Mike Wagner of St. Davids always thought that if either of his two sons would ever make it as pro athlete, it would be as a hockey player. Following last week’s National Lacrosse League draft, it’s clear that probably isn’t in the cards.
Instead, younger brother Johnny has joined Ryan in the ranks of the National Lacrosse League.
Last Tuesday, Johnny Wagner was chosen 34th overall in the 2019 NLL draft by the expansion New York Riptide. Johnny will have a chance to crack the inaugural line-up of the expansion team, which will begin play out of Nassau Coliseum in Long Island this December.
And, if he earns a spot with the Riptide, he will come up against Ryan, who was traded last season by the Buffalo Bandits to the Philadelphia Wings.
Though the two have ended up in the same professional indoor lacrosse league, the paths they took were quite different.
Twenty-two-year-old Johnny left his St. Davids home to attend a private prep school in Bloomfield, Michigan. As a student at the Cranbrook School, Johnny was a member of two state championship teams in both hockey and lacrosse.
Out of high school, Johnny was recruited by about 50 colleges. He chose to accept a lacrosse scholarship at Marquette University in Milwaukee, where he graduated from the prestigious applied investment management program in business. The younger Wagner brother earned All-BIG EAST (a collegiate athletic conference that competes in NCAA Division I) Second Team honours after leading the Golden Eagles with 39 points on 21 goals and 18 assists as a senior. The previous year, he earned first team honours and was named the BIG EAST Scholar-Athlete Sport Excellence Award winner for men’s lacrosse. Wagner ended his Marquette career third in points (109) and goals (77), fourth in assists (32) and second in game-winning scores (seven).
Ryan, meanwhile, stayed home for his education, graduating from A.N. Myer Secondary School in Niagara Falls. That led to him attending Queen’s University in Kingston, where he earned a degree in mining engineering. He didn’t plan to play lacrosse at Queen’s, but after meeting some members of the Golden Gaels, he decided it would be fun to play with the team. He found a spot on both the field and box lacrosse squads at the school.
While still a Queen’s student, he was drafted in 2015 by the Vancouver Stealth. Now 25, Ryan already has four seasons of NLL play under his belt. The transition player has appeared in 45 NLL games since 2016, netting four goals, 15 assists and 29 penalty minutes.
Dad Mike says he signed the boys up for lacrosse when each of them was about five or six years old. At first, lacrosse was simply a sport that would be complementary to hockey. It wasn’t long, though, before he, and others, realized the brothers loved the game and were pretty good at playing it.
As the boys were playing hockey in Niagara-on-the-Lake, it made sense to them and their family that they played lacrosse here as well. When Ryan started getting noticed by other clubs, such as the St. Catharines Athletics of the Ontario Lacrosse League, Mike says his older son preferred to stay loyal to the community in which he had grown up, playing most of his junior career with the Thunderhawks.
It was a connection with the Athletics, though, that resulted in Ryan being drafted. He credits Athletics assistant coach Pat McCready, who also serves as Vancouver’s head scout, for putting him on the team’s radar. Prior to the 2015 draft, Ryan didn’t really think he would be selected. He recalls sitting with his Queen’s housemates watching the proceedings, and the great feeling he had when he was chosen 42nd overall.
For Johnny, his success as a forward at Marquette meant that teams in the NLL had noticed him long before the draft. Going into last week, he was ranked 35th. He may have been ranked higher, but an internship in Minnesota and a few weeks travelling through Asia meant he hadn’t played much box lacrosse in the months leading up to the big night.
Ryan and Johnny were together at Ryan’s Toronto house last week when the younger brother’s name was called. Ryan recalls the anticipation they both felt as the draft proceeded. And when Johnny’s name was announced, they were both overcome with excitement. Johnny admits, though, that he may have ribbed his older brother about being selected eight positions higher.
As with most NLL players, Johnny and Ryan will be balancing professional lacrosse with other careers. Ryan is a technology consultant with Ernst & Young, while Johnny (known as “John” at work) began a new career in investment banking with Scotiabank in August.
With both working in Toronto, it made sense for Johnny to move into Ryan’s basement. It’s an arrangement that is paying off, with the pending start of the indoor season.
Johnny says Ryan has provided him with valuable advice about balancing his business career with his lacrosse pursuits. It’s something with which the older brother has some experience. For Ryan, the juggling act includes trying to complete as much work as he can by the end of the day Thursday. That allows him to work remotely most Fridays, so he can travel to his games with the Wings, which are held on weekends.
As well, the two have begun training together in the mornings before work, with Ryan, again, able to impart wisdom to his younger brother. He knows what the Riptide will expect out of his younger brother when it comes to conditioning. He wants Johnny to be ready to compete for a spot on the Riptide, as the first of five weekends of training camp begins on Oct. 25.
The brothers say that it’s “pretty cool” that both will have a chance to play in the professional indoor league, though they agree it would have been “even cooler” if they had ended up on the same team together.
In fact, had that happened, they may have ended up competing against each other for a spot. That wouldn’t have been much of a problem, though. Both say they pushed each other growing up, and always had the same competitive drive and mentality.
Johnny says it’s all about genetics. Mike played hockey for Niagara College and mom, Lainey, rowed for Denis Morris as a teen. And of course, Dad was always there coaching, first for their hockey teams, and then for their lacrosse teams. Their younger sister, Rachel, an A.N. Myer student, competes at a high level in gymnastics, and may make the news some day for her athletic talents.
In the meantime, Ryan and Johnny will continue to train together, and live together, in Toronto, to get ready to compete against each other in the same NLL division. With New York and Philadelphia less than two hours apart by car, Johnny even says they will likely travel together to many of their weekend games.
When asked if they will fly to either New York or Philadelphia on those weekends they will be facing each other, Johnny says “we’ll still travel together, we just might not sit together.”
On those other weekends, though, despite their destinations being different, Ryan and Johnny will be on the same journey.