By Craig Rybczynski
For Rochester Knighthawks defenseman Paul Dawson, there aren’t a lot of things he hasn’t accomplished in his two decades of playing lacrosse. On Saturday, however, the 29-year-old will accomplish a career first when he steps behind the bench at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena.

The first-year Arrows’ assistant coach will make his Minto Cup debut when Six Nations hosts the Coquitlam Adanacs in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series.

“It’s been amazing. It has been a really successful season so that obviously helps,” said Dawson. “Being in the Minto is pretty huge. I never got a chance to do it as a player. So doing it as a coach is pretty awesome. It has been a very positive experience.”

Dawson is one of three assistant coaches under head coach Pat Merrill. Dawson works alongside Bill Greer and Dean Hill. The new coaching staff brought decades of playing experience at the junior, senior, pro and international levels to the Arrows in 2015. Dawson brought with him nine years of National Lacrosse League experience, two Champion’s Cups and two Major Series Mann Cups. In his inaugural season with the Arrows, Dawson relied on his playoff experiences and the lessons he has learned from nine seasons in the NLL to help mold the defense.

“I just try to impart things that I have learned over the years,” he said. “I try and coach how I like to be coached. I talk to the person. When you suggest something or teach something and it works it makes you pretty proud.”

For Dawson, joining the Arrows’ staff also gave him the opportunity to work with friends and former teammates, and with his brother-in-law Bill Greer.

“Working with Billy is easy because he is part of my family,” said Dawson. “As a group we are like-minded individuals who have mutual respect for each other’s game and intelligence. I think that has shown in the way we have been successful this year.”

“Being able to coach with him has been has been a lot of fun,” added Greer. “He’s actually really impressed me as a coach. I have coached at this level for a little bit and I know he hasn’t had a ton of experience coaching, but he really blew our socks off. He has really taken on the role and bought in 100 percent. He’s really done a great job.”

In 2015, the defending Minto Cup champion Arrows captured the top seed by finishing with a 17-3 record during the regular season. In the postseason, Six Nations has been almost perfect, winning 12 of their 13 playoff games, which included sweeps against Burlington and Whitby. In the Ontario Finals, the Arrows knocked off the second-place Peterborough Lakers in five games to head back to the Minto Cup.

“It was awesome. Coming into this year there were some big expectations as far as the team, but I felt we weren’t getting a lot of credit for the way we played in the regular season and in the playoffs,” said Dawson. “Winning the Ontario Finals was a proud moment for all of us. I never had a chance to play for the Ontarios, let alone win them. It got us one step closer to our ultimate goal.”

Dawson and Greer will have the defense ready as the Arrows and Adanacs meet in a rematch of last year’s Minto Cup. During the regular season, the Arrows’ defense allowed the third least amount of goals in the league (174) behind the solid goaltending of Doug Jamieson. It’s a defensive unit that includes two-time Junior “A” Top Defensive Player Leo Stourus, Greg (Sawi) Longboat, Jamie Dilks and Jerry Staats – who Dawson called a young Sid Smith. Greer admitted that the talent level back on defense was evident when it came time to decide the Minto Cup roster.

“You see some of the guys we had to leave off and it is a testament to how deep and how talented the group is,” said Greer. “You look on the bench and you don’t worry about putting anybody out there because you know they are going to do the job. That part is pretty nice as a coach.”

The Arrows will host the Western Champion Coquitlam Adanacs on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. at the ILA in Six Nations. It will mark the second time that Six Nations has hosted the Minto Cup, with the last time coming in 2006. The Arrows are attempting to win their fourth Minto Cup championship, and first on their home turf.

“I think it’s going to be amazing. I think it’s going to add to the excitement,” said Dawson. “There will be a full house. Anytime you have a chance to win a championship on your home soil definitely adds to the experience.”

No matter what happens in the Minto Cup, coaching has allowed him to see lacrosse from a different vantage point. Working with the junior kids has reenergized Dawson, who opted to coach instead of playing this summer. The payoff has been a newfound enthusiasm and a greater appreciation for the game, which is something he plans on bringing to the Knighthawks this season.

“It gives you a different perspective on relationships with players, coaches and referees,” he said. “I am going to bring some of the stuff I learned over the course of the year to my own game. (Coaching) gave me insight into life and the sport of lacrosse.”