As of September 24, elite lacrosse is officially over for the summer season with the conclusion of the Premier Lacrosse League playoffs and Archers LC being crowned 2023 field lacrosse champions, as well as the Burlington Blaze winning the Minto Cup and the Six Nations Chiefs winning the Mann Cup up in Canada. This got us thinking about what’s next to look forward to before the start of the upcoming NLL season in December? With all of the talk about the possible Olympic inclusion of lacrosse in 2028, the next most interesting event is the Women’s Super Sixes event being held in Oshawa, Ontario, October 6-8. In light of this event and also to celebrate last summer’s World Sixes event in Alabama, we will be doing a Six for Sixes, 6-part sixes blog/vlog series over the next 6 weeks, breaking down all things Sixes lacrosse (The Game, The Defense/Transition, The Offense/Special Teams, The Science, The Rules & The Future).
Having studied all of the material available on the Sixes game, there have been many comparisons and assertations made as to the nature of this new hybrid form of lacrosse: the intensity and physicality of hockey, the athleticism of the skill positions in football, the positioning and quick re-starts of basketball; yet there’s one unique defining feature - the skill and IQ of box lacrosse.
Literally, just remove the boards, add the 6x6 field lacrosse net, take the pads off the goalie, tone down the picks and viola, you have Sixes lacrosse. The next biggest difference is a 12 player team roster instead of the 20 players traditionally allowed per team in box lacrosse, which changes a player’s work:rest ratio from 1:2 to 1:1 (something that will be discussed at length in the “Science of Sixes” blog next week). However, the way to play defense (how we stop the other team), transition (changes of possession) and play offense (how we score) are virtually identical to box lacrosse. Two menial differences are the slightly greater allowance for cutting and shooting on the “wrong-side” and the other being the frequency and effectiveness of bounce shots. Missing the net on your shots for a turnover can also be of dire consequence, especially considering how big it is and how small the goalie is.
At the World Games in Alabama in the summer of 2022, these differences were enough to propel Team Japan (Male), powered by its raw athleticism and intelligent approach, to win a bronze medal. Team GB (Great Britain) was also able to finish 4th ahead of the perennial silver/bronze medaling Haudenosaunee Nationals (who lost 20-16 to Japan in the round robin). Even funkier, is that team Israel beat team Japan in overtime early in the round robin; also that team Germany then edged out Israel in the 7th place game at the end of the tournament.
Canada defeated the USA to win the gold medal for both male and female, with the Australian’s also notably winning bronze on the female side. It’s worth noting that the two big differences between female and male Sixes are that females still use the traditional Women’s stick and also that they don’t wear helmets in female game!
For the purpose of this Six for Sixes series of blogs I will be studying the male game, simply because I know it and its players more intimately.
Below is the official male tournament result summary, provided by the World Games at the link provided below (along with all of the tournament game sheets):
*Full tournament stats available at https://swog2022.sportresult.com/hide/en/Pdf/GetResultbookPdf?filename=Lacrosse.pdf
We also took the time to create a summary of the team stats available for the 3 traditional powerhouse teams of Canada, USA and Haudensaunee:
These stats are considerably inflated compared to the Super Sixes tournament the year prior (2021), in which only Canada, the USA and Haudenosaunee competed (these stat totals will be revealed in the “Science of Sixes” blog next week - where we will also discuss how Canada picked their team). They also don’t say much about who scored in the big games and more importantly, these stats say nothing about who got beat for goals or how defensively responsible players were; a subject I will touch on in the next blog on “Defense/Transition in Sixes.”
What are some of the key take-aways from these stats?
Looking to the defense, combined with save percentages of 60% (Canada), Haudenosaunee (44%) and USA (43%), you can see why Canada ran away with this tournament, especially when you consider that Canada was only giving up approximately 6 goals/game, versus USA at 13/game and Haudenosaunee 16/game. Are the Canadian numbers because of high quality defense or poor shot selection on behalf of the opponents? I would reckon it has a lot to do with both; to be discussed later this week.
Looking next at the turnover/goal ratio, legendary North Carolina Tar Heels basketball coach Dean Smith used to strive for a ratio of 3 turnovers for every 10 assists (30%), as of course you have to take some risks to create high percentage shots in sports. Relative to this figure, Canada sits at roughly 4.2 turnovers for every 10 goals (10:24), USA 4.7 turnovers (8:17) and Haudenosaunee 5.3 turnovers (8:15).
