If you have been a Mammoth fan or an NLL fan for a bit, you may have heard Peterborough, Ontario and the Peterborough Lakers, a Senior A box lacrosse team in Major Series Lacrosse (MSL), come up in conversation between players and fans.
This September, as the Colorado Mammoth prepares for the 2019 NLL Entry Draft and the final stretch of the offseason, the Peterborough Lakers led by captain Robert Hope will compete against the Victoria Shamrocks in the Mann Cup box lacrosse championship series, hosted in Victoria, British Columbia.
The championship series for the Mann Cup is best-of-seven and is played between one team in the West (WLA) and one team in the East (MSL). The Mann Cup, donated in 1910 by Sir Donald Mann, is the trophy awarded annually to Canadian Senior A men’s box lacrosse champions. Peterborough has won the Mann Cup 16 times. (1951-54, 1966, 1973, 1982, 1984, 2004, 2006-07, 2010, 2012, 2017-18).
Hope, 28, has already won two Mann Cups as a defensemen for the Lakers, but that doesn’t minimize his drive or excitement for a third.
“For a lot of the guys I’ve had the opportunity to play with and who are still on the team, we grew up here,” said Hope. “We’re hometown guys. As young kids, we focused on the MSL and Mann Cups.
"I was fortunate to live down the street from Peterborough Memorial Centre so it was a bike ride or a walk to every game. I was there every home game and through the playoffs in September. Every Thursday night you had the opportunity to watch some great teams. To be part of that history, and tradition and to be one of those players is just amazing. To be able to have success and to be able to say you’re one of the players who has won a Mann Cup with the Lakers is a dream come true."
So, who are these Lakers, really? To understand the team, you need to understand the city.
One of Peterborough’s favorite sons is John Grant, Jr. who was a five-time Mann Cup Champion and two-time MVP while playing with the Lakers. Though he now calls Denver home, Grant loves the ‘Borough just as much as they revere him.
“It was a small town. No one locked their doors. You’d walk over to your buddy’s house and just walk in. It’s like a big family,” said Grant. “If your friends were outside of your area, you’d ride your bikes, park them and just pick up playing whatever they were playing. Usually it was hockey or lacrosse.
“Growing up there was always so much to do. You were never ever bored, that’s for sure. It was a different time when everyone spent their whole time outside. I loved growing up there. It was always safe. It’s obviously grown, but it was a huge family. You knew everyone at the restaurants, everyone at the hospital, you knew basically everybody.”
Peterborough, a city with a lake dead in the center, started out as a sawmill and basecamp for about 2,000 Irish immigrants in 1825. Lacrosse arrived in Peterborough about 47 years later, just five years after Dr. George Beers codified the first lacrosse rules. The city started out with two lacrosse teams, the Red Stockings and the Blue Rosettes, according to A Concise History of Sport in Canada. Perhaps coincidentally but perhaps a nod to 1872, the Peterborough Lakers’ colors are red and blue.
“Peterborough has a deep and impressive lacrosse history,” said Peterborough Mayor Diane Therrien. “The first Peterborough box lacrosse championship was in 1938. Lacrosse has been popular here for so long that it has become part of our local culture.”
Peterborough Examiner sports director Mike Davies added, “Most Americans understand that hockey is Canada’s most popular sport but in Peterborough lacrosse gives hockey a run for its money and in some ways may surpass it.
“The Lakers’ bond with the community is why they draw as many fans or more as the Petes. The Lakers, believe it or not, draw more fans in a season than the other five teams in their league combined. Opposing players talk about how they enjoy playing in Peterborough because the atmosphere is so much greater than other cities and how intimidating it can be as the Lakers don’t lose many home games.”
Mammoth Assistant General Manager Brad Self, a Peterborough native, is someone who understands the ‘Borough’s zeitgeist well.
“We were just lucky that in Peterborough the dads and their dads were lacrosse players. We grew up in a town where people have played lacrosse for generations. What we share today is what they shared with us and taught us.”
Self was a Laker for 13 seasons (2003-07, 2009, 2011-17), hosting the Mann Cup with the team in 2004, 2012 and 2017.
“I was fortunate to win a bunch of [Mann Cups]. But for sure, 2004, when it was our first one, and you’d been a kid, and you’d watched, and you’d dreamed about it, and we hadn’t won it in quite some time, and then to have the support from the city – selling out our arena there and they treat us like pros – and I got to win with my brother and my best friends. It was surreal. That was the top championship that you could win. It was pretty amazing.”
Mysteriously, the Mann Cup disappeared after the 2004 championship, never to be seen again. It was replaced, however.
“Let’s just say, I wasn’t present,” said Self. “At the time, I was going to school in Halifax. I actually had to delay my arrival at school because I was playing in the Mann Cup, but as soon as the Championship was over, I had to go back to University. I’m aware of a team gathering that took place and something that could have happened to the Mann Cup but all I know is that the Mann Cup is alive and well. I can’t comment any further.”
As special as it was to win the Mann Cup multiple times, what still resonates with Self the most, years later, is the sense of community and purpose that lacrosse has created in Peterborough.
“There is such a big focus on community and sports. As a kid, when you get to a level that you’re on the traveling teams, you have so many people to lean on, and to push you and guide you. I think that helps along the way.
“[Peterborough] is a blue-collar town. I don’t know if that helps in a way. You know, it toughens people up physically but mentally as well. It’s also a place that wins. That’s the expectation. It becomes everybody’s expectation. We grew up saying, ‘we want to win and we’ll do whatever it takes to win.’ That’s how we were raised. I think that shows in the guys and the amount of guys Peterborough has playing in the NLL and in professional summer leagues. Most Peterborough guys are guys you want on your team.”
