Team USA's Blaze Riorden: Uncaged

Blaze Riorden’s father, Mike, got his son involved in lacrosse at age 4. He started as an attackman and within a couple years, he had a shot that struck fear into goalies around Fairport Youth Lacrosse (N.Y.).

That fear extended to his teammates.

At one practice, Riorden fired off a shot that caught his own goalie — breaking his hand in the process. Next man up?

“My dad was the coach, and he said since I hurt him, I had to play goalie,” Blaze Riorden joked.

“He was like, ‘I’ll jump in goal,” Mike Riorden said. “It’s the last thing on Earth I wanted.”

There Blaze Riorden was, standing in the cage. It was supposed to be temporary. He was an attackman. He didn’t know it at the time, but it was the start of a unique lacrosse journey.

Riorden had a knack for standing in goal, but continued playing on offense throughout his childhood and into high school — where he was recruited for both positions.

He chose Albany, a school where he could play both goalie and man-up offense. The decision shaped his entire lacrosse career, as he discovered the indoor version of the sport shortly after arriving on campus.

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USA Insider
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Matt Hamilton
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Years later, Riorden is a two-discipline star, playing forward for the National Lacrosse League’s Philadelphia Wings and shining as an All-Star goalie for the Premier Lacrosse League’s Chaos. And to top it off, he’s preparing for his second appearance with the U.S. national team in the World Indoor Lacrosse Championship Sept. 19-28 in Langley, British Columbia.

It takes hard work to make a professional living at two different positions. The road hasn’t always been smooth for Riorden, but he’s at the top of his game and hopes to stay there.

“I didn’t wake up one morning and turn from a goalie to an NLL forward,” he said. “It never works like that. There were steps along the way. The path to the most success is the one with the hills on it.”

Looking back on it, Riorden’s blossoming NLL career was a long time coming. His family had season tickets to the Rochester Knighthawks, his favorite team growing up. While his friends and their parents went to get refreshments during the game, Riorden stayed in his seat.

“While they were getting Dippin’ Dots, he’d watch the warmups and let me know if there were changes,” Mike Riorden said. “At 10 or 11, he would say, ‘Oh, they’re running different lines or this guy is off the line.’ He watched and saw everything.”

Riorden was a talented youngster and it translated when he made it to Fairport High School. He helped Fairport to two New York Section V championships as a two-position player while garnering attention from college coaches across the country. Albany coach Scott Marr approached Riorden as an attackman and was surprised to learn his recruit also tended the goal.

Marr offered the chance to play goalie and man-up with the Great Danes and the Thompsons. That was all Riorden needed to hear.

“It was something no other coach would give me an opportunity to do,” he said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’m doing that.’”

Riorden was a starter during his freshman year, leading a nationally-competitive team. That summer, Ty Thompson approached him with an opportunity — come to the Akwesasne Reservation, learn about their culture and give box lacrosse a chance.

“I got to know Blaze, and I realized how good of stick skills he had,” Thompson said. “Even though he was a goalie, he had better hands than most offensive players.”

And so Riorden packed up his things and headed some five hours north to live with the Thompsons for the summer. There, he was invited to try out for the Junior B Akwesasne Indians.

He wasn’t sure what he was getting into, but it was easy saying yes to another chance to play the game.

“I didn’t have any of the proper pads on,” he joked. “In the locker room, I’m screwing my neck guard off my Albany helmet, so I’d at least have a helmet without a neck guard.”

After the tryout, Riorden was the talk of the reservation.

“‘You did pretty good,’” said Thompson, who wasn’t at the tryout.

“‘How would you know?’” Riorden answered.

Riorden, the only American, had done so well that word had made it to the Thompsons about their friend. He was told he “wasn’t ready” after the tryout, but after few a YouTube videos and a six-point game early in the season, Riorden was a fixture for Akwesasne.

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“I didn’t wake up one morning and turn from a goalie to an NLL forward. It never works like that. There were steps along the way. The path to the most success is the one with the hills on it.” — Blaze Riorden
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Every summer, he returned to Akwesasne to play juniors. During his senior year summer, his play caught the attention of the U.S. national team.

It helped that Fairport native and physical education teacher Tim Soudan, long a mentor for Riorden, was on the U.S. staff for the 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship.