Next, when you factor in that Canada scored on 2 out of every 3 of its shots (67%), whereas USA (48%) and HNL (45%) scored on less than half of their shots (PLL Championship Series = 42%), it also says something about the quality of the shots Canada was getting, their precision shooting (highlighted by how little the miss the net) and patience in front (highlighted by the number of fakes they throw - all subjects I will broach in a blog on “Sixes Offense” coming out next week). It’s not surprising that the Canadians and also the Haudenosaunee are missing the net and being saved less often when you consider their box lacrosse background, where they are used to shooting on smaller nets and don’t get the ball handed back to them if they miss the net like in field lacrosse. Higher assist totals from these two nations also reinforces this point. I spoke with a team Canada Sixes coach in preparation for this series of articles and one of the things that he told me was that Canada averaged 4.5 passes per goal in this tournament, unfortunately I don’t have the totals from the other countries.
In doing my research, I also took the time to break down the final game of the tournament, which was the first time the Canadians and Americans had played each other since the last game of the Super Sixes event the previous year (2021) in Sparks, Maryland. The charts below break down some of the specifics of the offensive possessions from that game:
In this game, Canada scored on 54% of their possessions, with 30% of their 23 goals coming by way of transition (breakaways, fast-breaks & late transition). Why did Canada get so many transition opportunities and the USA so few? Well, for one, field lacrosse players are not used to these types of open field odd-player scenarios, which becomes problematic when you are slow to recognize these opportunities offensively and late to recognize them defensively. Zach Currier was team USA’s biggest nightmare in that respect.
The next glaring difference between Canada and the USA is how many of Canada’s shots came from directly in front of the net tip-toeing the crease on what we call a “crease walk” up here in Canada. This speaks to how effectively they were able to get to the middle of the field for high quality shots, using an “empty crease” offensive set-up, which I will break down in next week’s blog.
Conversely, the USA’s most utilized shot type (and goal type) was the proverbial “Alley Dodge” on what we call a player’s “wrong-side” of the field, up here in Canada. At first glance it looks promising that the USA scored 33% of their goals this way, but when you look further you realize that 4 Alley Dodge attempts were saved by Canadian Goaltender Brett Dobson, and 2 others missed the net for a turnover (3/9 = 33%). Considering that Canada is shooting 67% on all other shot types, that shot pales in comparison. I would note further, that when I played for the Orangeville Junior “A” Northmen in the middle 2000’s players would routinely get benched for a period or longer for taking this low percentage shot in box lacrosse, which is oft considered to be a selfish “me” shot. I can see the temptation on such a large net, but if you watch close enough, Canada was basically giving up that shot and Dobson was expecting it. How many times did Canada take that shot, zero.
I see guys breaking down the PLL championship series glorifying the Alley shot? Take away that 2 point line (which is too close and something I will argue in my “Rules” blog in a few weeks), keep shooting those Alley shots and all of the PLL teams in the Championship Series would have gotten completely obliterated by team Canada. The Alley shot is a comfort shot with little use in the Sixes game. The USA will need to start playing real box lacrosse, and soon, if they are ever going to be able to compete in Sixes.
Some will argue that the USA split 2 games with Canada at the Super Sixes in 2021 and possibly, that they didn’t have their best roster at the World Games in 2022. However, if you look closely, yes they won the first game 18-17, but in the second game Canada won convincingly 18-12. Both teams were cycling various combinations of National team hopefuls through their lineups in 2021, but when Canada puts their best transition players on the field combined with the best athletes and offensive players in the NLL; game over.
Watch the Haudenosaunee play Canada and you will see exactly what I’m talking about; pure box. It’s unfortunate that the Haudenosaunee didn’t get to play the Americans in Alabama as they were in opposite pools, but it would likely have been a closely contested game like they were in 2021. There is something to be said about the possibility of the USA beating them on the backs of their sheer athleticism, but the Haudenosaunee should be able to routinely outsmart them with their box (sixes) lacrosse skills and savvy.
To view the full Vlog related to this article please visit our youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=po_TNXJYWig