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Local talent levels up

Courtesy David Rice

It takes a village to raise an athlete. 

That’s what has become apparent to the many coaches, family members, and friends who have supported Owen Rice throughout his lacrosse career, which has culminated in a triumphant draft to the Ontario Junior Lacrosse League (OJLL), where Rice will be joining the Peterborough Jr. A Lakers. 

“To see these guys go from being just tiny little kids, barely being able to pick up the ball and pass it, to seeing them grow to be elite players, that’s something else,” said Kahnawiio Dione, who coached Rice since he was a child with the Kahnawake Hunters. “He’s always had the skill and always been one of our top players, so it’s no surprise to me that he got drafted.”

From the beginning, Rice was identified as a strong technical player, with the added bonus of being a true team player. 

“He was almost the most outgoing, he became friends with everyone right away,” explained Dione. “He’s respectful, we never ever had any disagreements or anything. He was just really coachable.”

Dione in part credits Owen’s parents, David Rice and Sandra Harding, for Owen’s skill in the box. 

“They always let the coach do the coaching,” Dione said. “And since we’ve been together, all of us, for so long, they’re like family. We’re like a family. We all stayed in the same hotels through the years, go to each other’s houses, the kids sleep over. We’re a close community.”

For David, Owen’s success is due to the commitment of several coaches who kept his son motivated throughout the years. Alongside Dione, David explained that several other coaches and mentors have contributed to Owen’s blossoming career, including Derek Stacey, Thunder Jacobs, Curtis Diabo, Logan Kane, Ty Thompson, Garret Cree, and Kirby Joe Diabo.

“He has had some amazing coaches helping develop him to be the player he is today,” David explained, “those coaches he considers friends now and has tons of respect for.”

Diabo, who coached Owen from Paperweight to Peewee age, always knew he was a special player. What set him apart was his commitment to the game.

“Owen always showed great potential right from a young age in Paperweight lacrosse. He was dedicated right from the start,” Diabo said. “It was and still is a pleasure to watch him grow and develop his game from a young boy to a young man. He is definitely a very talented lacrosse player.”

Courtesy David Rice

Some particularly treasured memories for Diabo throughout the years centred around birthdays.

“Our birthdays are pretty close, and we were always on the road playing somewhere,” Diabo remembered. “His parents always managed to have a birthday cake wherever we were, which was pretty awesome!”

With years of travel for competition under his belt, Owen isn’t nervous about the switch to Ontario, where he’ll be playing farther away from his family and friends than before in Peterborough. 

“Playing lacrosse away from home will be a big adjustment, but Peterborough is only a few hours away, and my family and myself are used to the 401!” he joked. “I look forward to the start of Junior A ball with Peterborough, and I realize that it will take hard work, but I’m ready and excited.”

Though he’s not intimidated by the level up in skill, or the prospect of professional play, Owen knows the hardest part will be leaving behind the lacrosse community he’s been a part of for so many years. 

“Lacrosse has been a huge part of my life since I started playing at age three,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough to have made lots of friends in lacrosse, and still have those friendships till today. It will be hard to start this next chapter of lacrosse without my close friends being there with me, but it’s all a part of growing.”

Owen’s coaches have no doubts that he’ll surmount the challenges of being away from home. As Dione explained, his skill and his unrelenting energy will serve him well in making a name for himself on his new team. 

“He’s just nonstop energy,” Dione explained. “He’s got a good outside shot, but he also really gets in the dirty areas. He’s a good back checker, he’s got a good stick, he’s got all the attributes to fit in nicely on a junior team.”  

Owen’s ability to put the team over himself as an individual will be important when he goes to the Lakers. 

“He was always one of our top players, but I always give credit to the whole team, it’s never a one-man show in lacrosse, and he shows it,” Dione said. “He really embraced his role, and he knew it’s a team-first game. He always knew that. He was never selfish. If he wasn’t putting up goals, he was doing a lot of passing.”

In particular, Dione expects Owen to be a key motivational figure for his future teammates. 

“He’s always stayed positive, never was down on himself, always uplifting people,” explained Dione. “He’s always the most uplifting guy in the room. He’s likeable. He’s great.”

Owen will be missed by his family, his teammates, and his coaches when he moves to Peterborough, but they’ll never be more than a phone call away – and by now, he knows how much he’s appreciated by them.

“I love him. I love Owen,” Dione said. “I tell him that all the time, ‘I love you.’ Wherever he decides to go, or whatever he decides to do, I’m proud of him.”

Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.