Albany and the Thompson’s revolutionized the sport and you saw their play style seep into the grassroots level of the game. Throughout youth lacrosse and high school, kids were throwing backhands shots and trying to play like the Albany Great Danes.
“We had a ton of characters. We had a ton of different personalities. And then you mix that with, you know, arguably one of the best attack lines to ever play college lacrosse. It made for exciting times, and we rolled with that,” said Blaze.
Those teams had a lasting impact on the program and the relevancy of the sport within the Capitol Region. It brought a passion and love for lacrosse that we continue to see grow and has fostered a community in Albany which puts that same energy into supporting the PLL.
The PLL in Albany
The PLL has recognized the buzz around the sport within Albany, just as Blaze and Troy did when the city passionately supported the program during their careers as members of the Dane Train.
2023 marks the second straight season the PLL have hosted training camp in Albany and the fourth out of five years the tour has played weekend games there. The only year the PLL did not come to Albany was during the 2020 PLL bubble held in Utah, as a result of the pandemic.
To both Riorden and Reh, it means a lot to them that the PLL sees how special the lacrosse community is in Albany and appreciates the ability to go back every year and play at their alma mater.
“I’m just super appreciative and grateful that the PLL sees what I see in the Albany area and the Capital Region because we continue to go back for our home opener and that’s a product of their love for lacrosse and their fandom shift towards the sport,” said Blaze.
When I spoke to Reh about what it means to go back, much like Riorden, he raved about how appreciative he is for the opportunity to continue his professional career playing at Albany.
“It’s a second home to me. So having the opportunity to play there in front of the crowd, in front of family and friends, is such a unique experience that I’m forever grateful [for],” said Reh.
When mentioning the love and support the Capitol Region has for lacrosse, Reh brought up a story from the 2021 season when they played at Albany.
It was Friday, August 13th, and the Chaos were set to play Archers at 8:30pm that night in a “Friday Night Lights” type of event. Plenty of hype and a massive crowd packed Bob Ford Field at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium for a well anticipated return for a few members of the Dane Train.
A thunderstorm swooped in, bringing with it torrential downpour and four hours of delays. The game eventually started at 12:30am, wrapping up around 2:00 am. Still, thousands of fans remained in the stands bringing an electric atmosphere with them. It was as if the delay never happened.
“I think it just shows how much the sport is growing and how much love we have from this community, to not only support the Albany guys, but the sport in general,” said Reh.
These moments of sold-out crowds, thousands of fans supporting the game well past midnight, hosting league wide training camps, and a buzz around the sport unlike any other, are a direct result of the impact the teams that Blaze and Troy were on.
They felt the support of the city both in college and now as a pro and remain grateful that, “the fans made Albany a lacrosse city,” said Blaze passionately.
The impact they had on the growth of the sport is evident in the Albany community and felt annually when the PLL comes to town.
What it means to Riorden and Reh to Play in Albany
The two Albany greats are reminded of fond memories when they return to their old stomping grounds and the impact others have had on their journey.
For Reh, when returning to Albany each year he’s reminded of the path his lacrosse career has taken to get to where he is now and the opportunity to makes dreams become a reality
Growing up on Long Island, playing with his brother, he dreamt of playing on Final Four weekend and becoming a professional lacrosse player. Reaching Final Four weekend in 2018 — for the first time in program history — is a memory he holds close to his heart.
“Dreaming of being in that moment and having that opportunity to play at the highest level [final four weekend] in college. Getting there my senior year at Albany definitely was one of those moments,” said Reh.
Once they finally reached that stage after tirelessly falling short the first three seasons of his career, it became about Coach Marr and finally getting him there.
“He’s been in that quarterfinal game so many times. To finally get him over the hump in terms of being at Albany was just definitely a great experience and something I always look back to,” said Reh.
Then getting drafted by the New York Lizards, who he grew up watching, was another experience he looks back on because of the opportunity to live out a childhood dream. Growing up in Rocky Point, New York, Reh was only an hour away from the Lizards and watched plenty of games hoping one day he would play professionally.
“Going to a lot of those games always envisioning or hoping to be a professional lacrosse player and not necessarily thinking it could ever happen… having my name called and getting picked up by the Lizards was just a surreal moment.”
Playing close to home has always been special for Reh because of the opportunity to play in front of family and friends, which has always provided a unique atmosphere that reminds him of how grateful he is for his journey.
Moving over to the PLL and coming back to Albany every year ties it all together, reminded of that fact that he’s living out a childhood dream.
When Blaze returns to Albany, he’s like, “a kid in a candy shop… so eager to show everyone around,” and grateful for the opportunity to come back to his, “second home.”
The Chaos LC gets Albany’s locker room this weekend and Riorden has made sure to sit in his old stall. It makes him aware of, “the bigger picture in life.”
“Gratitude just pours on me knowing that I’m so lucky that I still get this opportunity to sit in this stool and remember those days and carry on my legacy,” said Blaze.
One of those special memories is the time he called his dad early freshman year to tell him he didn’t know if he was cut out for it, “after just getting lit up for two weeks straight by the Thompsons.”
Miles was trying to see how low of an angle he could score on him and would intentionally throw the ball off Blaze’s foot and into the goal from behind the cage. The same with Lyle who would detail how he would score, but Riorden still couldn’t stop him.
Luckily Blaze did not give up because he had a tremendous career at Albany and has turned into arguably the best player in the world.
Furthermore, Riorden is reminded of his growth and journey when he reminisces on old photos, “I look at these pictures of my appearances, my beard, and what I was rocking in my hair [while at Albany]. It’s just funny to look back and see how much I’ve grown as both a human and as a player.”
“There’s something special about people taking a chance on you,” said Blaze.
He had plenty of great coaches, teammates, friends, and his parents who were paramount in his development. But what allowed him to come into his own was the endless support he had from the community that passionately followed the lacrosse program.
“None of these people in the area know who I am… they know I play lacrosse; they know I’m part of the team… and the feeling I felt like when they just had my back from the start… and for four years,” is what leads Blaze to want to have a similar impact on others.
That’s why coming back to Albany is so much more than just training camp and a weekend game, “I play for something bigger than myself every time I’m there.”
Lacrosse is in a unique situation being one of the fastest growing sports in the United States.
Blaze’s dream is to be 70 years old, turn on the television and, “watch [lacrosse] be one of those top sports.” To look back on his journey and hope he helped, “lay the stepping stones,” from where the game is now to where he hopes the game eventually goes.
The dream of lacrosse becoming a major sport and the PLL becoming a top pro sports league.
“That comes with giving back, coaching, and being accessible for players to learn and pass that dream down,” said Riorden, because he understands young players look up to him just as he did with the pros when growing up. “That’s the cycle of this game and we got to keep it going.”
It all comes together in Albany. Giving back to the game as a thank you to the people that helped him when he wandered this campus for the first time a decade ago.
“I’ll never forget those people that were with me when I was an 18-year-old kid starting my collegiate journey and now where I am, all I can do is hope to get back and take as many pictures. Give out as much free gear and hopefully make a highlight play or make a save that brings a smile to their faces. Because I owe them that and a lot more.”