After 3 month canoe journey, professional lacrosse paddles into Halifax

Jesse Thomas / Global News

The Halifax Thunderbirds professional lacrosse team traded in their lacrosse sticks for canoe paddles this summer.

Team owner and general manager Curt Styres, along with a rotating group of players and supporters undertook a 92-day canoe crusade from Six Nations, Ont., to deliver professional lacrosse to Nova Scotia.

Nearly 2,000 km’s later the canoe arrived to a warm reception along the Halifax waterfront on Tuesday.

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“We could’ve flown here, we could’ve drove our car here,” said Styres. “But to me, I wanted Halifax to know that we were serious about coming here and we didn’t take it lightly.”

Styres, a First Nations entrepreneur, said he saw an opportunity to grow the sport of lacrosse, believing Halifax to be a ripe market. Styres decided to move the franchise from Rochester, N. Y., where the team won three straight National Lacrosse League (NLL) championships from 2013-2015.

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“Talking with the mayor (Mike Savage), the mayor’s anticipating a huge population growth,” Styres said. “And compare that with Rochester, where it’s going the other way, it’s sliding down and Halifax is just going up.”

The majority of professional lacrosse players in the NLL, all have other jobs, like star play Cody Jamieson who teaches the sport and it’s cultural importance to Indigenous youth back home in Six Nations and other parts of Ontario.

“I know, me personally and all the players, we’re all excited to come and grow this sport here and we like to feel like we are going to be contenders right away,” said Jamieson who was named the World Indoor Lacrosse championships MVP a the tournament last week in Langley, B.C.

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This is the second professional sports franchise to start-up in Halifax this year. Earlier in the spring, the HFX Wanderers’ soccer team kicked off it’s inaugural Canadian Premier League season, and were welcomed with open arms, as the majority of their home games this season were sellouts.

But the Thunderbirds won’t be the only team competing this winter, as they’ll be sharing the Scotiabank Centre with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads and the Halifax Hurricanes basketball team, who compete in the Canadian National Basketball League.

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NSCC Marketing professor Ed McHugh believes the Thunderbirds will have a fan base but they’ll need to put a good product on the turf.

“We’ve been spoiled in this city with some big international, and big national events, so it’s got to be perceived to be on the ‘big stage’ for people to show up,” said McHugh.

“So we might be at a stage here where we’re at that tipping point, where we might have a full basket of offerings. But it might be interesting to see if it brings out new fans or does it cannibalize other fans from other sporting activities?”

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Time will tell. The Thunderbirds begin their inaugural NLL season in Halifax this December and Jamieson assures the fans will be entertained.

“We’re hoping to be well-received early on here and make this a tough place for opposing teams to come and play,” said the 18-year NLL vet.

“That’s the biggest thing in this league, having the home floor advantage is really key.”

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