Only a few months ago, Jay Thorimbert was helping the Buffalo Bandits eliminate the New England Black Wolves in the National Lacrosse League East Division Finals.
So you can understand why Thorimbert – who signed a two-year free agent contract to join the Black Wolves in August – is still occasionally correcting himself , changing “they” to “we” in mid-sentence when talking about his new team.
“Very tough!” Thorimbert said with a laugh when asked about adjusting his viewpoint. “I’d been with Buffalo for so long, it’s tough. To be honest, when the offseason started, it wasn’t something that I ever imagined would happen. But it’s just the way things go sometimes. I keep in contact with all those (Buffalo) guys and they always make fun of me and chirp me and lead off with how much they hate me before they even respond to my messages.”
Thorimbert’s first season with New England will be his 10th in the NLL. His last six seasons were with the Bandits, who advanced to last year’s Champions Cup before falling to Saskatchewan. On the way to that appearance in the title series, the Bandits swept New England in a pair of tough games.
The Black Wolves left a clear impression with Thorimbert, who thinks New England is ready to compete for a championship.
“Competing against them last year, there was no quit,” he said. “They just kept coming and coming. A guy like Shawn Evans, who was hurt – I believe he was hurt in that first game (of the semifinals) – you weren’t sure if he was going to play and he played and was out there doing what he could for his team. That’s someone you want on a team. It’s definitely a big part of why we’re going to be successful.”
So will Thorimbert, a veteran who specializes in faceoffs and loose balls.
“Jay is one of the premier face-off men in this league and he will help to strengthen our team in this area.” Black Wolves coach Glenn Clark said. “He is a team-first guy and will be a positive addition to our group. Face-offs are an important part of the game but it has to be paired with the ability to play at the NLL level. Jay has proven that he can excel in both areas and we are excited to have him as part of the Blackwolves.”
While goals and assists tend to get the most attention, faceoffs-won and loose balls often play a crucial role in the outcome of a game because they lead to extra offensive possessions.
“I always tell people if you have LeBron James and Michael Jordan, whose going to win the game?” Thorimbert said. “You don’t know. Well, OK. Give LeBron James the ball every time after whoever scores and you give the edge to LeBron, right? It’s not going to be a deciding factor, but it’s going to be one of those things that adds up.”
What has added up for Thorimbert has been his faceoff win and loose ball totals.
Last year, Thorimbert led the Bandits with 129 loose balls and a league-best 289 faceoff wins while also finishing No. 1 in faceoff-win percentage (57.8 percent). In 2015, Thorimbert set the single-season NLL record in both categories, piling up 338 faceoff wins (with a 66-percent win ratio) and 246 loose balls.
For his career, Thorimbert ranks 13th in NLL history with 1,136 loose balls, and he has won 1,702 (fourth all-time) of 2,985 faceoffs (57 percent).
Thorimbert’s faceoff proficiency is particularly impressive considering it was not something he had much experience with before joining the NLL.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t really take any during juniors,” he said. “It wasn’t until I went to the University of Guelph in Ontario that I started taking field faceoffs. After that, I took the odd one in box lacrosse. I got drafted by Buffalo and I don’t even think they knew I could take faceoffs at the time. In the NLL, it wasn’t until I went to Boston that it was a well-known fact that I could take draws.”
So what makes a good faceoff specialist?
“Obviously practice is going to help any situation,” he said. “Reflexes, muscle memory and all that stuff. It’s timing. Getting used to referees and knowing really what’s going to happen when you get down for that draw. Other than that, maybe some good ball teams who get the ones you lose. Those guys who get in there and get loose balls. Even the (faceoffs) you win, you don’t always pick up yourself.”
Thorimbert enjoys the individual test that comes with faceoffs.
“It’s like a little wrestling match in between shift,” he explained. “It’s one of those instances in the game where it’s one on one right off the bat. It’s you versus the other guy and you have to be willing to lay it all out there. Once the ball gets out, it’s anyone’s game. But a lot of loose balls come with faceoff wins. There has to be a knack for that, right?”
Ironically enough, the all-time leader in loose balls is Black Wolves’ defensive coordinator Jim Veltman (2,417), one member of a staff Thorimbert is looking forward to learning from.
“I actually played with (offensive coordinator) Tracey (Kelusky),” Thorimbert said. “I didn’t get to play with the other guys, but Jim, it’s the same thing learning and playing with John Tavares. These guys are so talented and did what they did for so long, you’re just going to absorb everything they teach you and tell you. Jim had a knack for loose balls. I don’t think I will ever get to that level but it’s just one of those things, you listen to everything they say and try to take in whatever they tell you.
“It’s a great staff. Look at what they did last year. They went from 4-14 to going to the semifinals against my old team in Buffalo. It’s just tons of knowledge. Tons of things you’re going to learn. It’s one of the added (benefits) of moving to New England.”