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A Prize Draw: 5-2 Hanover Sophomore a Master at Faceoffs

  • Brendan Brigham. Courtesy of Hanover High boys lacrosse.

  • Hanover High's Brendan Brigham takes a tumble while facing off against visiting Champlain Valley during the 2018 season opener. Brigham, a sophomore, hasn't stumbled often, however, winning 65 percent of his draws for the Marauders. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

  • Hanover High sophomore Ryan Brigham, right, watches action during the Marauders' season opener last month. A faceoff specialist, Brigham usually exits the field after a draw, but wants to improve enough overall that he can play a broader role. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

  • Hanover High's Ryan Brigham watches a Londonderry opponent during a June 3, 2012, playoff contest. Brigham became a faceoff specialist at St. Lawrence University and his younger brother, Brendan, is in that same role now with the Marauders. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

  • Ryan Brigham as a Hanover High junior in 2011. A Marauders faceoff specialist, he helped train his younger brother, Brendan, who's currently in that role for the team. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Hanover — Hanover High boys lacrosse coach Ryan Gardner was standing behind the school building on Friday when assistant Rick Hughes strolled past.

“I was just talking about our little junkyard dog,” Gardner said.

Hughes chuckled.

“I was, too,” he replied.

Down below, on Merriman-Branch Field’s worn turf, the subject of their proud chatter wasn’t hard to pick out. Brendan Brigham is literally a foot shorter than some of his teammates. The sophomore faceoff specialist, however, is also one of the squad’s most crucial components.

“It’s unbelievable how scrappy he is on the ground,” Gardner said. “It gets our team fired up.”

Hanover (5-9) is fighting to avoid missing the NHIAA Division I playoffs for the second time in three seasons, but it would be worse off without diminutive No. 1. Despite being only 5-foot-2 and 120 pounds, Brigham has won 205 of 306 faceoffs this season, a 65 percent success rate.

Were Brigham an NCAA Division I college player, that number would rank him sixth in the country. So crucial are draws in the sport that even this early, it seems almost a guarantee that the Norwich native will have an opportunity to play in college.

“I asked the JV coaches last year how Brendan was doing, and they told me he hadn’t lost a faceoff yet,” Gardner said. “He’s got an incredibly fast twitch off the whistle, and even though you can barely see him out there, he backs down from no one.

“You hate to say that we emotionally feed off a sophomore, but our game literally starts with him.”

Gardner had anticipated that Brigham would get manhandled during varsity faceoffs, when two players kneel at midfield while facing each other, their helmets almost touching. Competitors attempt to clamp the ball under the nylon mesh attached to their stick head, pinning it to the ground before flipping it forward or pulling it sideways or back.

Sometimes that move results in the ball popping up into the faceoff man’s own pocket and sometimes it shoots off toward one of his two wingmen, who swoop in from the side of the field. Teams without a skilled faceoff player will often resort to a burly competitor who makes little to no effort to win the clamp, but seeks to knock or bludgeon the ball loose from his counterpart, sometimes while wielding a 6-foot pole.

Pinkerton sent out such a player earlier this season, but one who also had considerable skill. New Hampshire has, in recent years, been something of a college recruiting hotbed for faceoff men, so it’s not as if Brigham has an easy road to possession.

“I’ve been beaten up in games,” he said. “I realized I can’t get away with just winning the clamp and being fast. I have to be willing to take hits in the middle of scraps, especially if it draws a penalty.”

Brigham began playing lacrosse in third grade, following older siblings to Hanover. Ryan graduated from St. Lawrence (N.Y.) University last year and works in technology sales in Boston. He was a faceoff specialist with the Saints and has tutored his younger brother in recent years. Their sister, Kelly, was a soccer and hockey star who went to Connecticut College to play the former sport and walked on to the Camels’ lacrosse squad.

By eighth grade, Brendan Brigham had become intrigued enough by faceoffs that he was attending summer camps run by professional players, focusing solely on the skill. He also discovered a smartphone application that varies a referee’s time sequence of “down… set…” before a whistle sounds, indicating the faceoff men may move.

“I don’t think any of it is god-given talent, because when I started I wasn’t good at all,” Brigham said. “It just took practice and patience to hone my craft. I’ve learned ways I can use my smaller size to my advantage, and I love the feeling of getting a ground ball.”

Ryan Brigham, who’s about 5-10, said he, too, went the summer camp route, learning to keep his arms and feet balanced while fighting for a draw. There are also counter moves for when you lose the clamp and an art to working in concert with your wingmen.

“It’s great to see him following the faceoff path,” Ryan said of his brother, who spends hours in the family’s basement practicing his technique. “He has things to get better on, but he’s a sophomore and, at that stage, you just don’t want to be the guy who screws up. I totally understand.”

Brendan Brigham doesn’t screw up often. He and his brother credit area trainer Wayne Burwell with increasing their strength and conditioning, and Brendan said he takes supplements and works out regularly in an effort to bulk up. That exertion, combined with his lightning-fast hands and attitude, make him a formidable foe at the X.

“I can’t beat him on the clamp. Ever.” Hanover teammate Colin Rozzi said. “At most, you jam him up and try to prevent the fast break. He’s got a lot of good games ahead of him.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.