Hastings is now home to one of two Minnesota box lacrosse teams, the Hastings Walleye, as part of the inaugural season of the Regional Box Lacrosse League-Minnesota. RBLL-Minnesota is part of the Interstate Box Lacrosse Association.
The league started with two box lacrosse teams in Colorado for the 2016 season. The RBLL-Colorado then expanded to four teams for 2017, as well as two new regional leagues in Minnesota and Oregon. With the expansion, the IBLA was established to oversee the different regional leagues. Joining the Walleye in Minnesota are the Blaine Lycans — the two teams will play an inaugural best-of-seven series in August and September. The winner of the series will play the winner of the Colorado and Oregon leagues at the IBLA Nationals held in Colorado in a round-robin format. The top two teams in that round robin will then play each other in the championship.
Brandon Scharaga, a representative of the IBLA, said that Minnesota is perfect for box lacrosse and Hastings especially so.
"The ideal box lacrosse venue is definitely an ice arena and Minnesota has no shortage of them," he said. "Out of all the states, Minnesota has by far the best facilities because of that. That's not to say the other states don't have ice arenas, because they do, but there's not as many as there are in Minnesota, which is why Minnesota takes the ice out in the warmer months and into early fall, which allows us to play in those facilities. That's the same idea as in Canada, they take the ice out for a few months and that's when you play box lacrosse."
"Hastings seems like a perfect town for box lacrosse because it's a small town, but at the same time, there's sports in the area, the facility (Hastings Civic Arena) is a historic building and is beautiful," Scharaga explained. "It reminded us a lot of small Canadian towns (the IBLA is modeled after the box lacrosse leagues in Canada), you'll drive up to those small towns and out of nowhere you have these amazing arenas with great box lacrosse teams. It's a great feeling for these players to play for their hometown or, if they grew up in a town nearby, that same southeast of the Twin Cities feeling. For the fans to be able to come out and have pride in their local team, that's something special."
Scharaga's explanation of box lacrosse shows why they believe it will be very popular in Minnesota.
"Box lacrosse is super exciting and super fast-paced because the arena is completely boarded like a hockey game, cross-checking is allowed, there's a 30-second shot clock, goalies are much more padded because they're seeing a lot more shots from up close and it's a smaller playing surface," Scharaga said. "It's quicker, it's back and forth, it's five-on-five plus the goalies where field lacrosse is more than double that. It's a very similar atmosphere to hockey I would say, and parts of the game are similar to basketball with a lot of pick-and-rolls, but very physical and very fast paced."
Mike Nogle, who helps coach the Hastings Raiders boys' lacrosse team as well as youth teams, is one of the Walleyes' co-general managers and helped pick the Walleye's team in the 2017 RBLL-Minnesota Draft.
"There's been plenty of pick-up leagues because the sport of lacrosse has been growing so much, especially in Minnesota, guys have been itching to play as much as they can," Nogle said. "So I had come to know a lot of the guys in the draft through that and getting to play alongside of them. For the most part, a lot of it (scouting/recruiting) came from getting out to those pickup leagues that me, my brothers and some buddies would go to all winter, so we had three or four months of recruiting and getting familiar with players."
Nogle, his fellow general manager Aime Caines and head coach Tom Howe went as local as they could in the draft. Four players are from Hastings: Caines, Anthony Buck, Nogle and Nick Holm. Adam Weber and Luke Johnson are from Inver Grove Heights; Austin Dahling, Matthew Childs and T.J. Benway of Red Wing; Luke Nelson and Ryan Gillard of Cottage Grove; Andrew Peterson from Richfield, Jimmy Garay-Triviski from St. Paul; R.J. Ancona from Burnsville; and Charlie Gee from Minneapolis. Players from a little farther away are Daniel Paur from Owatonna, Graham Husick of Medina, Jake Myhre from Eden Prairie, Pat Boyd and Steve Jensen of Maplewood, Thomas Swartout from Minnetonka, and the only out-of-state player is Terry Johnson from Ames, Iowa.
The Walleye play their first game at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19, against Blaine at Schwan Super Rink. They host their first game at Hastings Civic Arena on Friday, Aug. 25, and then would next play in Hastings on Saturday, Sept. 9, if the series goes longer than four games. It will cost $5 to enter and kids 7 and under are free. For Twitter updates follow @ibla2017 and RBLL-Minnesota on Facebook.