It was 1973 in Burnaby, British Columbia. A four-year old named Daniel Stroup stepped outside to play with his older brother and their neighborhood friends. The game they were playing – lacrosse. Little did that four-year old know, that game he was playing with the kids on the block would become a lifelong endeavor very few get to embark upon.
Since that fateful day in 1973, Dan Stroup has spent the last 37 years (and counting) playing lacrosse. Through Pee Wees (11-12 years old), Bantams (13-14), and Midgets (15-16), and then Intermediates (17-18), Juniors (19-21) and Seniors (22+), Stroup played for his hometown club in Burnaby, and at every level he excelled. Today, he becomes one of just 21 members of the National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame.
Stroup entered the NLL in 1995 with the Baltimore Thunder. There were just six teams in the league and they played just eight regular season games. In his thirteen NLL seasons, that rookie year was one of just four losing seasons (the Thunder went 3-5) in his career, and one of just two seasons in which he recorded less than two points per game (10 points in eight games). He went on to win 100 regular season games as a player, and added 10 more victories in the playoffs.
In the span of thirteen years, the league has evolved in a number of ways. When Stroup got his start, players were on the floor for both offense and defense. The league expanded the number of teams and games played. But according to Stroup, through all the changes, the game is still the same.
“The league has become more professional in it’s organization and the way teams are run,” he says. “But the game has always been incredibly fast and athletic. I’m just glad we still don’t wear the spandex shorts.”
In 1999, teams began making offensive and defensive substitutions, the shorts got a little less tight and Stroup joined the Toronto Rock. That season, Stroup recorded nearly four points per game (47 in 12 regular season games) and helped the Rock earn their first NLL title. It was the first of three championships Stroup won with the Rock, repeating as champions in 2000 and adding another in 2002.
In 2000, Stroup was named the Champion’s Cup MVP after scoring five goals to lead the Rock to a 14-13 victory over the Rochester Knighthawks. The consummate teammate, Stroup downplays the accomplishment.
“Sure, winning the MVP was great. Anytime you can win a championship is awesome; they aren’t easy to come by. But going through an entire season with a great group of guys is what made it special,” he says.
But Stroup wasn’t finished with his winning ways. After spending the 2003 and 2004 seasons closer to home with the Vancouver Ravens, he joined the Colorado Mammoth in 2005. A year later, Stroup was once again hoisting the Champion’s Cup. Adding to his legacy as a big game superstar, Stroup tallied two goals and three assists in the championship game to help the Mammoth capture their first NLL title in a 16-9 rout of the Buffalo Bandits.
2007 and 2008 were spent with a struggling Edmonton Rush team, as they went 10-22 in Stroup’s two seasons there. He returned to the playoffs a year later with the Portland Lumberjax, who were ousted by the Stealth in the opening round of the postseason.
It was after that 2009 season that the 40-year old Stroup retired from the NLL. "I just felt it was time,” he said at the time of his retirement. “I had a good career, a lot of great memories, and made friends for life along the way."
In February, Stroup got a call from the NLL announcing his induction into the NLL Hall of Fame. “I never really thought about it when I was playing,” says Stroup. “Being nominated was exciting, but to actually get in is a great feeling.”
While Stroup may have been surprised about the honor, anyone familiar with his career was not. In his thirteen seasons, Stroup played in all but four regular season games (182 our of a possible 186). He ended his career 12th on the NLL goal scoring list with 294. He also added 235 assists for 529 career points. In 14 career playoff games, Stroup tallied 43 points, including 30 goals.
But for any athlete, it’s tough to know when to call it quits. And adjusting to not suiting up every week is equally as hard. Stroup was no exception. “It took a lot to get used to not playing,” he says. “You miss being in the dressing room with your teammates and strapping on the pads and going to battle with those guys. It was a big adjustment.”
Stroup prepared for a full-time return to the Vancouver Fire Department, where he has worked the last 19 years. He looked forward to coaching his three daughters through the youth ranks in B.C. While he continues to do those things to this day, the NLL called him back.
A few months after announcing his retirement as a player, Stroup returned to the bench for the 2010 season. This time, as an assistant coach for the Washington Stealth. “Coaching is a lot different than playing,” he says of his first taste wearing a suit on the bench instead of a helmet. “But I learned a lot from (Stealth Head Coach) Chris Hall and (Assistant Coach) Art Webster. They have a ton of experience and made my first season coaching very easy.”
Not only did Stroup have a pair of experienced coaches to learn from, but his natural leadership ability and resume didn’t hurt.
“It was great to have Stroupy on the coaching staff this season,” said Hall. “He garners a lot of respect from the players because of what he accomplished as a player. As the season went along you could see him get more comfortable as a coach, and he excelled.”
Last May, the Stealth won their first NLL title, adding a fifth trophy for Stroup, his first as a coach. The team the Stealth beat to earn the Champion’s Cup was Stroup’s former squad, the Toronto Rock. The Rock are captained by one of Stroup’s former teammates and longtime friend, Colin Doyle. In fact, Doyle will be introducing Stroup at the Hall of Fame inductions this evening.
When asked what it felt like to win the cup at the expense of his friend, the always competitive Stroup said, “You’re friends off the floor, but only one team can win. And I’m glad it was us.”
Having played on four championship teams, he knew that the 2010 Stealth squad was special early on. “You can tell what teams will be like in the dressing room,” he says. “Then on the floor you see how committed they are. As soon as this team got together in training camp, you could tell it was going to be a good year.”
Stroup continues to save lives with the Vancouver Fire Department, and continues to pass his lacrosse knowledge to his daughters back in B.C. And he hopes that his NLL coaching career is far from over. “Hopefully we can win it again this year,” he says with a laugh. “I figure if we keep winning, they’ll keep me around for a while.”
Dan Stroup’s induction into the National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame represents the culmination of a great thirteen-year career as a player in the league. But Stroup’s time in lacrosse and impact on the game cannot be limited to just those thirteen years. And 37 years after he began playing the sport, in his eyes you can still see an overzealous four-year old picking up his stick for the first time. It’s that kind of passion and love for the game that has made Stroup one of the best the game will ever see and tonight is just another step on his lifelong lacrosse endeavor.