When the New York Riptide walked off the Nassau Coliseum field following an 11-7 loss to the Georgia Swarm on March 7th 2020, little did they know that it would be quite a while before they would be back on that field or any other field in the National Lacrosse League for quite some time. Four days later, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and that changed the lives of so many people around the world. Because of the pandemic, professional sports went on hiatus and it ultimately led to the NLL cancelling the remainder of the 2019-20 season and the entire 2020-21 campaign.
In the words of Billy Joel, “there’s a storm front coming” and for the first time in 21 months, the NLL is back in business.
On Saturday night, the Riptide will open the 2021-22 season when they welcome to Rochester Knighthawks to the Nassau Coliseum. The team has undergone a lot of changes in the 636 days since their last game and their inaugural season came to an end with a 1-12 record. The roster was completely overhauled by NLL Hall of Fame defenseman Jim Veltman who was named General Manager and eleven-year NLL veteran defenseman Dan Ladoceur who was named the team’s new Head Coach.
The resumes of the new hierarchy certainly puts the “D” back in Riptide but this is also a team that should be much better offensively as well. 2019-20 NLL Rookie of the Year Tyson Gibson, the first overall pick in the 2019 draft, is joined by 2020 1st overall pick Jeff Teat and prized free agent acquisition Callum Crawford who was the NLL’s leading scorer in 2019-20 with 33 goals and 43 assists for 76 points playing for the New England Black Wolves.
For the Riptide, the waiting is over.
“This is what we live for if you’re a lacrosse junkie like I am,” said Veltman. “This is my drug. I can’t wait to get started. It’s been too long. We’ve been rebuilding this thing for over 15 months now.”
Riptide fans will need a roster sheet when they enter “The Barn” on Saturday night because there’s only a handful of players remaining from the 2019-20 squad. Captain Dan MacRae, goalie Gowah Abrams and forwards Tyson Gibson, Jake Fox and Long Island native Kieran McArdle are the only players on the active roster that played for the Riptide during their inaugural season. Forwards Ryan Fournier (injured reserve) and Dan Lomas (physically unable to play) are the only other holdovers from a roster that has undergone a more than 70% overhaul.
There will be a lot of eyeballs on Teat, a dynamic offensive threat who played college lacrosse at Cornell and made his professional debut this past summer outdoors in the Premier Lacrosse League.
“Definitely very excited,” said Teat. “It’s been a long time for everybody who has played box lacrosse. I haven’t really played a box lacrosse game in over two years so it’s going to be exciting to step out on the floor. I think the PLL definitely prepared me well. It was awesome to play in that league.”
(Photo courtesy of Stacey Salter @icimageworks)
Indoor lacrosse, or box lacrosse as it is more commonly referred to across North America, has a rich tradition on Long Island. Prior to the Riptide, there were three other indoor lacrosse teams who called the Nassau Coliseum home. The Long Island Tomahawks played just one season (1975) in the Eagle Box Lacrosse League, the New Jersey Saints relocated to Long Island and became the New York Saints of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League (now NLL) from 1989 to 2003 and then the New York Titans played at “The Barn” in 2007.
“I remember that building,” said Veltman, an NLL Hall of Fame defenseman who won eight championships as a player during a sixteen-year career and was a visiting player at Nassau Coliseum during his days with the Buffalo Bandits and Toronto Rock.
With the NHL’s New York Islanders having left the Nassau Coliseum for their new home, the Riptide will try to do their part and replace all of the championship banners and retired numbers that the Islanders had raised to the rafters but have brought less than ten miles west with them to UBS Arena.
The Riptide will now be the occupants of some lavish space that the Islanders left behind when they moved out.
“We have the main dressing room that the Islanders used to have so we’re excited about that,” said Veltman. “Taking over that space is exciting.”
Lacrosse is incredibly popular on Long Island and the Riptide organization worked hard during the hiatus to keep themselves active in the community and to introduce box lacrosse to so many young players.
“Long Island is definitely a hotbed,” said Teat. “I have a lot of friends that have played lacrosse there. They’re saying it’s the best place on earth so I’m excited.”
Everyone in the Riptide organization, as well as their fans, are excited for the National Lacrosse League’s return and the start of the 2021-22 season.
It’s only been a year, 8 months and 27 days in-between games but who’s counting?