Box Star Dhane Smith Now Household Name in the Field Game


For the first few years of his professional field lacrosse career, Dhane Smith was framed as a visitor. He was a box lacrosse star trying his hand outdoors, playing against Major League Lacrosse adversaries who had focused primarily on this style of the game since they were little.

Even Smith, who passed up opportunities to play Division I lacrosse in the states in favor of the National Lacrosse League, had questions about whether he’d succeed in the venture.

After all, there was a level of uncomfortability that came with the transition. He had to learn whole new schemes, often finding out where slides were coming from on the fly. He had a whole new universe of players to scout, too. Even the field-style helmet didn’t feel quite right.

Yet Smith had a believer in current Chrome LC coach Tim Soudan, who then led the Rochester Rattlers of the MLL. He knew of Smith’s limited outdoor experience, but after a referral from then-Canisius coach Randy Mearns, he was intrigued by his talent.

“When you’re in that situation with somebody, you’re like, ‘OK, you’re going to get some leeway,’” Soudan said. “But he didn’t need it for long. He was so special.”

Six years later, that belief is paying off for one of Soudan’s colleagues in the Premier Lacrosse League.

“Coach Soudan, he kind of made my career the way it is today,” Smith said. “I swear, he believed in me, gave me a chance. I didn’t really think I’d ever be playing field lacrosse at that high of a level.”

Smith heads into the 2022 Premier Lacrosse League season coming off the best campaign of his career, one in which he helped Chaos LC hoist the championship trophy for the first time. He topped the postseason points chart with 18 in that memorable run from the sixth seed.

His 13 assists in the regular season were good for second among midfielders across the entire league, and his 57 assist opportunities ranked second among all players. He’s a major reason coach Andy Towers felt comfortable committing to a box-style offense, retooling his playbook to fit the personnel at his disposal.

At the end of the season, Smith was awarded for the incredible strides he’s made when he was selected as a second-team all-pro. If there were any questions about whether he belonged with the best field players in the world, they are long gone now.

“I think that the major difference is he’s in the lineup each and every week,” Towers said. “He’s playing on man-up. He’s playing in an offense that fits his strengths. He’s playing with guys he’s familiar with that know his strengths and have a lot of the same strengths. All those things together really have allowed him to play at literally an otherworldly level.”

That spectacular fit was not an overnight phenomenon. The Chaos took on multiple identities over the course of the team’s first three seasons before Towers landed on a heavy box influence.

“It was one of those things where we needed to get comfortable with each other,” Smith said.

Towers admitted he knew next to nothing about Smith when he first was made privy of the roster he’d be working with in the PLL’s inaugural season. The fiery Chaos coach liked what he saw from Smith in that first campaign, but he was used sparingly. Smith played in just five games and notched four points in an offense centered around Connor Fields.

The turning point came a year later in the PLL Championship Series, with the Chaos desperately needing a spark after a winless showing in pool play. Fields was benched, and Smith took on a far larger role as a facilitator. He immediately showed the skills that helped him set a new NLL record for single-season helpers this winter, as well as an ability to be a more vocal leader.

“He is a true playmaker,” Towers said. “He is somebody that can score six goals. He can get six assists. He can go three [goals] and three [assists]. He could go zero and zero and if the team wins, he’s just as satisfied because that’s the only thing he cares about.”

The Chaos’ transformation began with a hybrid formation, with one box-influenced midfield line and another playing a more traditional American style. In time, somewhat forced by injuries to Americans Sergio Salcido and Eric Scott, Towers committed fully to the Canadian style. A twins setup created three two-man games in the offensive set, opening space through pick-and-rolls.

“They do such a good job with the short passes off the two-man game,” Soudan said. “[Smith’s] ability to see the field and understand where slides are coming from, it’s just next level. That’s why I always gave a lot of interest to Canadian guys that have done very well. I think it translates, especially the offensive guys.”

For Smith, it wasn’t that different from what he’s used to employing in the winters with the Buffalo Bandits. Towers saw how that brought out the best in him.

“Some of the best players, the Tom Schreibers and Lyle Thompsons, you kind of have to let them play their game, whether they’re going to turn the ball over or not,” Smith said. “The first few years, I was hesitant to turn the ball over. It’s a lot different than box lacrosse, where you might not get the possession back right away. It was one of those things where Andy Towers was like, ‘You know what? Play your game.’”

An added confidence is evident in the numbers. Twenty-five of Smith’s assist opportunities in 2021 were to the hole or doorstep area. That’s more than anyone else in the league.

He was at his best in the playoffs, totaling six points in each of the Chaos’ postseason outings. In the championship game, he assisted on three of his team’s final four goals to help pull away from the Whipsnakes 14-9.

“I know its very cliché saying the teammates make you better, but they really do,” Smith said. “We had guys like Ryan Smith, Wes Berg, Kyle Jackson, Josh Byrne, Chris Cloutier, Mac O’Keefe. All those guys have played box before. It just made it so easy. We knew where we wanted to be at all times. It just made my job so much easier.”

Soudan has enjoyed watching Smith’s emergence, even if it now can come at his expense in the PLL. He tried to rectify that by trading for him after being named Chrome coach in 2020.

“Before I was even coaching [in the PLL], I would stay in touch with him,” Soudan said. “I was like, ‘If I ever make it in the league, I’m going to try and pick you up again.’ But he’s been really happy the last couple of years. It wasn’t like he wanted to go anywhere else.”

Few believed in the Chaos during the team’s impressive run to the championship. The group rallied around the understanding that only 3.2 percent of PLL fans picked them to win it all when the playoffs began.

They won’t be nearly as overlooked this season, but Towers made sure to note his team is still not the bettering favorite. That chip is still there, as is the drive to keep getting better.

“It’s one thing to kind of be on a PLL team,” Smith said. “It’s another to kind of take that next step and be named an all-pro. I was very honored. I want to take that next step and maybe be on first team eventually. It’s one of those things that I pride myself in. I want to work as hard as I can to get to that point.”


Most Recent

NLL Power Rankings: Seals Reclaim Top Spot After Rochester Falls

The Knighthawks took their first loss, opening the door for the Seals to climb.

Take Me Back: Goalie Talk With Brian Phipps and Brody Fuller

Fuller, one of Phipps' pupils, grills his goalie coach on life and lacrosse.

Knighthawks Answer Latest Test, Beat Bandits to Stay No. 1

Rochester is 6-0 and continues to answer every question thrown its way.

Steven DeNapoli Retires from Professional Lacrosse On Top

One-time U.S. team selection won 2022 PLL championship with Waterdogs LC.

Twitter Posts