Though Lakers are all about camaraderie when together in Peterborough, Self admitted that players take things day-to-day during Mann Cup season.
“I’m going to play against you now, but you’re my teammate tomorrow and then, the next night, I’m going to play against you in the playoffs and slash your arm off, then I’ll drive with you in the car to our next game. The life. It’s great.”
Like Self, what John Grant, Jr. remembers most fondly about Mann Cup championship games was the atmosphere Peterborough fans created.
“Relatives, friends of relatives, neighbors, your school teachers and nurses – everybody in the arena knew one of the players or a family member of one of the players. In a town of 75,000, for a lot of years, we were getting 4,000 fans – selling the arena out – and then the whole town celebrated, not just the team. Even the kids that came to play for the Lakers from other towns, were welcomed in."
In past years, hosting Mann Cup championship games only amplified Peterborough’s commitment to its home team.
“When teams from B.C. would come in for the Mann Cup, they would get tortured at their hotels by people who would be going and ringing the fire alarm or setting their alarms off or trying to keep them up all night at the bars. The whole town lived and died by the Lakers and it was all hands on deck when it came to the National Championship. Fans would treat the opposing team with respect until they disrespected one of our players. It was something.
“August into early September brought some of the greatest memories I have. You’d play every other day. Local restaurants would bring food onto the bus for us. Everyone would be honking and waving. You’re a celebrity in your little town.”
Playing for a Mann Cup was often a balancing act for Grant, but one he welcomed.
“I’ve been in Mann Cup runs and played MLL Championships in the same weeks. I always told Peterborough that if I had a professional game and we weren’t actually in a Mann Cup series, I would have to play the professional championship first, especially because it’s one-and-done if you lose.”
In 2009, Grant ran into what could have been a conflict. Peterborough moved its game schedule around due to a power outage during a game. Grant was scheduled to play in the MLL Championship with the Toronto Nationals in Annapolis, Maryland on Saturday, August 23 and, potentially, the morning of Sunday, August 24, but Peterborough wanted him home for an MSL playoff game in the evening of Sunday, August 24. It was a conundrum.
“So, the Peterborough Lakers and the fans actually hired a private jet,” said Grant. “I played in the Peterborough game Friday night, flew out of the tiny Peterborough airport, then landed in Baltimore. [Peterborough] put the pilot up in the hotel. We won our MLL semifinal game Saturday then won the championship game with the Toronto Nationals on Sunday. We barely had one sip of champagne before jumping back in the limo to drive to the jet and fly home to play in the game for Peterborough that Sunday night. Instead of staying and celebrating with my professional team, I flew home to play.”
Let’s pause here. Grant played two games – one championship game and one playoff game – in one day, scoring two goals for Toronto (against the Denver Outlaws, ironically) and three goals for Peterborough. Top that story.
Grant went on, saying with a chuckle, “A couple of guys that won the MLL championship with me for the Toronto Nationals on Sunday morning were playing on the opposing team that night and I wasn’t allowed to fly them home with me. They said, ‘okay let’s go,’ and I said, ‘what do you mean? You’re not coming.’ I wasn’t allowed to fly them because Peterborough fans hired the plane, but there was room.
“That was one of the coolest moments of my career – someone paying for a private jet for me to get to a game – but that goes to show you how important those games are to that town.
“[The Mann Cup] is that big of a deal. Growing up when we did you go to the rink, and you watch these great players play, and you aspire to be them. The Peterborough organization was the greatest organization in Canada. All our youth teams would win provincial championships, our junior team would win Minto cups, our senior team would win Mann Cups. So, you had young kids aspiring to be great lacrosse players and they’d go to every game to watch. Then these players who are playing and winning Mann Cups are coaching their kids and other kids. You give back. You have hall of fame players who become hall of fame coaches and coach other young kids to be hall of famers. That’s what you want to do in the summer. You want to play for the Lakers as young as five years old. There are little kids playing field and box, even little girls are playing box lacrosse up in Peterborough, and they’re becoming Team Canada members and professionals. Then, there are of lacrosse players having little lacrosse players. That’s the way it is there.”
Then, little lacrosse players grow up and join the Lakers. The cycle begins again.
“The [MSL] got better with more players coming into the league. It’s getting younger,” said Robert Hope.
“As kids, we kind of always put those guys that we watched playing up on a pedestal, and then to see us kind of jump in and maybe have kids look up to us, it’s kind of a surreal feeling to switch sides.”
Kids and adults alike admire the Lakers, and the admiration is mutual. The relationship is reminiscent of the one that exists between Colorado Mammoth players and their fans in Denver.
“I think obviously The Loud House is a name for Pepsi Center for a reason, they bring so much energy and they communicate and talk and are on the other team. They’re a part of the game. In the summer, we don’t have as many people. It’s a little quieter, but you’re still able to feel that energy and atmosphere from the fans.
“The Lakers and Mammoth are two of the best organizations to play for in either the MSL or the NLL. To have the fans and the support behind us is something that’s truly amazing. And if you’re able to bring a championship to either city, it’s just the cherry on top. Anytime you get lucky enough to win a championship and then you do it for your hometown, you do it with your friends and family around and a bunch of great players, it’s something you’ll always remember.”
Hope and the Lakers, who were back-to-back Mann Cup champions in 2017-18, begin their fight to keep the cup for a third consecutive season on Friday, at 8 p.m. MT in game 1 of a best-of-seven series. Game 2 is Saturday, September 7. Game 3 is September 9 and Game 4 is on September 10. From there, if the Mann Cup has not yet been won, Game 5 is September 11, Game 6 is September 13 and Game 7 is September 14. Games will be played at 8 p.m. MT and will be available on livestream with the purchase of a pay-per-view package (a small fee) on WLA TV.