More than 80 per cent of National Lacrosse League players are Canadian, but only one hails from the Keystone Province.
That one and only player is Halifax Thunderbirds defenceman Luc Magnan — a product of Pine Falls.
Pine Falls? Bet that wouldn’t have been your first guess. Or second.
The small town 90 minutes northeast of Winnipeg with a population less than 2,000 is where Magnan’s lacrosse journey began.
Manitoba Lacrosse Hall of Fame inductee Mike Gilbert was a teacher in nearby Sagkeeng First Nation and he was influential in growing the sport in the area. Magnan gave it a try for the first time in Grade 8 and ended up playing at Powerview School.
"When you watched him, you wouldn’t say ‘Oh this kid is naturally gifted. He’s gonna go somewhere.’ But when you watched him and observed practice, you could see the work ethic he put in," said Larry Sharpe, Magnan’s high school coach.
"Here’s an example, and it wasn’t even lacrosse, it was cross-country running. I just remember there was a race and he couldn’t finish because he was sick. He might get mad that I’m saying this, but he was in tears because he was so upset. He felt he let the school and everyone down because he wanted to do so well. He always had that drive of wanting to do the best he could for himself and for the school because he was always a team player."
“When you watched him, you wouldn’t say ‘Oh this kid is naturally gifted. He’s gonna go somewhere.’ But when you watched him and observed practice, you could see the work ethic he put in." — Larry Sharpe, Magnan’s high school coach
That drive took Magnan to the provincial team, but with Manitoba’s lack of talent, he had to move to make it big. He ended up leaving in Grade 11 for a boarding school near Brampton, Ont., — one with a focus on helping lacrosse talent get to the next level — called The Hill Academy. Magnan, 29, is now a teacher at the academy.
From there, Magnan received an NCAA Div. I scholarship to Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania. After four seasons at Robert Morris, the Toronto Rock selected Magnan in the second round of the 2015 NLL Draft.
"I never thought I’d be here, that’s for sure. It’s crazy what sport can do and the opportunities it can provide for you," Magnan told the Free Press.
"Obviously, we’re not making millions playing lacrosse. I’m a full-time teacher and travel on the weekends and whatnot, so, it has part of that, but the perks are travelling around North America still getting to play the game that I love at 29 years old and hopefully for as long as I can. It’s very surreal."
After a season with the Rock, Magnan was released and picked up by the Rochester Knighthawks, who eventually moved to Halifax prior to the 2019-20 season. Magnan is now in his seventh season playing box lacrosse with the best of the best. Magnan works Monday-Friday, hops on a plane after school Friday for Halifax or wherever it is that they’re playing for Saturday’s game, then flies home Sunday to do it all over again. NLL players reportedly make between $9,000-$34,000 a season.
“Obviously, we’re not making millions playing lacrosse. I’m a full-time teacher and travel on the weekends and whatnot, so, it has part of that, but the perks are travelling around North America still getting to play the game that I love at 29 years old and hopefully for as long as I can. It’s very surreal.” — Luc Magnan
"It’s busy, but you just find a way to make it work. I think lacrosse players overall, there’s a toughness there. You got to have some sort of toughness to play the game and the travel is just part of it," said Magnan, who still has family in Pine Falls and often visits during the holidays and summer break.
"The travel definitely wears on you when you’re in Week 10. It’s not like most pros where you’re flying private. You’re flying commercial, so that novelty wears off pretty quick, but you make it work."
Magnan did get a bit of a break as last season was cancelled owing to COVID-19. But the NLL is back in full force this year and Halifax is making up for lost time. The Thunderbirds clinched a playoff spot with a 16-13 shootout win over the New York Riptide last weekend. The Thunderbirds head into Saturday’s regular season finale with a 10-7 record and will likely get matched up with Toronto (12-5) in the first round of the eight-team playoff.
"It’s really hard to win in this league, so I’m still searching for my first (championship), but that’s the plan this year," he said.
Whether he hoists the NLL Cup this year or not, Magnan, who considers himself a "heart and soul, hard-hat kind of player," doesn’t plan on hanging up the stick anytime soon. But before he does, he hopes he no longer holds the distinction as the lone Manitoban in the league. And that might change very soon, as the past two years have seen the Saskatchewan Rush draft two players from Winnipeg — Kelson Borisenko and Troy Gutowski. Borisenko and Gutowski didn’t end up cracking the Rush’s roster, but it’s a step in the right direction.
"We’re just a smaller province, we’re developing… But I think there’s a new wave of players coming in," said Magnan.
"It’s just a matter of there’s not a lot of players playing the game. But there’s a few up-and-coming players that will make a splash in the league in a few years, I think."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...