Shooting Eagles' Blake signs with NLL's Halifax Thunderbirds

by Gary Ahuja

Shooting Eagles' Rhys Blake has been signed to the Halifax Thunderbirds' practice squad. Ryan Molag photo

A childhood dream has come one step closer to reality for Rhys Blake.

“When you are a little kid and the teacher asks what you want to do when you are older, I always put down I wanted to be a professional lacrosse player, so when the opportunity presents itself, nothing you can do but smile and give it your all,” Blake explained.

Blake was referencing the fact he was signed to the practice roster for the National Lacrosse League’s Halifax Thunderbirds. The signing was made official on Wednesday (Jan. 24), just a few days after Blake – known more for his toughness and defence – scored the game-winning goal (his first of the season) for the Shooting Eagles in a 17-15 victory over the Grizzlies in Arena Lacrosse League West Division.

Blake has been a key contributor for the Shooting Eagles since the ALL West began play three seasons ago, helping the team win the championship in 2023.

The Arena Lacrosse League is a high-development league for players, coaches and officials with professional aspirations and is recognized as the official minor league of the National Lacrosse League.

Blake – who grew up in Port Moody and plays his summers in the Western Lacrosse Association with the Maple Ridge Burrards – credits the ALL for aiding in his development.

“If it wasn’t for this league, there isn’t much you could be doing other than getting in the gym, maybe hitting up a couple of boys and throwing the ball around,” he said. “This league puts you in a game situation every week, so it keeps me 100 percent all year round.”

He left on Wednesday (Jan. 24) to join the Thunderbirds and will leave a big void on the Shooting Eagles’ back-end, both on the floor and in the dressing room.

“Rhys is physically strong, focused and has an almost deceptive speed,” said Eagles coach Adam Smith. “If you hit him, he doesn’t budge (but) if he pushes you, it’s enough to push you over.”

“And he guys rally around him because of his actions: he works hard and is the first to be there for his teammates,” Smith added. “And he is a solid defender who can transition the ball down the floor. We are going to miss him.”

Smith feels there is no reason Blake can’t be successful at the next level, providing he continues to put in the work.

“A lot of the guys are bigger, stronger and faster (at the next level), but he does well against them all summer (in the WLA) and he has to remember that,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot more mental preparation and studying to learn player tendencies rather than just relying on his physical attributes and efforts, but he’ll do that. I have doubt that Rhys can be successful.”