The last time Hunter Lemieux and Nick Miller were on the floor at the same time at The Blue Cross Arena was for the inaugural Mearns Cup Championship. Lemieux led the Armory to a victory that night in August 2021. Two years later, the forwards are back in Rochester but are now on the same team and on a much bigger stage.
Lemieux and Miller were reunited by the National Lacrosse League’s Rochester Knighthawks this summer. Lemieux was acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Wings, while Miller signed as a free agent. The players are two of the five members of the Upstate Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (UCBLL) who are competing for spots in the Knighthawks Training Camp.
“The first weekend of camp was truly amazing,” said Miller. “I had a blast being back in Rochester, where it all started for me. There is definitely room to improve, but it was a great start not only for the team but for myself as well. I’m excited for the weeks to come to keep improving and learning from the veterans.”
“The first week of camp was great,” added Lemieux. “It was good to get back on the floor and to meet a new group of guys. It’s always nice to see familiar faces when joining a new team. It makes it that much easier to create new bonds between new teammates.”
Lemieux made league history as the first UCBLL player selected when he was taken in the first round by the Philadelphia Wings in 2021. Miller was the second UCBLL player picked, as the Buffalo Bandits took him in the fourth round of the same draft.
The UCBLL has seen 10 players selected in the NLL Entry Draft, including four in 2023. That is the most of any league in the National Collegiate Box Series (NCBS). It is an important year for the UCBLL as nine former players will have the opportunity to compete for spots on an NLL roster. That includes five players in Buffalo Bandits’ camp, two in Rochester, and one each in Las Vegas and Georgia.
“That’s why we started the league,” said Knighthawks defenseman Dan Coates. “I think that is what the evolution is going to continue to be. You are going to see more players come from our league – be it players or coaches. That’s a testament to the American player who wants to learn the box game and play at the next level.”
Coates is one of three veterans who also coaches in the UCBLL, joining Ryland Rees and Ethan O’Connor. Coates completed his third year in the summer league in 2023 and second with the Hawkeyes. He began his UCBLL coaching stint in Buffalo in 2021, working with O’Connor.
O’Connor joined the Knighthawks this offseason after signing a two-year free agent deal in August. O’Connor spent the previous three seasons with the Buffalo Bandits, winning his second NLL championship in 2023. For the past three summers, he has coached one of the Buffalo teams in the UCBLL.
“We are a young league that is still trying to prove itself as a legitimate destination for junior-aged lacrosse players,” said O’Connor. “Being able to send guys to camp and get drafted validates the competition, the coaching, and the players in our league and across the USBOXLA organization. This is something we want to continue to build on. Having these guys in camp in the last year really builds the groundwork for future success for us.”
Rees is the third Knighthawks defenseman who coached in the UCBLL this past summer. Rees spent his rookie coaching campaign with Coates on the Hawkeyes’ bench. The duo led their team to a second straight league title and a second-place finish at Nationals.
Being in camp with so many familiar faces from the UCBLL also excites Rees about the future of the Upstate Collegiate Box Lacrosse League.
“Coaching with Coatesy this summer, you get to learn a lot from a guy like that. He is a great leader,” said Rees. “Obviously, sharing the floor with him is always awesome. Bringing in O’Connor is pretty cool. He works with the UCBLL in Buffalo. For Hunter Lemieux and Nick Miller to be here at training is awesome and gives the league great exposure. It’s exciting to know that guys who come through the UCBLL can come in here and compete in the NLL.”