Rochester Knighthawks forward Dan Dawson will soon reach a milestone so rare, it has only been achieved once in the 29-year history of the National Lacrosse League. When Dawson hits the turf at Connors & Ferris Field on Saturday night, he will play in his 200th-straight regular season game, joining former Knighthawk Shawn Williams as only the second player to hit the ironman plateau.
“I have just been blessed to play this game for so long,” Dawson said. “Not a day goes by where I take a game for granted. I don’t know when is going to be my last game so I am just going to prepare like I do every single game and be thankful for the time I have in this league.”
This evening, the 14-year pro will add this accomplishment to his Hall of Fame playing career, which includes six NLL All-Star nods, seven All-Pro selections and a league MVP award. The humble Dawson thanked past and present players, coaches, strength and conditioning coaches and athletic trainers for his success, but his teammates know better. Matt Vinc and Jordan Hall chimed in with their congratulations and their appreciation for his hard work on and off the floor.
“Dan Dawson is up there with the all-time greats. He is a great team guy and he is unselfish. He puts in the work off the field for him to be so successful,” said Vinc. “For him to be there for 200 games is unbelievable because I know how much he puts into each game.”
“I think it’s his work ethic. He is always taking time to work on his craft both by playing year round and getting reps,” said Hall. “He also does a great job taking care of his body. He sets an example. He has a high standard for himself and it affects everyone around him.”
Dawson’s consecutive games streak began as a 20-year-old rookie. The Oakville, Ontario native broke into the NLL during the 2001-02 season after being selected in the sixth round of the 2001 NLL Entry Draft.
Since his introduction to the league over a decade ago, Dawson played for five teams before coming to Rochester for the 2013 season. Dan and his brother Paul were sent to the defending champions in a six-player, two draft pick deal with the Philadelphia Wings. With the Knighthawks, Dan has continued his games played streak, while winning back-to-back Champion’s Cups. The veteran forward thanked the team’s support staff for helping him stay game-ready, despite the expansion of the regular season schedule last season to 18 games.
“It starts in the Rochester dressing room with ‘Lober’ (Steve Lobsinger) and ‘Sowdy’ (Dave Sowden),” he said. “This is just a testament to the athletic staff and my strength and conditioning coaches that don’t get a lot of the limelight, but do the behind-the-scenes work. This is for them.”
The modest Dawson has maintained his fitness level by constructing a gym in his garage. Over the past two years, with the help of his brother Paul, they have added more weights and stations which they utilize during the warmer months.
“We always have a gym 24 hours so there are no excuses not to work out or get reps and sets,” said Paul.
During the winter, the Dawsons use their gym memberships. With their “no excuses” mentality, the brothers often work 12-hour shifts with the fire department and then drive to the gym to begin their two-hour workouts.
Dan’s consistency has been the product of his commitment to fitness and living a healthy lifestyle. He certainly is the prime example of a “Healthy Hawk” with his diet of chicken, fish, steaks, fruits and vegetables, rice and quinoa. Dan gives Paul – who is also a personal trainer – the credit when it comes to proper nutrition.
“I just follow his lead. He does a lot of research on working out and eating right because what you put into your body fuels you. We try to keep it as clean as possible,” he said. “We take a lot of pride in our fitness. When you get to a certain age, your body takes a long time to recover. If you want to play at this level for a consistent amount of time, you have to be in shape.”
So far this season, Dawson has eight points in two games to rank third on the Knighthawks in points. He entered 2015 after a season in which he set the team’s single-season assist record with 72 assists, along with Cody Jamieson, and finished tied for second in the NLL in assists and tied for fourth in points (91). To top it all off, Dawson was named the Championship Series MVP after Rochester achieved the first three-peat in NLL history. With his numbers rising, along with his years played, his brother marveled at his success in such a competitive and hard-hitting sport.
“He leads by example on how he works hard, eats right and works out. As a brother and as a teammate, he always tries to do the right thing,” said Paul. “It’s a testament to his work ethic and taking care of himself. With the amount he has played, there is a little bit of luck, a lot of hard work and taking care of yourself. That is the recipe for 200 straight games and being a good player helps, as well.”
“I definitely think his hard work is contagious,” said Vinc, who is the model for fitness in the NLL. “Dan is the epitome of a team guy and I think he gets the job done in a lot of different areas. He is just great for our team.”
Over his two seasons in Rochester, Dawson has notched an astounding 166 points (42+124) in 34 games. In the postseason, he has been even more impressive with 29 points (13+16) in eight games. His career numbers rank among the elite players in the 29-year history of the NLL. The Rochester forward ranks sixth on the NLL’s all-time assist list (655) and seventh in points (1,045). His 81 playoff assists and 133 points also rank second all-time.
“I have been very lucky. My wife (Alyse) is amazing. She is my best friend. I have her blessing and full understanding that I am going to ride this out as long as I can,” said Dan. “I have missed a lot of birthdays and a lot of weddings, but not once has my family ever questioned my motives. They know I am doing something I love.”
Dawson, who is signed through the 2020 season, does not plan to slow down anytime soon. He still loves to play lacrosse and experience the thrill that comes on game nights. When that feeling ends, he will know it’s time to retire from professional lacrosse.
“I’ll stop playing when it’s not fun and when it becomes a job,” he said. “I’ll know it’s time to stop when I am standing on the line and the national anthem ends and I don’t get goose bumps anymore.”
Story by Craig Rybczynski for Knighthawks.com. Photo by Larry Palumbo.