Charlie Kitchen spends many of his summer days on the beaches of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Still, in the sweltering sunny season of 2019, Kitchen had a vastly different experience that would change his professional life forever.
Midway through his record-setting five-year experience at the University of Delaware – a school that has helped groom exceptional NLL forwards such as John Grant Jr. and Curtis Dickson – Kitchen journeyed up north to Toronto, Canada, to play for the OJALL Toronto Jr. Beaches.
Kitchen, an imposing right-handed forward, standing over most lacrosse players at 6’4” tall and weighing in as high as 220 pounds, had grown up watching the NLL’s original Philadelphia Wings. But, taking on the challenge of learning how to play the box game for the first time in his career at 21 years old was going to be no small feat.
Thankfully for him, he had incredible mentors on the bench in Glen Clark and Clem D’Orazio, who could coach him through his first on-the-floor exposure to box lacrosse. Despite some adjustments needed to transition from the field game, Kitchen would excel in his first-ever box lacrosse season over his 17 games. He finished his summer with the Beaches tied for 2nd on the team in goals with 20 and capping his year off, ranking 5th in both assists and points with 21 and 41, respectively.
What could have ended up being a failed experiment turned into a potential option for pursuing a career in lacrosse. The following summer, everything was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Clark and D’Orazio hadn’t forgotten about Kitchen’s impressive time with the Beaches. In fact, the coaches were so impressed that they contacted the New Jersey native to see if he was interested in playing in the NLL for their Albany FireWolves.
“I’m so glad that junior experience worked out,” Kitchen said. “Coach Clark and Coach [D’Orazio] treated me like one of their own from the beginning. When they called me that summer and said they would pick me in the draft, that was a dream come true.”
While the Jr. experience in the OJALL seemed to go off without much of a hitch, Kitchen’s introduction to the NLL would be anything but conventional. With the unpredictable pandemic forcing the cancellation of the 2020-21 season, Kitchen’s introduction to the NLL would be put on hold. Even more disruptive to his plans to make a name for himself in the league, Kitchen would be picked up by Panther City Lacrosse Club in the 2021 Expansion Draft after being unprotected before the draft. He would then spend the next several months trying to fit in with PCLC, including spending the majority of this past year’s training camp working through their systems with the team, only to find out he had been traded back to the FireWolves just weeks before the start of the 2021-22 NLL season.
Once his chance finally arrived, Kitchen did all he could to navigate his way within the FireWolves’ offense. It would take some time, but halfway through the season, Kitchen became a reliable offensive weapon scoring in all but one of his last eight games, including recording three multi-goal games. Yet, despite posting 14 goals, eight assists, and 22 points, Kitchen was not satisfied with his output in his first year.
“I’m not satisfied with how I played,” Kitchen said. “The coaches said I did a good job in my first year and that they see the potential I have, but, personally, I have lofty goals for myself.”
After being thrown into the trenches to battle against the best lacrosse players in the world, Kitchen was humbled by how difficult it was to make one’s mark out of the gates. At only 24 years old, Kitchen is still a very young player compared to his competitors. He understands that there is some time for him to find his way in the NLL and plans to be an elite player in this league soon.
“I’ve realized that my first two years are my learning-curve years. That’s when I just have to play my heart out and try and learn as much of the game as I can,” Kitchen said. “Although I didn’t play up to my standard, I learned more about lacrosse in my first year than I have since about 8th grade.”
Even though he’s graduated from the University of Delaware, Kitchen has been learning and growing as an NLL player under the tutelage of his two box coaches, that gave him a shot before anyone else did. Kitchen will need to rely on Clark and D’Orzaio’s leadership as they had into this new season with a completely revamped offense.
Kitchen has an excellent opportunity to show that he can take the reins of the FireWolves offense now that the likes of Joe Resetarits, Ryan Benesch, and Andrew Kew are no longer on the roster. The hope would be to make such a marked improvement in his second year in the league that he would have postpone any summer plans he has at the beach.
By Adam Levi