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Merrill, Wings honor coach Chris Sanderson and his legacy

Thursday, 18th April 2013

Categories Boy's/Men's, Pro  

By Chris Goldberg, Posted 4/18/13

As a young budding box lacrosse player in Orangeville, Ontario, Brodie Merrill was thrilled to be introduced to the field game by Chris Sanderson.

Wings captain Brodie Merrill presents a check to Brogan Sanderson and her daughters Stevie (left) and Clementine after the Wings' victory last weekend

Wings captain Brodie Merrill presents to Brogan Sanderson and her daughters Clementine (left) and Stevie after the Wings’ victory last weekend over the Minnesota Swarm.

“I met Chris at a young age; he was the first person in our hometown to go off to play high level NCAA lacrosse when he went out to Virginia,” recalled Merrill, now captain of the Philadelphia Wings and long considered one of the best defensive players in the world.

“Chris used to come back and run lacrosse camps and youth camps. He was introduction to field lacrosse. In Canada we grew up playing indoor lacrosse and Chris was the one who really exposed the young lacrosse players with the opportunity to see the field game.”

Merrill – who was coached by Sanderson on the Canadian U-19 team – became close friends with him as he got older and played with him on the Canadian National team upset the US and won the 2006 World Championship. Merrill became re-united two years ago when he was traded to the Wings while Sanderson was trying to recover from brain cancer as a Wings’ goalie coach.

When Sanderson lost his battle to brain cancer at the age of 38 last summer, Merrill was devastated. So when the Wings held the Think Grey! Movement two weekends ago to raise awareness for brain cancer and funds for the Sanderson in an NLL game against the Minnesota Swarm at the Wells Fargo Center, it was indeed a special event.

The Wings, thanks to the retro jersey event, raised $8,675 through an auction that benefited the RENK Foundation. The foundation then donated 25% of the proceeds to the Sanderson Memorial Trust. Merrill had the honor of presenting a plaque with Chris’ jersey before the game to Chris’ wife, Brogan, and her daughters, Stevie and Clementine.

Merrill, who later went on to star at Georgetown University after attending Salisbury School (CT), said Sanderson took a special interest in his talents at a young age.

“He saw something in myself and (Wings goalie) Brandon’s younger (Kyle Miller), and he mentored us through our early teenage years,” said Merrill of Sanderson, considered one of the greatest goalies ever. “We became closer and closer as the years went on.

“I became teammates with him in 2006 (in World Championships, when Merrill was named All-World) and again in 2010, when Canada fell to the US in the gold medal game). We developed a close friendship.

“He was different. Really anyone that knew him gravitated to him. He was so smart, so witty … he had a great sense of humor. You always wanted to be around him.”

With Sanderson’s help, Merrill is now a highly-respected coach in Canada. He is in his seventh season at Hill Academy.

“He opened doors for me,” said Merrill, “and exposed me to opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten.”

Merrill said Sanderson’s legacy will continue to grow. One reason Canada has become a hot destination for college coaches is because of the path that Chris Sanderson blazed.

When Merrill came to Philly, he was said to see Chris fighting his cancer so hard, but he was pleased to spend any possible time with him.

“It was especially hard since he started to get really sick,” said Merrill. “He had to go through countless surgeries. It was still nice to be connected to him. Sports does bring people together.

“I think it’s tough to really understand (how I feel) now (about his loss). Being friends and teammates, it’s still so fresh. You have those moments where you think of old memories and old stories.

“Like anyone that passes, it takes time to really sink in. But I think when you look at Canadian lacrosse – the role he’s played in the recent spark in growth of Canadian lacrosse – he coached so many players and touched so many lives that he’ll have a very long lasting legacy.

“He has left his mark – and a very important one in the history of Canadian lacrosse. I think that’s something obviously his family can be very proud of.”

NOTES – The Wings also raised money at the event for Merrill’s teammate on the 2006 Championship team, Kyle Miller, who is suffering from Osteosarcoma (bone) cancer. The two have been close friends for years.

Wings owner Michael French, who himself is considered one of Canada’s greatest field players and starred for Cornell before playing professionally, said the Wings were pleased to support the Sanderson and Miller families. “With all the frustrations you have running a team, the most satisfying thing is getting behind some of these charities. We can help some really great people and this certainly makes you put things in perspective. Having events like this can have an impact on a family so it means a lot.

“Chris has meant so much to so many Canadian kids, particularly kids he mentored, like Brodie Merrill. He also played a position not that traditional for the Canadian player – goalie. He really had a uniqueness about him; we all loved his wit and sense of humor, and his drive. I myself have a very special spot for Chris because I know what his dedication was by coming back to play for the Canadian national team in 2010 when he was fighting cancer, and playing so well.”


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