Features | 3/8/2013 3:06:13 PM | Alex Beilman
|Mark Steenhuis (Photo: Bill Wippert)|
There was something different about the opening lacrosse practice at Governor Simcoe Secondary School to start that season. Aside form the returning players and hopeful freshmen, there was a one seventeen year-old who stood out.
He had no equipment, save for a long-pole stick he had borrowed from a friend, and a mane of curly hair. He also tried to hit everything that moved and did not shy away from any of the full contract drills.
Over 15 years later, he stands in the bowels of the First Niagara Center. As he approaches the zamboni entrance of the arena, the excitement is palpable.
“At transition, number nine, Mark, whose house?!?” booms the arena the public address announcer. In unison, a crowd of about fifteen thousand people responds “STEENHUIS!”
Bandits transition player Mark Steenhuis did not take the beaten path to the NLL. He was not even introduced to the sport of lacrosse until he transferred to Govern Simcoe Secondary School in St. Catherine’s Ontario at age 17.
His girlfriend’s brother and future-Bandits teammate Billy Dee Smith encouraged him to try lacrosse after the basketball season was wiped out due to a teacher’s strike. Basketball was Steenhuis’ sport of choice in high school before lacrosse entered his life.
“I had a buddy that said ‘you should come out,’ and I went out to my first practice,” Steenhuis recalled. “I fell in love right away.”
Steenhuis has become known for his incredible energy and toughness on the playing field. That developed mostly because of how he felt he had to play that first year to impress the coaches.
“I was brutal. I thankfully had some athletic ability. They put me on a long pole,” Steenhuis said. “The first practice I had no equipment and just tried to hit everybody in sight so they thought I was half-nuts.”
After improving and honing his skills in high school, Steenhuis moved on to play junior lacrosse with the Spartan Warriors of the Ontario Lacrosse Assoication Junior B league, and from there was able to move on to the St. Catherine’s Athletics of the OLA Junior A league in 1999. In his first season with the Athletics, he recorded 20 goals and 50 points and won Rookie of the Year honors.
“Those were some of the best times of my life,” Steenhuis said. “In St. Catherine’s, it was a real good group of guys. I got in with them and worked hard to the point where I could compete at their level. It was really neat.”
After three seasons with the Athletics in junior A, he was made his debut with the Columbus Landsharks in the NLL in 2002.
“Columbus was nice for me because it predominantly rookies, so it gave me the ability to get into same games,” Steenhuis said. “If I had come to a more established team, I probably would not have gotten as much floor time.”
After the 2002 season, Steenhuis was traded to the Buffalo Bandits in exchange for goaltender Ken Montour. He recalls that as one of the happiest moments of his lacrosse career.
“I got home and the wife was there, and my sister and my daughter and they played the message for me,” Steenhuis said. “It was one of the happiest times in lacrosse for me for sure.”
With a year of NLL lacrosse under his belt and his indomitable competitive spirit, Steenhuis was ready to learn the game further and compete for a roster spot.
“I was still learning when I got here. I had only played four years when I got here,” Steenhuis said. “I learned a ton off the veteran guys and coaches and just tried to soak it in.”
After that, Steenhuis’ career skyrocketed. Steenhuis has 681 points in just 177 games played (including this season). He has been named MVP of the NLL All-Star Game three times (2004, 2007, and 2009). He was also named NLL Transition Player of the Year and was named the championship game MVP in 2008.
“I never really assumed it would last this long, at this level,” Steenhuis admitted. “You never what you’re going to like until you try it. Once I started playing, I knew I wanted to do it for a significant amount of time.”
As far as he’s concerned, there is no place Steenhuis would rather play, at this point, than here in Buffalo and plans to bring the fire and competitive spirit that has endeared him to fans until his last game.
“You’re always fighting and clawing and always trying to do your best,” Steenhuis said. “[Buffalo] has been the craziest atmosphere I could ever ask for. Every year the fan base has gotten better and better. There’s no other place I would rather play.”