Keegan Thomas, grandson of Kanehsata’kehró:non Roger Binette, remembers what it was like to be a waterboy in Akwesasne for players who graced the rosters of National Lacrosse League (NLL) teams.
“It was the coolest thing in the world,” he said. “I touched an NLL guy’s hand and went back home and pretended to play like him.”
He even got to keep the lacrosse stick of one pro player, Athan Iannucci, a souvenir he cherished for years.
Now the goaltender will have the chance to become the same kind of role model to today’s young players after being signed on October 20 to a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Wings.
“In some ways, it’s a childhood dream come true,” he said. “I’ve been playing lacrosse for 20-some-odd years now. It’s pretty exciting.”
Thomas credits Binette for instilling in him a love of the game that followed him through the Akwesasne minor lacrosse system, a Founders’ Cup championship with a hall-of-fame Akwesasne Indians squad in 2015, and now to the sport’s most elite league.
“My grandfather, he was a big lacrosse guy,” said Thomas of Binette, who played competitively in Akwesasne, where he spent much of his life.
“He was always there for me. He’s the reason I started playing,” said Thomas.
Binette died in 2006, but Thomas still feels a strong bond to his grandfather, something he says he carries with him each time he visits family in Kanesatake. “I do wish he was here to experience this with me,” said Thomas.
“He’s come from a background of lacrosse players, just like we all have around here,” said Jimmy Butler, who coached a Tyke-aged Thomas through intermediate years on the Akwesasne Storm. “His grandfather, he was a good player back in the day, and he helped develop Keegan a lot too, worked with him off the field.”
It was Butler who first put Thomas in a net, finding that’s where he excelled most. According to Butler, Thomas showed an emotional maturity at a young age that has helped him excel athletically.
“He showed a lot of talent right off the bat,” he said.
Noonie Thomas, Keegan’s mother, also traces Keegan’s lacrosse skills back to Binette’s influence. “My father always had a stick in Keegan’s hand,” she said.
Noonie spent years shuttling Keegan to practices and games. “I’m just glad his hard work paid off,” she said.
“It makes me pretty proud,” she said. She vows to be at every home game in Philadelphia.
Keegan was chosen by the Philadelphia Wings at a free agent camp on October 15, where his approach to the sport helped him stand out and become one of only a handful of players to be signed out of more than 60 who showed up.
“He’s very efficient in his net, which is great. He’s not all over the place,” said Paul Day, general manager and head coach of the Philadelphia Wings. “He’s athletic too, which is great. He’s just really calm in that net.”
Keegan joins two other goalies on the team, which carries three goaltenders on its roster to help the squad cope with injuries and extensive travel. Training camp starts the first weekend of November.
“It’s a good opportunity for him if he has a good camp and keeps progressing and working with the other guys. He could have a bright future,” said Day.
Keegan, who admires the team’s other two goalies, is hoping to take advantage of the opportunity to focus on his development.
“I’m just trying to come in, be a team player, and get better for myself,” said Keegan.
Keegan is also a talented hockey player, having attended prep school to play the sport. “I always wanted to be a Broad Street Bully,” he said, a reference to the Philadelphia Flyers, even drawing inspiration from a Flyers’ goalie.
Both the Flyers and Wings play at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. It’s just another way his dreams are coming true, he said.
When the NLL season is over and he is spending the summer playing lacrosse more locally, he is looking forward to interacting with fans in Akwesasne and inspiring the youth of today.
“I was in their shoes once, so it’s nice to be able to play at the higher level,” said Keegan.
The Philadelphia Wings’ season launches on December 2 in an away game against the New York Riptide.
This article was originally published in print on Friday, October 27, in issue 32.43 of The Eastern Door.
Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative reporter
Marcus is managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.