When East Coast Elite (ECE) headed into the finals at the Best in Box lacrosse tournament last weekend, they knew they were up for a challenge. The U17 squad, bolstered with six local players, was up against host team Penn Lax, the same opponent they lost to in the finals last year in the same bracket.
This time around, ECE emerged victorious, securing the championship with a 5-4 win in an edge-of-your-seat game.
“It’s amazing to see the relationships that they’re developing with the US players that live down here,” said head coach Brendan Gorman. “And the chemistry that we were able to put together in such a short period of time, it really shows on the floor and it’s really a thing of beauty.”
It’s something he’s heard both from other coaches and parents from all over. “It’s just such an honour to have all these boys playing together under our umbrella,” he said.
But this victory is the culmination of years of work, both on and off the field, and it goes back about eight years, when Gorman began to forge ties with Kahnawake.
“I was really proud watching them. Our boys kicked ass and hustled and played their game,” said Amy-Leigh Patton, mother of player Wyatt Cross, who’s been playing for Gorman since he was in fourth grade.
Five years later, Cross is one of a handful of local players that made up the U17 ECE roster, alongside Rahsontahawe Gabriel, Logan Gabriel, Leland Lahache, Rahsatstatie Cross, and Tiohahes Morris.
ECE was the number one team heading into the playoffs bracket on Sunday, ready to face Penn Lax in the finals. “They’re very disciplined. They know the game, they play hard. So we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game,” said Gorman of their opponent.
The final game was neck-and-neck the entire way through.
ECE started with a 1-0 lead, and both teams exchanged goals until they reached a 2-2 tie at halftime.
ECE started off strong once again, bringing the score to 3-2, which Penn Lax then tied, and soon took the lead 4-3 with five minutes left in the game. “In the second half, it was the first time that we trailed the entire game. And the boys stayed resilient,” Gorman said. ECE then took the lead once again with 1:12 minutes left, ultimately securing the championship title with a 5-4 win.
“Our goalie played incredible,” he said of Leland Lahache, who recorded 32 saves. “A lot of those were late in the second half when we needed him to stand up the most.”
ECE’s U19 team – classified as the high school elite division – boasted four local players: Owen Rice, Kasey Lahache, Tehoweroron Diabo, and Tehaianerahkwa Deer. The group took silver at the tournament.
“The boys from Kahnawake are so valued in our program,” said Gorman, who’s also the national director for ECE, which aims to provide training, development, and game play opportunities for aspiring pro players.
Gorman, who’s based in Bergen County, New Jersey, about a 45-minute drive from downtown Manhattan, often ran in the same circles as ironworkers from Kahnawake.
Nine years back, when he interviewed for a job as head lacrosse coach at Don Bosco Preparatory High School in New Jersey, he made plans to play golf with a longtime friend in the area the same weekend.
It was that same Saturday, by fluke, that he met Tawenrate Marquis on the golf course, an ironworker and also the father of local star lax player Koleton Marquis.
The two knew they shared an interest even before a conversation began – Gorman was wearing his Ireland lacrosse polo, while Tawenrate wore a First Nations lacrosse polo.
“Right away, we met each other, we know we’re lacrosse guys, we’re wearing polos, and we had the most amazing four hours on the golf course, just talking lacrosse,” Gorman recalled.
From there on, their relationship only grew, and so did the team at ECE. Koleton became the first from Kahnawake to play box lacrosse with the team in wintertime, which was formerly known as O2 and Building Blocks Lacrosse (BBL), before the two merged and rebranded at ECE.
Gorman’s son, Connor Gorman, also played with the Junior B Kahnawake Hunters.
It wasn’t long before interest from players from Kannawake and Kanesatake to join the ECE team grew through word of mouth.
“The coaching is phenomenal. Their attention to detail and skill development has been unmatched,” said Patton. “(Wyatt) found his confidence playing with this team.”
Patton added that the coaching has given Wyatt the drive to go even further and provided ample exposure and networking opportunities.
“It’s opened wide his eyes to a bigger picture available for him and I don’t think Wyatt would have gotten that had he not branched out and started playing out of Jersey or met coach Gorman,” said Patton. It’s through this team he got the connections to play on Team USA for the World Indoor Lacrosse championship.
“My end goal is to provide as much opportunity for the boys from Kahnawake to come down and not only play with us in the winter, but understand how important playing and education is if they have ambitions of going to a US college,” Gorman said.
He referenced the success of Koleton Marquis and Trey Deere as examples of how far the sport can take athletes who are intent on pursuing it into their academic careers.
“I want nothing more than to continue that pipeline. And if there’s a family who wants to play, I’m never gonna say no. I want to keep developing this relationship,” he said.