Roughnecks defender Liam LeClair following in Curtis Manning's lacrosse and life footsteps

Roughnecks defender growing into NLL star on the floor and family doctor away from the sport

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Nobody could have been a better mentor for Liam LeClair than Curtis Manning …

On and off the lacrosse floor.

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Manning is a hall-of-fame defenceman-in-waiting, while young LeClair is trending in that direction himself.

And Manning is a family doctor — something which LeClair is working towards for his career away from the Calgary Roughnecks and the National Lacrosse League.

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“He’s a guy I absolutely miss a ton this year,” lamented LeClair, of the now-retired Manning. “He’s a good, good friend of mine now. And then aside from helping me on the floor, he’s helped me with things outside of lacrosse, helping me with a ton in terms of trying to plan things and trying to understand what life will look like outside of lacrosse and how I can balance it best.

“Honestly, I miss that guy so much. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

The feeling is mutual.

These days, Manning has to be content with watching his old mates from afar — such as this weekend’s home doubleheader for the Roughnecks. (The Riggers (2-3) host the New York Riptide (3-4) on Friday night followed by a date with Toronto Rock (5-1) on Saturday evening. Both games are slated for 7 p.m. on WestJet Field at Scotiabank Saddledome.)

And he’s certainly keeping his eye on his protégé.

“I don’t know about the mentorship side of things,” said Manning, who excelled during a 14-year career in the NLL — all with the Roughnecks. “Liam’s always been really on top of his studies while on the road and probably set a good example and reminded me to get back to work.

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“You could tell he was the real deal on the floor very early. Defenders don’t usually get a lot of attention when they quietly do their job well, but it’s good to see that consistent high-level play means he’s finally getting some of the notoriety he deserves.”

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LeClair, 25, certainly credits Manning, 36 — the sixth overall pick in the 2008 NLL Draft — for his development since joining the Roughnecks after being plucked by the club seventh overall in the 2019 NLL Draft.

Right from the git-go, they were roommates on the road.

A fitting partnership.

“Oh my gosh … I can’t even speak enough to what he taught me on the floor,” LeClair said. “If you watched him play, you know that guy is one of the most solid defenders we’ve had on his team in years. From a one-on-one perspective, from a sliding helping perspective, he’s just one of the smartest players on the floor night-in and night-out. So just watching him play and watching him on film and him being in my ear teaching me some tricks here and there and positional things.

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“So I just took everything I could — like a sponge — from him.”

LeClair has certainly made it work for himself.

He’s become a core piece of the Roughnecks staunch defensive game in his five years with the franchise, growing into a role that’s seen him play in every NLL contest the last two-plus seasons.

“Yeah, I think I’ve grown a lot as a pure defender,” LeClair said. “It was tough at first, especially when you think about the team when I got drafted. They’d just came off winning the championship, so it was tough to crack the roster.

“At first, I was in and out of the roster a bit. But at the end of the day, I think the guys that were there and the defensive-minded system helped me grow a lot quickly. I think by my second year, I felt so comfortable being a part of that system.

“My game is not too flashy,” continued the 6-foot-4 native of Windsor, Ont. “But that’s OK. If I’m not on film a lot, it’s usually a good thing. It means I’m not getting beat and stuff like that. So just being a good part of this team and trying to be more of a leader and then kind of involve myself in any way I can to make the team better is what I want to do.”

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Curtis Manning
Curtis Manning has also been a “big influence” in Liam LeClair’s journey to becoming a doctor. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia

And after lacrosse?

Well … he’s poised to help people.

“So far, so good,” said LeClair, in his third year of medicine at Western University in London, Ont. “The team’s been good about working with me if I have to miss a practice here and there.

“Just being diligent in my work and diligent with my workouts — really committing to my time management — has played a huge role in it. I have people supporting me from every corner I can imagine, so I’ve been able to make it work.”

Again with the help of Manning.

“Curtis has said a lot about being a doctor,” added LeClair. “But he’s definitely emphasized keeping a healthy, balanced life. Hence why he obviously wanted to play for as long as he could. And I hope to continue to play for as long as I can, too.

“So, yeah, he’s just absolutely been a big influence in that aspect, too.”

QUICK STICKS

D Robert Hudson joins the active roster after an upper-body injury has kept him from action since joining the Roughnecks in the off-season … T Justin Inacio joins the club from the practice roster, while D Keiran McKay was placed on the practice roster … F Logan Schuss (MCL/ACL) remains out indefinitely for the Riggers.

[email protected]

X: @ToddSaelhofPM

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