Mike McCannell got to live out the dream of every rookie who has played defense or transition in the NLL: he got to play with Brodie Merrill.
In 2021, McCannel was drafted 5th overall NLL Entry Draft by the San Diego Seals. He joined a short list of rookies taken in the Top 5 of their draft class who were then slotted into a defensive or transition position. The list of rookies taken in the Top 5 of their draft class who were then slotted into a defensive or transition position in their first year in the NLL who then got to play alongside Brodie Merrill is even shorter.
You can learn a lot from Brodie and his brother, Seals Head Coach and GM Patrick Merrill. McCannell knew what it meant to play with Brodie and for Patrick because McCannell was a graduate of the Merrill’s The Hill Academy.
Leaning on veteran leaders, especially those who have had plenty of success in their careers, can be an invaluable experience that will benefit younger players who are trying to establish themselves. They are moments that should not be taken for granted.
Coming from a town like Orangeville that is stepped in rich lacrosse history and then playing at a prestigious program like The Hill Academy, you learn what a privilege it is to play with and against some of the best lacrosse players on the planet. No matter where McCannell played lacrosse, and that includes Stony Brook University, he took every opportunity to soak up whatever lacrosse knowledge he could to become the best lacrosse player he could be.
When McCannell was drafted to play in San Diego, he joined a team with Merrill and Eli Gobrecht. The vast wealth of knowledge those two brought to the table for this hungry go-getter of a rookie was invaluable. It was one thing for McCannell to see these guys play when he was on the come-up, but to play alongside them in his first year in the NLL, the league he always aspired to play in, was something else entirely.
“It was awesome,” McCannell said. “The experience to get to play with those guys who I watched when I was in Junior, and they were seasoned pros in the league already, even just the first day of [training] camp, just to go through some drills with them with the speed and ability they have, it was really good for me. It was a quick upbringing to the pace of the league and being able to play with some of the best players in the league.”
It is a rare and special treat when you’re a rookie, and you are presented with an opportunity to play with talented veterans, even if they don’t play your position. It is an opportunity to be able to pick the brain of someone who has lived through what you wish to emulate. Those players have learned to survive in a league that is physically demanding and exhausting year after year.
“It was great playing with those guys, and not just because of their skill set, but in the locker room as well,” McCannell said. “Anything that I would ever need, they were just so experienced (on and off the floor) that they were a great resource. Just watching them play with the certain recognition they have of certain plays, it’s at such a speed that it’s lighting quick for them. So, watching how they react at certain scenarios, it was like clockwork because they’re really good at what they do.”
During McCannell’s rookie season last year, he notched 60 loose ball recoveries, 14 caused turnovers, and 11 points. He was 1 of only 3 players in the NLL last season that posted 60+ LBs, 10+ CTOs, and 10+ points.
Unfortunately, those numbers did not secure him a spot on this coming season’s team. Over the offseason, McCannell was one of the pieces in the most significant blockbuster trade of the summer. McCannell was traded to the Philadelphia Wings in a three-team deal that included pieces such as Trevor Baptiste and Kyle Jackson, who were going to San Diego, and Kiel Matisz, who was going to the New York Riptide.
McCannell has learned to take life as it comes and the trade presented a brand new opportunity to start on a new journey. It was a business decision, and McCannell understands that. He’s excited to see his former teammates again when they travel across the country to Philadelphia to play the Wings on January 27th.
But, for now, that game is an afterthought. What matters most to McCannell is how he can seize the moment of this new start with a new team in a new city.
“I took just as a new opportunity,” McCannell said. “The guys and the staff in San Diego were great. It’s a great organization, and I enjoyed my time, but I’m excited to be in Philadelphia now and touch base with a lot of the guys… It’s going to be an incredible experience to settle in and see what I can bring.”
“I want to bring a lot of physicality and speed on the backend. I feel like I can pretty much cover anyone in the league just on skill level and trying to protect the net. With my transition ability, I just want to be able to compete in that way, not just playing solid defense, but getting up the floor and creating offense with the guys we have up there.”
McCannell’s confidence is unwavering. He is focused, and he is ready to deliver for the Wings. He was brought in as a youthful boost that can help push the pace in transition. If he keeps building off his success in his rookie season, he’ll be able to do much more than that. McCannell is ready to make a name for himself in Philadelphia, just like those that paved the way for him and helped him get to where he is today.
By Adam Levi