An injury can be a devastating blow to any athletes’ career, no matter their age.
But, imagine suffering the exact same injury while in the rehabilitation process. Couple in lost seasons because of the world-wide pandemic, and this was the reality facing Matt Abbott.
The injury was a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, originally suffered near the end of the 2019 BC Junior A Lacrosse League season with the Langley Thunder.
Following surgery to repair the damage, Abbott again tore the same ACL about six months into the rehabilitation process, in early 2020, this time while away at school as he attends Queens University of Charlotte.
“It was a serious mental battle for a couple of years, not knowing if I was going to play again… and if I wasn’t going to play lacrosse, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do or who I was. It was an identity crisis, and it was kind of scary,” Abbott said. “My main thought was I just wasn’t sure I could come back and play at the same level.”
Ultimately, it took three surgeries, but Abbott was finally fully cleared in November to rejoin the Royals’ field lacrosse team.
“My biggest concern was that I was going to hesitate, and not being able to make the right play because I was nervous,” Abbott described about his initial feelings upon his return.
“That came and went pretty fast once I got on the field and realized I didn’t need to worry about it anymore.”
Abbott managed to play in all 15 games this season for the Royals – a goal of his – and returned home to Mission in May, re-joining the Thunder for his final year of eligibility in the BCJALL. It also marked his first box lacrosse game since suffering the initial injury three years ago this month.
He has suited up for the Thunder in all the games this season and while Abbott has never been known for his goal-scoring prowess – he has five goals and eight points – it is his work on the defensive end, and especially on the face-off dot, that really stands out.
As the primary face-off specialist for Langley, no player in the BCJALL has taken as many face-offs this season as the 235 Abbott has participated in, nor does anyone have a better winning percentage than his .651success rate (153-82).
With the regular season winding down, Abbott is one of just two primary face-off players to boast a winning percentage above .600 as the Coquitlam Adanacs’ Ben Coghill has gone 115-75 on draws.
When the two players went head-to-head on June 2, Abbott was 16-8 while Coghill was 8-17, although the Adanacs did win the game.
Thunder head coach Adam Smith referenced a game earlier this season where the opposition was resigned to the fact they were not winning possession.
“They were lining up in the defensive end and their guy wasn’t even drawing. It was a foregone conclusion that Matt was going to pull it out and put it where he wanted,” Smith said.
Twice this season, Abbott has won more than 80 per cent of the face-offs in a game.
“He is quick on the ball and gets it out of there fast and knows where to put it. I think the big thing with him is that it doesn’t matter where the ball comes out in the draw, he’s tenacious so he’s going after it and getting half of them in the battle after the ball and not necessarily in the draw itself,” Smith said in attempting to explain the success.
Abbott credits watching YouTube videos to learn the mechanics of the art of winning a draw and then getting loads of reps in minor lacrosse to perfect his technique.
He also doesn’t mind doing the stuff that may not generate the gaudy numbers, but are crucial for team success, such as digging up a loose ball or harassing an opponent into turning the ball over.
Much of the tenacity and drive shown by Abbott comes from his athleticism.
“He is an athlete. He comes from a soccer background and his agility foot speed really stand out. He just never stops so all of a sudden, you have this defender who can keep up with anybody and go and attack and recover. He has been awesome,” Smith said.
Abbott grew up in Mission and played both soccer and lacrosse growing up and switched to focusing on the latter in about Grade 10.
“I was always just good at defence. In lacrosse, I didn’t have the greatest hand skills, but I always worked hard and that just brought out my defensive play,” he said.
“I was able to keep up with O-guys and stay in front of them and just be more athletic than them rather than more skillful, and over time, I was able to develop my hand skills and game IQ.”
Smith and the coaching staff wondered how Abbott would be received by his younger teammates, many of whom were not on the team when he played in 2019 – but were altogether with Langley in 2021 and had already been practising together this spring ahead of the season, while Abbott was still away at school.
They polled the team for input on who should be the next Langley captain.
“He gets the most votes out of anybody and he is the only guy people say should be captain,” Smith said.
“There is just something about him. When he is out on the floor, he has that confidence in him and helps people, and talks to everybody, and is just friendly and a hard worker.
“The effort – he can lead by example, he can lead by his words – everything he has done in lacrosse, he has done right,” Smith concluded.
“That is a huge honour because I have been out of lacrosse for a couple of years now because of injury. Coming back for my first year of box lacrosse and proving to myself, my team, and my coaches that I can play at this level, it was a great honour to be named captain and just the recognition from the young guys,” Abbott said.
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