Features | 1/4/2010 11:20:07 AM | Jackie Lewandowski
Buffalo Bandits' Mark Steenhuis found a love for lacrosse in an unlikely place this fall - when took his game Down Under for the NLL All-Star Series.
Participating in a two-game exhibition this October in Melbourne, Australia, Steenhuis got the opportunity to be a part of the country's first look at professional indoor lacrosse.
In an area where soccer dominates as the premier sport, the forward wasn't sure what to expect. What he found, however, were more than 7,000 Australian fans ready to embrace the game.
"The crowd was definitely a rowdy bunch" Steenhuis said. "Once there were some scrums and punches thrown, they began to get more into the game and began to understand it more."
"The Australian version of lacrosse is more geared towards the field [outdoor] game over there rather than box [indoor]. There are a few programs that are set up that are trying to change that, but it's a work in progress."
In part, the All-Star Series was designed to help. Played by both NLL and Australian players, the games showcased the different styles of lacrosse and the players' ability to adapt to them. For those players who represented the Australian league, the conversion was easier than initially expected.
"We already had something in common with one another, which brought us together right away" Steenhuis said. "They were able to transition to the indoor style pretty easily; then we started to get to know one another on a personal level where we found all of them to be great guys."
While on the turf Stennhuis managed to score six goals in his first overseas experience. He also earned MVP honors and became the only multiple All-Star MVP in NLL history.
However, he did find time to let the Australians teach him a thing or two off the field.
"I was on the beach the whole time surfing, swimming, and doing whatever else I could to take it all in" Steenhuis said. "It was neat to see the city and just experience the laidback atmosphere that everyone associates with Australia."
The exhibition may be the first of many for the NLL, as the game continues to grow into other areas - including Europe as well Asia where a fan base is developing.
"You are now seeing parts of the world, even Japan, with growing interest and teams developing more" Steenhuis said. "If we can get it going in those areas, then I think you can make the game worldly and begin to see the core of lacrosse being taken to new heights."
Steenhuis hopes the same holds true this season as the Bandits prepare for the 2010 campaign.
The forward recently signed a five-year deal to keep him with the squad until 2015. For Steenhuis, the decision to make a long-term commitment was an easy one.
"The team is great, the organization is amazing, and they have always showed great faith in me," Steenhuis said. "It's the best place to play in the league thus far, and when you look at the passion and excitement in this city, you just can't get that anywhere else.
"When I run out of this tunnel with that kind of support each game, it means a lot, and I can't wait to do that for these next five years."
Steenhuis and his teammates will open the season on Saturday, January 9th when the Buffalo Bandits travel to Rochester to take on the Knighthawks. For more information, click here.