Defenseman Ryan Cousins enters his 10th season in the National Lacrosse League and seventh year as a member and captain of the Minnesota Swarm.
Cousins, 29, recently returned to the Swarm after spending the past year on the sidelines due to his full-time job as a firefighter in Toronto.
Jessica Baltes of the Minnesota Swarm recently caught up with Captain Cousins.
Baltes: You recently returned to the Swarm after being on hiatus since February 2010. How does it feel to be back?
Cousins: It’s great to be back and to be around the guys. That’s the number one thing, and I’ve made myself available during the season just to be around them. More so, it’s even better to be back in the lineup and playing the sport that I love to play. It’s been a tough transition, because you normally have training camp and then you start playing right away. I just jumped right into the lineup, but I felt a little bit better after the second game. The first game you kind of have to get your bearings and game sense back.
Baltes: Unlike most other professional athletes, a lot of you guys have jobs outside of lacrosse. You work as a firefighter. What is it like balancing two jobs?
Cousins: It’s tough at times when you play all weekend long. You’re usually gone from home for about three or four days and then you come back and sometimes you have to be right back at work Monday morning or sometimes my shifts fall on different days where I’m working nights. The next day I might be flying out. That kind of thing. So there is definitely a lot going on at times. Luckily, at this point in the schedule, I’m on holiday for the next couple of weeks. So, I have some time to ease my way back into lacrosse mode.
Baltes: A lot of the players live in Canada, including yourself, how much does that limit the amount of time you guys get to practice as a team?
Cousins: It only really gives us an opportunity once a week, and sometimes not even once a week, to practice. Basically, you get the night before the game to come into town, wherever you may be, Minnesota or on the road. You get a couple of hours that night before to practice and you have your morning shoot around to go over stuff and that’s it. Other than that, you’re on your own for conditioning, working out and that sort of thing.
Baltes: You were recently named to Team Canada and will be playing in the World Indoor Lacrosse Championship in Prague in May. This isn’t your first time playing for Team Canada…what’s it like representing your country in a worldwide competition?
Cousins: It’s an amazing opportunity to be selected for Team Canada, and like you mentioned, I had the opportunity to play with them four years ago. It’s just awesome. You’re playing with the best players in the world and you’re with such a great group of guys and you’re representing your country. Anyone who’s ever done it, there’s no better feeling than representing your country. Being able to go for a world championship again is a huge opportunity for me, especially having been out of the game for a year. I’m definitely looking forward to that again and it’s in a pretty wicked location, which is in Prague, Czech Republic. I’m looking forward to going back there again. I was there a number of years ago and it is quite the city. So, it should be fun.
Baltes: How did you get into lacrosse? Did you play any other sports growing up?
Cousins: Like most Canadian guys, and I’d say probably 90% of the Canadian guys on the Minnesota Swarm, in the winter time you play hockey and in the summer time you play lacrosse. That started at a very young age for me. I started playing hockey and lacrosse at age five and it was just your typical scenario. Summer time like I mentioned, you play lacrosse and winter time play hockey and that was it. I did that until I was about 20 and then I stopped playing hockey. I still play recreational hockey, but I was playing it at somewhat of a high level at that point, and took the lacrosse route from there.
Baltes: You have been the captain of the Swarm since you joined the team in 2005. What does it mean to you?
Cousins: It’s been a huge honor to be the captain of the Swarm for all of these years. I remember the first time when I was told by the GM Marty O’Neill and the coaching staff, and I was quite surprised at the time. I was still pretty young. I think at the time I was the youngest captain in the National Lacrosse League. It’s been a huge honor for me, and I’ve learned how to grow as a lacrosse player, and more specifically I learned to grow off the floor as a person just being put in that roll. Being captain has made me realize a number of things and it’s definitely helped out.
Baltes: Do you have any pre-game rituals?
