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Break the walls down

“There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.” ~ Ronald Reagan

Since the inception of the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships in 2003, the United States has taken home the bronze each time. They have yet to beat the Canadians or the Iroquois in a WILC event. I believe there has been one critical missing piece to each of those teams: an elite-level goalie.

Moose Whinery of the San Diego Seals is hoping to break down that barrier and has the skills to do so. “To be able to go outside the lines and change the game? That’s a pretty cool feeling.”

After going undrafted during the 2020 National Lacrosse League Draft, the young Denver, CO goalie was signed as a Free Agent by the Seals. He’s relocated to Southern California and is embracing the West Coast life.

In the United States, the indoor game is still relatively new compared to the field version, so it’s understandable that the growth at the younger age groups has taken some time to take off. Thankfully, USBOXLA has been a pioneering force in getting kids inside and used to the confined spaces. That also goes for the goalies. These days, they wear much more padding, face shots from much closer and must be able to react quicker with all that gear on.

It’s been a slow learning curve. One Whinery has embraced.

“It’s taken a few years of hard work and effort, playing at all levels. I’ve worked my way up, and I don’t think there’s anything holding me back.”

Since the National Lacrosse League and Major Indoor Lacrosse League merger in 1997, the professional indoor game has grown by leaps and bounds across North America. It has had its highs and its lows, but with each passing season, more and more Americans are turning to the more fast-paced, rugged, in-your-face style of play. Unfortunately, the one thing missing from that influx has been in goal.

Now, brace yourselves for this stat. In the entire existence of the modern-day NLL, there have only been four, yes, FOUR, American-born goalies to play at least one minute of lacrosse. (For the record, this number does not include players of Native heritage)

Sal Locascio is the Godfather of US goaltending. He played 89 games in the MILL/NLL, finishing with 3900 minutes played and was the first goalie inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Dwight Maetche suited up for six different MILL/NLL clubs between 1993 and 2007, amassing 94 games and just shy of 3700 minutes played. He also holds the distinct honor of being the only American-born goalie to earn a victory against Canada during the historic 2017 Heritage Cup Finals. To this day, it’s still the only time the US has beaten Canada indoors.

Then came Erik Miller. The Bel Air, MD product factored into the most games of any American goalie, but in his 11 seasons between the pipes, he only played 1747 minutes.

Jeremy Ogden is the fourth goalie of this prestigious group. However, he only literally played one minute in relief for the Colorado Mammoth in 2009. He’s the last American goalie to play in an NLL game back on March 28, 2009.

Over the past decade-plus, others have tried to crack a pro indoor roster, but the likes of David Mather, Chris Collins, and even Ginny Capicchioni, a standout female goalie, never made the final cut.

A product of USBOXLA and the iconic Denver Elite lacrosse program, Whinery is set to break down that preverbal barrier and be the new torchbearer for the next generation of American goalies.

“I’ve had some people come up to me and say that I’m going to be the “next one,” and that’s put some pressure on me. But at the same time, that’s motivation.” And he’s not settling for just being another blip on the radar either.

“I don’t just wanna set the bar at being the next American goalie. I wanna be the first American starter to win a Championship.”

Like most, the position was sort of thrust on him. The first few times he played box lacrosse, he was on the floor trying to score goals, not keep them out. That didn’t last long. As a big-bodied 10-year-old, running wasn’t his strong suit, so he was offered up the chance to play goalie. After some encouragement from his coach Matt Brown and a set of pads that barely covered his most vital bits, Whinery stepped in the net and it was a perfect fit.

“From that first moment, I was hooked.”

One of the main hindrances young American goalies have is the limited opportunities to play the position on a regular basis, and that’s where USBOXLA, Denver Elite, and numerous club programs across the country have played a massive role in the future of the position. Growing up, not only was Colorado Mammoth goalie Dillon Ward his idol but, the 2017 NLL Goalie of the Year was also Whinery’s mentor and coach.

“Once you get to know Moose, it’s impossible not to cheer for him,” said Ward, who has watched his young protege grow since those early days. “He’s a big kid and does a good job cutting angles down. At the same time, he has the ability to make the reactionary saves.”

High praise from one of the best.  Still, the two have a great relationship that allows the Student to regularly bounce ideas and questions off the Teacher.

In 2016, he was invited to play on a USBOXLA “National” team that would compete in the prestigious Trevor Wingrove Minor Tournament in Coquitlam, BC., where he gained valuable experience playing against kids who grew up indoors. Nothing could prepare him for what was to come next.

“I distinctly remember the game against Coquitlam. They had 83 shots on goal! I needed a nap after that,” he chuckled. For all those younger kids on that team, it was their first time playing against Canadians, “It opened our eyes to what real box lacrosse was.”

With the formation of the Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League in 2017, his game went to another level. “It really gave me the push I needed to become even better,” Whinery said from his San Diego condo where he lives with Austin Staats and Wes Berg. “I gained a ton of confidence because I knew I could hang with and stop some of the best players in the college lacrosse world.”

He would help the Fighting Bisons back-to-back titles, supplanting his name as a genuine up-and-coming pro prospect.

Personal confidence and belief are crucial elements when stepping into the pro game, especially as a goalie. The jump from Junior/College lacrosse to the pro game is a huge hurdle at the goalie position. It generally takes the longest to develop a young goaltender because of how much faster the game is, how skilled the shooters are and how much more commitment it takes to hone your craft.

Jeremy Noble coached Whinery on those Bison teams and has great respect for the time and effort the young netminder has put in. “It’s been amazing to watch Moose progress as a player and person over the past few years. He wants to be the best of the best and is a student of the game.

Goalies must do the most homework of any positional player in lacrosse as they need to know tendencies of offenses, shooters, and defensive schemes. Noble continues, “He has an incredible lacrosse IQ which helps him understand the game at a higher level. I’m excited to watch him grow with us in San Diego.”

It’s extremely rare for a rookie goalie to step right into the NLL and earn a starting spot, making Whinery’s bid to make the roster more of a waiting game than a challenge.

During the shortened 2020 seasons, out of all the elite goalies in the league- Jamieson, Kirk, Vinc, Rose, Del Bianco- only Dillon Ward was a day one starter his rookie season. Everyone else had to wait their turn and learn the ropes.

“The game is played very differently. I can’t wait to see and learn that.”

So, is Whinery the ‘Great American Hope’? Maybe, but in the meantime, he’s already putting in the work, learning from the games’ best in hopes that one day he gets that first pro start and a chance to put on that US National Team jersey and show the best in the world, that he belongs.

San Diego Seals