Riorden was invited to camp to gain valuable experience, and he left with a roster spot. On paper, Riorden’s inclusion on the roster made some players scratch their heads.

“I heard someone mention my name. They said, ‘Isn’t this Blaze Riorden guy a goalie? How is he on our team?’” he said. “It’s true. I’m thinking, ‘Wow, what an opportunity I have in front of me.’ It’s an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I know that I was underestimated and I was the underdog. At the time, I was still a little overweight and I played goalie. But when I got there, I just knew I had to make the most of it.”

Riorden was the only college player, and the youngest, on the U.S. team that finished in third place, behind Canada and the Iroquois, in Syracuse. Just two years into his indoor career, Riorden was representing his country.

“It was the best thing that’s ever happened in my lacrosse career,” he said. “Being in a locker room with a bunch of professional guys. I learned so much about leadership and being a man.”

As fun as that experience was, Riorden picked up a goalie stick once again and got back to work as a captain for his senior year at Albany. He anchored a Great Danes team that made the NCAA tournament for the third time in his four seasons.

And that’s when Riorden became a household name — at least for lacrosse fans. His coast-to-coast goalie goal against Cornell in the NCAA tournament’s first-round went viral to the tune of over a million views. On the replay, then-ESPN play-by-play announcer Eamon McAnaney and his broadcast partners reference his box abilities.

“Watch the stick fake,” ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra says. “No other goalie in America can do that.”

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Carcaterra was right. In the history of lacrosse, only a few players have made the switch from field goalie to box runner at such a high level. Quint Kessenich starred in goal for Johns Hopkins and also played forward indoors with the Baltimore Thunder. Brett Queener, similarly, played goalie at Albany and transition for the NLL’s Boston Blazers.

The future was there for Riorden after he graduated from Albany. He was drafted by the Rochester Rattlers in the sixth round of the 2016 Major League Lacrosse draft, backing up John Galloway for three seasons. Meanwhile, he made the trip up to Brampton, Ontario, to play Senior A box lacrosse.

Riorden’s NLL break came in 2017, when he won a roster spot on the Buffalo Bandits in a battle of 10 lefty attackmen. He played nine games with the Bandits before being released.

Riorden returned to Canada to play with the Whitby Steelhawks of the Arena Lacrosse League, where he led his team to a championship. It wasn’t long after that he got a call from new Philadelphia Wings coach Paul Day, inviting him to be a part of the Wings’ first season back in the NLL after a four-year hiatus. (The original Wings franchise was relocated to New England and rebranded as the Black Wolves.)

A year later, Riorden is one of the biggest names in lacrosse. He dropped 54 points for the Wings in the 2018-19 NLL season and then joined the PLL. He was voted to the PLL All-Star Game in July.

But Riorden remains focused on winning gold with the U.S. indoor team. Just six years into his indoor career, Riorden is a veteran leader and has the respect of his teammates.

“Blaze Riorden. Twister McGrister,” said teammate Kevin Buchanan, referencing his nickname for Riorden. “Loves to mix it up. What a character. He’s such a great guy and great teammate. He’s got such a high IQ in the indoor game.”

Now, Riorden helps motivate the next generation of U.S. indoor talent. That started last fall with Connor Kelly, the former Tewaaraton Award finalist and the all-time leading scorer among midfielders in Maryland history, at the Lacrosse All Stars North American Invitational.

“He was telling me he was nervous and stuff,” Riorden said of Kelly, who made his box debut as a rookie with the San Diego Seals and was recently picked up by the New York Riptide in the expansion draft. “I said ‘Bro, you’re one of the best offensive players in the world right now. I started out as a goalie with no experience. You have nothing to worry about. Go play your game.’”

A freak accident allowed Riorden a chance to play two positions. He’s made it a career. Is this the peak of his lacrosse journey?

“At the moment,” he said before a pause. “But I’m just getting started.”

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After starring for Chaos in cage, Blaze Riorden switches roles for U.S. indoor team.
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Photographer Main Image: 
PHOTO BY GREG WALL
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PHOTO COURTESY PLL
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Blaze Riorden, a goalie for the PLL's Chaos, switches roles when playing the indoor game. He'll be a key fixture on offense for the U.S. team at the world championship.
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The multi-talented Riorden competing during the fastest shot competition at the PLL All-Star Game earlier this summer.

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