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Halifax Thunderbirds set to make National Lacrosse League debut on Saturday

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Cody Jamieson has played lacrosse his whole life, including suiting up for the Knighthawks the past nine years in Rochester, N.Y. Now he gets to show Halifax what the sport he loves is all about.

The Halifax Thunderbirds make their National Lacrosse League debut on Saturday as they host the expansion New York Riptide. The Knighthawks moved to Halifax in the off-season and were renamed the Thunderbirds while retaining most of their roster — including Jamieson — from last season.

"The fans are raw, there isn't a lot of lacrosse out here in general and there definitely isn't professional lacrosse," said Jamieson on Friday. "The lacrosse fans that come are going to be seeing a National Lacrosse League game for the first time, so it's going to be exciting for them.

"For the people who aren't really lacrosse fans but are just coming because they want to give it a shot, I think they'll be pleasantly surprised with how fun attending a game really is."

Jamieson is a critical part of the Thunderbirds offence, racking up 255 goals and 449 assists since being drafted out of Syracuse University by the Knighthawks in 2011. He hopes that fans in Halifax will be enticed by the atmosphere at Scotiabank Centre for NLL games.

"The National Lacrosse League is a tough league to explain because it's so different than every other sporting event that's out there," said Jamieson. "We play music during the game, it's kind of a party, and you're encouraged to stand up and you're encouraged to have fun."

Professional lacrosse players understand that most people aren't familiar with their sport, so they put in extra work as ambassadors of the game. To that end, Jamieson and teammate Luc Magnan left their homes in Southern Ontario two days ahead of the home opener to tour schools in the Halifax area and educate children about the rules and history of the sport.

Magnan, who grew up in Pine Falls, Man., far from the traditional lacrosse hotbeds of British Columbia's Lower Mainland and Ontario's Golden Horseshoe, understands the importance of that outreach.

"Coming from a small town where lacrosse wasn't as popular and having that opportunity to give back and grow the game in an area like Halifax, it's pretty cool," said Magnan, a defenceman. "I can only imagine what my younger self would have done to have something like this.

"It's pretty cool to be on this side of things and to give back to the game that's given so much to me."

Curt Styres, a Mohawk businessman from Six Nations, Ont., bought the Rochester Knighthawks in 2008. After owning the team for a decade, Styres announced he would move the franchise to Halifax and rename it the Thunderbirds after a legendary creature to many Indigenous peoples. Pegula Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the NFL's Buffalo Bills and NHL's Buffalo Sabres, bought the intellectual property rights to the Knighthawks name and is operating a new franchise in Rochester.

Jamieson, a nephew of Styres who is also from Six Nations, is pleased to see greater First Nations representation in a sport that was created by the Iroquois people.

"Lacrosse is born with us, it's in our creation story from when life first began here on Earth," said Jamieson. "Lacrosse has always been a huge part of our people so having Curt own a professional lacrosse team is a dream come true not only for him and for me, but for all Native Americans. It's at the pinnacle of what could be."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2019.

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John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press