By Darryl G. Smart
Next summer may be the last season for the Six Nations Pro-Fit Chiefs.
After the Ontario Lacrosse Association Annual General Meeting, the Chiefs announced they will play the 2021 Major Series Lacrosse season. But all indications are leading to it being the last for the six-time Mann Cup champions.
“It’s a difficult decision to make. It’s one I don’t want to have happen,” Chiefs president Duane Jacobs said. “Our organization feels Major Series Lacrosse is not feasible on Six Nations. Our ownership group is also concerned over the lack of fan support.”
After a discussion with team ownership, Jacobs said it was decided that the Chiefs go ahead for this season. And for good reason.
“We have a great young team right now,” Jacobs said. “We were very excited about this summer. This team is almost entirely local. It’s young. It’s talented. Most of the guys have won before whether it be in junior, MSL, or NLL. It’s a great mix of youth and experience, with some of the best players in the world on it.”
Despite that, Jacobs does understand the concern.
“We need to get some more support in the stands. It’s as simple as that,” Jacobs said. “We put together a team that could compete and beat anyone in the world, and on many nights we only have a couple hundred people in the stands. Hopefully we can change that somehow.
“We understand we’re competing for community support with another senior team and three junior teams,” he said. “We understand a significant part of our community is limited in income but we’ll do our best to keep the team going but not without major sponsorship.”
And with tickets already at a very affordable price, compared to other teams in the league and its professional counterpart, National Lacrosse League, Jacobs and the executive hope to drum up a couple of other ideas.
The news of the Chiefs hit the league hard.
“It was extremely troubling to hear of the struggles facing the Six Nations Chiefs,” MSL commissioner Doug Luey said. “The history of lacrosse in Six Nations is legendary, as anyone that has been to a game either at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena or the Gaylord Powless Arena understands.
“I cannot imagine Major Series Lacrosse without a team from Six Nations,” he said. “The Chiefs have and hopefully continue to be one of our flagship franchises. With six Mann Cups under their belt in a relative short history, we look forward to a seventh being celebrated in Six Nations of the Grand River.”
The Chiefs inaugural season was in 1993, with Jacobs as one of the original stars of the team. He remembers that first game at Gaylord Powless Arena well.
“This was a big deal for us. It was an even bigger deal for our community,” Jacobs said. “At the time I remember we didn’t have our uniforms yet, so we were wearing the junior B hockey team’s (Ohsweken Golden Eagles) jerseys. We came a long way from that.”
After posting a 1-14-1 record in that first season, the Chiefs improved to 14-5-1 the next season en route to its first of three-straight provincial titles, and Mann Cup championships, emblematic of Canadian senior A lacrosse supremacy.
From 1997 to 2011, the Chiefs knocked on the door of regaining its early success, with some bumps along the way. In 2013, it reclaimed the first of two-straight MSL and Mann Cup titles, and winning both again in 2016. From 2012 to 2019, the Chiefs had played in seven of eight MSL finals, cementing them as one of the most dominant lacrosse teams in Canada.
With things still uncertain about the 2021 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, MSL and Luey have a new challenge on their hands. At the end of October, the NLL announced that it would start its 2021 season on the weekend of April 9 to 11. Traditionally the NLL begins at the end of December and concludes in May or June. As a result, there is some overlap, usually two or three weeks for some players that play in both the MSL and NLL. But with a April start to the NLL season, MSL will have to do some brainstorming.