History Made: An All-Native Lacrosse Final Between the Osheken Demons and Iroquois Ironmen
Vince Hill knew he would be celebrating regardless of the outcome of the Canadian Lacrosse League's inaugural championship final. That's because Hill is the director of operations for both the Ohsweken Demons and Iroquois Ironmen, the two all-Native squads that met in the final of the six-team Canadian circuit, which also goes by the moniker CLax.
The Demons defeated the Ironmen 15-10 in the final, which was held Apr. 7 at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena, the Six Nations-based facility where both the Ohsweken and Iroquois sides played their home contests.
"It was probably the most relaxing weekend I had all year," Hill said.
The Demons and Ironmen made a bit of history this season, even before they met in the CLax final. They were the first two professional sports franchises in North America to feature rosters made up exclusively of Native players. The fact the Ohsweken/Iroquois final materialized was a bit of a surprise.
That's because the Ironmen had struggled early on during the season. And they managed to place fourth in the regular season standings despite having a losing record, 6-8. But the Iroquois squad then pulled off a playoff shocker, upsetting the top-ranked Durham Turfdogs from Oshawa 17-9 in their semi-final match.
The third-seeded Demons, who registered an 8-6 regular season mark, advanced to the championship match by edging the second-ranked Brampton Inferno 17-16 in their semi-final contest.
The two other teams that competed in the first season of the CLax were the Oshawa Machine and the Brampton-based Peel Avengers.
The Demons and Ironmen were not the only ones to share the same facility. The Turfdogs and Machine both called Oshawa's General Motors Centre their home. And the Inferno and Avengers staged their home contests at Brampton's Powerade Centre.
Like the Ohsweken and Iroquois franchises, the Oshawa- and Brampton-based clubs also had just one director of operations for both teams. Hill was ecstatic both of the Native clubs were the ones who advanced to the CLax final.
"I really felt good for the community," Hill said. About 1,500 people attended the final. "We were pretty pleased with the attendance."
During the regular season an average of about 400 people were attending the Demons and Ironmen games.
Hill said for some of those spectators who took in the championship match, it was difficult to figure out which team to cheer for.
"A lot of family members had players on both teams," he said.
That included Hill himself. His son Blue was a member of the Ironmen. And he had five relatives on the Demons' roster - either cousins or nephews. Family and friends of the Attwood family were also torn about who to support. Chris Attwood is one of the offensive stars of the Demons while his older brother Mike is the goaltender for the Ironmen.
The younger Attwood was the one celebrating after the final as he collected five points, including three goals, leading his side to victory in the championship match. Both Attwood brothers though were presented with some prestigious individual awards.
Chris Attwood, who won the league scoring race with 71 points (35 goals, 36 assists) in 12 games, was chosen as the league's most outstanding player. And Mike Attwood was deemed the most valuable player in the league. He started the season as a runner with the Ironmen and played seven games in that position. But the former goalie was convinced to don the pads once again and went between the pipes for the final nine Ironmen regular season games and both playoff contests.
Though Hill had wanted both the Demons and Ironmen to qualify for the CLax final, he said both organizations had to overcome some obstacles to get there. The Ohsweken and Iroquois sides were tweaking their lineups with various Native players throughout the year. The other four squads, however, were constantly making roster changes that included individuals from another established pro circuit, the National Lacrosse League.
"They were coming in and out of their lineups," Hill said of players with NLL experience. "Us being all-Native, we weren't really able to participate in that. We were limited in that capacity."