By Gary AhujaBlack Press
Growing up in Saanich, Rhys Duch was the type of kid who was constantly playing something.
At age 13, he decided to focus on a family favourite, lacrosse. The 28-year-old National Lacrosse League superstar recently became the Vancouver Stealth’s all-time goals and points leader, surpassing Gary Rosyski’s 530 points in his 132-game career with the franchise. He now has 586 points.
“My parents got me involved in every sport,” he said. “You name it, I played it. They exposed me to everything and then I chose what I liked best and lacrosse was it. I saw opportunity in (lacrosse) scholarship-wise.”
The Spectrum Community school grad has returned to the school as an assistant coach with its lacrosse academy, and will rejoin the Victoria Shamrocks this summer as the storied franchise looks to host, and capture, the Mann Cup once again.
By going into lacrosse, Duch followed the family bloodlines into the game as his dad Mike and uncles Mitch and Arch all played in the Western Lacrosse Association with the Shamrocks.
Duch earned a scholarship to play field lacrosse at New York’s Stony Brook University, and continued his ascent in the sport.
A prolific scorer at every level, Duch was the third overall pick in the 2008 National Lacrosse League draft, getting selected by the San Jose Stealth — who relocated to Everett, Wash., before settling in Langley as the Vancouver Stealth in 2014.
Despite scoring 252 goals in his NLL career he is loathe to discuss the franchise scoring record.
“It just means my teammates and coaches have put a lot of faith in me over the years to be the guy that is relied upon to get points,” he said.
“We don’t play for personal accolades; that is not what you set out to achieve in your career, a bunch of personal stuff.”
“Team victories mean more but it is nice to be recognized for your accomplishments.”
What stands out about Duch is his remarkable consistency while playing at a high level.
In his first six seasons in the NLL — all with the Stealth — he has scored no less than 33 goals and 79 points. Through the first 11 games of this season, he has 28 goals and 66 points, which puts him on pace for a career-high 108 points.
Entering the season, he had 224 goals and 520 points in 95 games with only Calgary’s Dane Dobbie (232 goals) having scored more over the past six seasons. NLL great Dan Dawson (551 points), who will join Duch on the Shamrocks this summer, is the lone player to have more points in that same span.
“We saw something special in him,” said Doug Locker, Stealth president and general manager.
“He has the proven track record at junior and at Stony Brook, as a natural goal scorer.” Locker was the team’s assistant general manager when they drafted Duch.
And Duch did not disappoint, winning the NLL rookie of the year award in 2009, setting the league record for rookie assists (54) and points (89).
“Rhys really has been the heart and soul of the team from an offensive standpoint,” Locker said.
“He is just one of those guys you can depend on to get 35 to 45 goals a year just because he is such a good shooter.”
Duch says there is no secret to his shot.
“Goalies are so good now it is all about deception and not being predictable,” he said. “It is about changing your shots up, whether it be in your release or where you place it.”
The other key is to not get complacent.
“It is about absorbing, never being satisfied,” he added. “You have to be constantly learning, goalies are getting better and you have to do the same.”
While success may drive some to have an ego, that is not the case with the Stealth sniper.
Locker said Duch isn’t cocky, but is confident in his skills.
“Usually when you see the ball in Duch’s stick, he has a knack for rising up in those key situations,” he said.
“He is a guy who consistently rises in big situations, pressure situations. He loves having the ball in those situations.”
For Duch, he is simply doing what he has always done: score goals.
Offence has always been the key, ever since he was five years old.
“I was always getting in trouble for not putting in a full effort on defence,” he said with a chuckle. “I have always had an attraction to the excitement and — for lack of a better word — the glory that offensive guys get.”