Sticking With It

From the ashes of failed ventures past, the National Lacrosse League becomes the latest to infiltrate what is an already over-saturated professional sports market in Phoenix. But the NLL's Arizona Sting isn't led by just some hack entrepreneurs. These guys are Canadians, seemingly North America's largest population of Zen Buddhists. Tell them they can't, and they'll say, "Yes I CANuck!"

So when the Phoenix Coyotes became the managing partners of the former Columbus (Ohio) Landsharks in August, market apathy became the term of the day as the team relocated to Arizona.

While naysayers spout off the failings of the Phoenix Smash (team tennis) and the Arizona Sandsharks (indoor soccer) as evidence that fringe sports will never get a fair cut of the revenue from the Valley's Big Four -- the Diamondbacks, Suns, Coyotes, and yes, even the wretched Cardinals -- Sting general manager and coach Bob Hambley says the possibilities are endless for indoor lacrosse in Arizona.

"It's a new sport to the fans there that I think they'll find is really exciting," Hambley says on the phone from Toronto as his team prepares for its inaugural game at Glendale Arena on December 26, one day before the Coyotes christen the ice there. "The affordability for a family of four, an entertaining game, and the new arena -- they're all things built into this franchise that I think will make it a success."

Unlike the big leagues in the Valley, the NLL is anything but one of overpaid prima donnas looking for another endorsement deal. Players in the eventual 23-man roster are earning between $6,000 and $20,000 for a 16-game season, and will fly into the Valley for game days from around the country and Canada. "They're all pretty humble guys, and if you ask other franchises around the league like Toronto or Buffalo, the guys are all willing to stick around after games, sign autographs and hang out with the fans," Hambley says. "I think they really want to be part of the community."

For lacrosse virgins, Hambley says the game has the contact of hockey, and the speed and scoring of basketball. The game is played six-on-six, in four 15-minute quarters, with nonstop scoring. Like hockey, lacrosse is a physical game, with plenty of hard hits. Unlike hockey, which could use a hell of a lot more scoring, indoor lacrosse has a shot clock -- 30 seconds -- which forces most teams to put up around 15 to 16 goals a game.

But don't expect that kind of production from the Sting -- at least not at the outset. "We've got a pretty young team. Most of our guys are around 24 or 25 years old," Hambley says.

So even if the novelty of the new arena wears thin relatively soon, Hambley hopes that at least the initial interest will help generate more than just a local fan base. "It would be nice if we got around 23 pretty good athletes out of it for next season," he says. "I'm sure we'd be able to use some guys."

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Joe Watson

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