Thunderbirds come together though thousands of kilometres apart

Lacrosse team plays its first game in Halifax next month

Kyle Jackson isn’t just a powerhouse on the forward line for the new Halifax Thunderbirds. He’s also the lone player who lives in the city.

Since he moved to Halifax, he’s been focused on community involvement and finds it a challenge to stay involved with his teammates.

Jackson is just under a 2,000-kilometre journey from the rest of his team, who mostly live in Ontario. He communicates through group chats and FaceTime most of time.

Every Wednesday he flies to Six Nations, Ont., for team practice, just to fly back to Nova Scotia the next day. He says the distance hasn’t prevented him from staying in touch, but it can be difficult.

“This is my first time, really, that I’ve ever been outside of the city and kind of isolated compared to everybody else,” says Jackson.

“It’s a new transition, but it’s something that obviously is exciting because I get to work in Halifax and I get to be here, see the fans, see the people, see the community every single day.”

The Halifax Thunderbirds used to be known as the Rochester Knighthawks, based out of Rochester, New York. In September 2018, the team officially announced it would be relocating to Halifax.

Since then, Jackson’s role has been to develop lacrosse and promote the team in Halifax. The organization has started two outreach programs: Sticks for Kidz and a school program.

Sticks for Kidz focuses on teaching the game of lacrosse in schools, while the school program works to teach kids about healthy living, mental health and how this contributes to being a good teammate. Players will also begin monthly visits to the IWK Health Centre with schools in December.

Jackson says bringing the National Lacrosse League to Halifax is just what the East Coast needs.

“It’s something I am really excited for, to see the expressions on fans’ faces after they watch their first game and realize the product that we’re bringing here,” he says.

He doesn’t think his absence has affected the team’s chemistry, saying they’ve built good connections while previously located in Rochester.

Still, it can be difficult to have one of your players apart from the others, says the team’s head coach in a phone interview from St. Catherines, Ont.

Mike Accursi says having Jackson outside of daily communication can be challenging, but it’s something they anticipated before the relocation.

“He’s a great guy and he’s going to be a good leader in that community and for our organization as well,” says Accursi. “And the guys that will be moving there are going to follow suit with him.”

Accursi says some of Jackson’s teammates will be moving to Halifax and joining him in December, but the details still need to be worked out.

Halifax Thunderbirds at a practice in Six Nations, Ont.   Submitted: Halifax Thunderbirds

A welcome home

Accursi says Rochester was not embracing the group and Halifax has “opened their arms to us and bent over backwards to make us feel welcome.”

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage says the city hasn’t financially contributed to the relocation.

“There’s nothing that we can do for a for-profit enterprise,” says Savage. “They deserve to be successful and we are happy to support them any way that we can. But we just don’t have any money to give them.”

Savage is impressed with the team’s marketing. He’s tried to be helpful, such as making a few introductions.

“They were very keen on meeting the local Indigenous population, especially the Mi’kmaw. They’re from a different band in Ontario, different First Nations,” he says.

Accursi says the team’s connection with the Indigenous roots of lacrosse comes from its owner, Curt Styres.

Styres helped design the Thunderbirds logo with inspiration from Indigenous symbols like birds and feathers. Accursi says the lightning bolt comes from Styres’ own lacrosse stick, which was made from a tree that had been struck by lightning.

Accursi says the team also spent three months canoeing from Styres’ backyard in Six Nations to Halifax, arriving at the beginning of October.

“We’re hoping to bring lacrosse to life in Halifax,” Accursi says, “not just in the surrounding Halifax area, but to the Indigenous communities throughout Nova Scotia.”

The team plays its first game against the New York Riptide on Dec. 7 at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax. A spokesperson for the team says ticket sales are going well, but didn’t provide numbers.

With the team’s relocation to Halifax, five of the 13 National Lacrosse League teams are Canadian.

Jackson says he’s excited for the season to start this winter.

“We’re going to give the fans here some pretty exciting lacrosse to watch.”

With files from Lucia Helder

Ellery Platts

Ellery Platts

Ellery is a fourth year student in the BJH program at King's. She is extremely passionate about sports and photography.

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