certainly a team guy. He doesn’t need to fight but certainly when you get in those scrums and dustups, you have to grab someone and he’s certainly not afraid to get his nose dirty and stick up for his teammates. The guys have a lot of respect for him.”
And Digby has certainly been impressed with his teammates, especially the young players like first overall pick Tyson Gibson and forward Jean-Luc Chetner. Both players have made strides since the beginning of the season and both have made their presence felt, much to the delight of Digby who made an immediate impact in his rookie NLL season.
“They’ve done a great job,” said Digby, the 2014 NLL Rookie of the Year when he had 22 goals and 36 assists for 58 points playing for Vancouver. “Especially Gibby. You’re starting to see his natural ability and his natural lacrosse IQ. Chetner has really impressed me. He started having to play some defense. Since he’s come up to the “O” gate, he’s brought a presence.”
After a bye week, Digby and the Riptide (1-7) head to Calgary this Saturday for a matchup with the defending NLL champion Roughnecks (2-4), a game you can watch on B/R Live starting at 9:30pm. It’s going to be a tough test for the Riptide on the road in a hostile environment.
“It’s a great place to play no matter if you’re home or away,” said Digby who played three seasons in Calgary. “The atmosphere that they have there is really good. We know how good of a team they are. We just need to enjoy that moment and go out there and put forth our best effort and when we do that we can hang with any team.”
Life can be difficult on an expansion team, especially when you’re a veteran player that has experienced winning. But Tyler Digby has embraced being a leader on the Riptide during their inaugural campaign and has contributed in many different ways. Bobby Nystrom was a fan favorite for the Islanders wearing number 23 for the Islanders back in the day and Tyler Digby is doing the same for the Riptide today.
Perhaps there is an NLL overtime championship winning goal in his stick as well.