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Lax commissioner visits Six Nations for first time

New NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz has his eyes on reaching beyond the cities and to communities like Six Nations. (Courtesy NLL)
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Although the game’s birth in the Onkwehón:we communities of the region is not in dispute, and the prominence of Native stars such as Cody Jamieson and the Thompson brothers, and owners like the Curt Styres (Rochester Knighthawks) are staples of the league, no National Lacrosse League commissioner has ever visited an Onkwehón:we community.

Not anymore.

Rookie NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz took a tour of Six Nations this week with Styres, visiting cultural sites, community leaders, business owners and members of the community.

“The Native American players in our league, they’re spectacular,” said Sakiewicz on a conference call before the trip. “They’re tremendous players and I’m looking forward to learning about where they came from and the traditions behind their development.”

Sakiewicz is the league’s fifth commissioner and took over from George Daniel in 2016. He inherits a league brimming with Onkwehón:we talent that features on all but two teams in the league (Toronto and Colorado).

“I get to see them on highlight reels after each weekend, of them doing great stuff, and part of my goal in visiting Six Nations is to see where those guys come from,” he said. “Where they grow up, and what has made them as good as they are.”

The commissioner’s trip was welcome news to Kahnawa’kehró:non goalie Angus Goodleaf, who plays on the Knighthawks and whose girlfriend is from Six Nations.

“It shows his commitment to his job,” Goodleaf told The Eastern Door. “He’s fairly new to the league and to the sport and I think this gives him a great opportunity to learn more about the sport and get to know more about the history of our game.”

Onkwehón:we lacrosse stars, notably the four Thompson brothers, are arguably the most popular in the league, and with Cody Jamieson and Jeff Shattler’s MVP seasons in 2014 and 2011, and Rochester and New England’s ownership group coming from Native communities, it’s fair to say the league depends on Native communities for fans, players, ownership dollars and sponsors.

The Eastern Door asked Sakiewicz what more the league can do, even more to reach out to other communities such as those surrounding Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatchewan and Buffalo.

“That’s part of the goal of this visit, to understand what we can do more of,” said Sakiewicz. “I made it pretty clear when I first came in that we were going to be a transparent and open-book league for our fans and for our athletes, and we were going to operate in a little bit different fashion than some of these other leagues in other sports.”

He has already visited Saskatoon, where Jeremy Thompson plays, and intends to do more in other communities both sides of the border. Saturday’s game between the Rush and Georgia Swarm featured three of the four Thompsons (Miles and Lyle play for the Swarm) in addition to Iroquois Nationals stars Johnny Powless, Joe Maracle, and the 18-year-old phenom Austin Staats.

Sakiewicz is eager to learn about the NLL’s stars, and how the league can promote in unique and inspirational ways.

“I want to go in and understand what the National Lacrosse League means to them, what fuels their passion for the game, and also begin to look at other parts of North America,” said Sakiewicz.

“I want to understand how we can maybe create platforms and events showcasing the talent that comes from this rich ethnic diversity.”

The league was founded in 1986, and The Eastern Door asked Sakiewicz why no commissioner had visited Six Nations or the Mohegan Tribe’s community that own the New England Black Wolves.

“I can’t speak for why that is the case,” he said. “I just know that when I spoke to Curt (Styres) over a three-hour dinner, he unveiled this immense treasure chest of history and tradition that really got me excited. That’s why I’m making this a priority to get up there and visit that very, very important fan base of ours.”

The commissioner wants to see the NLL grow to become more mainstream, and hopes the Sportsnets, TSNs, and ESPNs of the world will embrace lacrosse’s unique position in the sporting world.

“I hope my visit to Six Nations will bring some attention to the people and leaders in the sports industry,” he said.

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