Aboriginal lacrosse fans will have a pair of teams to cheer for in a new professional league starting up this January.
The Canadian Lacrosse League, also known as CLax, will have six entrants, all in Ontario, during its inaugural season.
Two of the participating teams will be the Ohsweken Demons and the Iroquois Ironmen. Both of these squads will play their home contests out of the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena in Ohsweken.
All six CLax clubs will play 14 regular season matches. The regular season is scheduled to commence on Jan. 7, 2012 with a tripleheader, seeing all of the league’s teams playing a game in Ohsweken.
The regular season will conclude in late March. The top four finishers will then advance to the league playoffs.
The Demons and Ironmen: There’s a good chance both teams will probably feature all-Aboriginal rosters, but they will not be the only CLax squads sharing the same arena.
Names of the other four squads in the league had not been revealed by mid-October. But there will be an Oshawa team and a Durham squad playing out of Oshawa’s General Motors Centre. Plus Brampton’s Powerade Centre will be home to both the Brampton and Peel clubs.
Vince Hill is serving as the director of operations for both the Demons and Ironmen. He doesn’t believe there is any conflict of interest in working for both Ohsweken-based teams.
“That’s mostly an administration role,” he said.
Hill will also serve as the Demons’ general manager. The Ironmen squad will have its own GM. And both clubs will have separate coaching staffs. These personnel members were expected to be announced by early November.
Jim Veltman, arguably the best lacrosse player Canada has produced, is the Deputy Commissioner of the CLax. He also believes there is no problem having Hill work as the director of operations for two teams.
“The director of operations is mostly working on season ticket sales and sponsorships,” Veltman said, adding the two Oshawa and both Brampton franchises also have just one individual serving as director of operations.
For the past three years Hill has also been the general manager of the Six Nations Chiefs, a senior men’s team that competes in the Ontario-based, summer league dubbed Major Series Lacrosse.
The Chiefs, who played out of the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena, averaged about 300 fans per game during the 2011 season.
Hill is hoping the Demons and Ironmen draw considerably better than average between 2,000 and 3,000 fans per game.
The Chiefs’ relatively low attendance can partly be attributed to the fact Six Nations had two other men’s teams operating out of the same facility. The Ohsweken Warriors, a Senior B side, competed in the Ontario Lacrosse Association (OLA). And the Six Nations Slash took part in the Can-Am Lacrosse League.
Six Nations also had a pair of junior squads competing in their OLA loops, the Junior A Arrows and the Junior B Rebels.
Hill is confident lacrosse mad Six Nations will support both the Demons and Ironmen.
“It’s going to be the only game in town,” he said.
This isn’t the first time a Canadian pro lacrosse league has been attempted. A four-team Ontario-based circuit called the Canadian National Lacrosse League operated for just one year back in 1991.
“It’s been tried before,” Veltman said. “Maybe the timing is right now.”
About 300 individuals have expressed an interest in playing in the league.
A league-wide draft to stock the teams will be held on Nov. 6.
For starters, each club will be able to select 10 local players. That will be followed by an eight-round draft of remaining available players.
And then after that it is expected teams might have some open tryouts to fill out remaining spots on their rosters.
CLax officials originally wanted to have teams in British Columbia and Quebec as well for this coming season.
“I think we have a better model now going forward,” Veltman said. “We had big plans, maybe more grandiose plans than we should have had.”
Veltman said many other potential centres had expressed interest in having teams in the league.
“In the end they said they want to see it for a year before they commit to it,” Veltman said.
But the plan is still to expand to other provinces in the future.
“We’re thinking of branching out,” Veltman said. “(After all) we are calling ourselves the Canadian Lacrosse League.”
The CLax will not be the only new professional lacrosse league starting up this year. The North American Lacrosse League, which will have five franchises in the U.S., is also scheduled to begin play in January.
The majority of the continent’s best players though will continue to toil in the National Lacrosse League, which has three Canadian (Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton) and six American franchises.