Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson. Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.
It seems no matter what the sport, some of the games’ best become even greater when facing off against a rival. But what if some of those greats joined forces on the same team?
For numerous years in the Canadian junior lacrosse ranks, one of the greatest rivalries was between goaltenders Dillon Ward and Alex Buque.
In the ranks of the Ontario Lacrosse League, Ward anchored the defense of the Orangeville Northmen during Minto Cup Championship seasons in 2009 and 2012. Just over an hour away in Whitby, Ontario, Buque was helping his team; the Whitby Warriors to Minto Cup Championships during the 2011 and 2013 seasons. In each one of those seasons, the two teams would face each other head-to-head, with Buque and Ward on opposite ends of the carpet.
“The rivalry was always tough.” Buque recalls. “We always battled back and forth exchanging each other’s championships.”
Fast forward to 2015 and the two now share a different relationship as teammates with the Colorado Mammoth. Ward was selected third overall in the 2014 draft and went on to put forth a strong campaign which ended in his selection as NLL Rookie of the Year.
The strong rookie campaign from Ward didn’t stop Colorado from exploring more options to add depth to the team’s goaltending. In this year’s draft the Mammoth selected Buque in the second round as the draft’s top goaltending prospect, reuniting him with his former rival.
But the situation isn’t as tense as one might think. The two goalies share a mutual respect, one that was fostered throughout all those years in the OLA.
“Buque is a great goalie,” said Ward. “We played against each other our whole way up. We really get along and we’ve not been shy about telling each other how much we admire each other’s games.”
Ward has solidified his position as the Mammoth’s starting goaltender, but Buque’s spot behind him brings an added competitive dynamic to the team’s practice sessions.
For now, the rookie is learning the ropes, adjusting to the speed of the NLL while taking in all the advice he can from a man who showed the league just how good a rookie goaltender can be.
“Dillon has taught me a couple quick moves,” Buque added. “Obviously we’re going to help each other out now that we’re teammates.
The added motivation is just another tool for Dillon Ward to avoid the ubiquitous “sophomore slump” entering his second season with the Mammoth.
“I’m just looking to build off of the successes of last season. The sophomore slump is not something I’ve been thinking of.” Ward said.
This season, the team is banking on the hope that the Ward-Buque goaltending tandem will turn out like some of the different named sports pairings throughout the course of history: Montana-Rice, Malone-Stockton, or Ford-Berra.
Under the Hall-of-Fame level guidance of goaltending coach Dallas Eliuk the pair certainly has a shot to be great.