Cousins: Not specifically. I don’t mind getting a little nap in, and I’m usually good for a couple of meals during the day, but nothing too heavy and nothing real specific, no. I just kind of run through the same routine, I guess. At the arena, I’m always there early. Like two to two-and-a-half hours early. I always do a pre-stretch before our team stretch and that kind of stuff. I don’t have any real superstitions or rituals or anything like that.
Baltes: There have been a lot of close games this season and you now have a couple of games under your belt with the team. What areas do you feel the team needs to improve at in order to add some more wins?
Cousins: I think what it comes down to is just maybe a little bit more confidence at certain points in the game. You know, even if you’re down a couple of goals or you’re up a couple of goals, or whatever it may be, you need to learn just to keep moving forward and putting the pressure on and knowing that we can win all of these games. Any game is attainable for us. I think sometimes we kind of sit back or we start thinking about the scenarios too much. We just have to have the confidence in all of us and in each other on the team that we are going to win those games.
Baltes: The team is only one win away from clinching a playoff spot. Does that add any extra pressure?
Cousins: Yeah, I think it’s a good pressure to have. It’s a little bit extra on us, but at this point there shouldn’t be a true pressure on us. We know we have to make it into the playoffs, and we really want to get a home playoff game. That’s our main goal right now. We need to win more than just one game to get ourselves into the playoffs. We have to win multiple games here to get that home playoff game and more specifically against the teams that are ahead of us, like Calgary and Washington. If we can take a couple of wins here off of Calgary that might put us in a nice spot. Moving forward, our main goal is yeah, get a playoff spot, but we do want that home one.
Baltes: You’ve been the NLL Defensive Player of the Year, you’ve made the All-Star team, you’ve played for Team Canada…any other professional lacrosse goals you have yet to accomplish?
Cousins: Yeah, the main one that is sticking up over my head is a NLL Championship. On any personal achievement or any of that stuff, I don’t really care. Well, it’s not that I don’t care; it’s just that the team stuff, that comes first. I’ve had some great personal achievements, but my main focus in every season is to get a championship. I think in Minnesota we are so close to attaining that goal. That’s something a number of guys are looking forward to getting their hands on. I know that I am, and I think that’s the way we have to start thinking. We are able to win a championship here in Minnesota and that’s the only way it’s going to be able to be won.
Baltes: What would you say has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Cousins: I’d say that the highlight of my career has been a number of years just put together in Minnesota. There is no specific situation or game or award or this or that has been a highlight. It’s more so just a number of years in Minnesota, all of the friends that I have made, all of the different games we’ve had, close games and just being around all of the different guys on the team. There are so many highlights out there and a lot of them are on the floor and a lot of them are off the floor too. When you think back to all of the different things that have gone on, there are so many things that stick out.
Baltes: You recently became a father. What has that experience been like?
Cousins: It’s been awesome. It’s definitely changed things. It’s changed my routine of what may go on during the week, but I’m loving it and I wouldn’t want anything else. I think we may have a little lacrosse player on our hands. He’s always grabbing the mini stick that I bought him from Minnesota. He’s always slashing it along the floor and he’s starting to cruise around and crawl a lot now, so that’s been fun to watch. Hopefully he’ll be able to see me play in the next couple of years here.
Baltes: April Fools' Day is coming up this week. Have you ever played a really good prank on anyone or had one played on you?
Cousins: I’ve definitely had some played on me, because April Fools' Day is my birthday. There is always something going on. I don’t think I’ve pulled many pranks on people on April Fools' Day, but I’ve been known to throw a couple on some other days. We’ll see what happens this weekend, I guess!
Baltes: What do you like to do in your free time?
Cousins: In my free time, I like to hang around the family. We usually go on a number of walks now with the new baby. That’s kind of the thing to do. Grab the dog, grab the carriage and go for hour long walks. In my spare time, I play a lot of hockey, work out, hang out with friends, have a good time. Definitely in the summer time, I like to hit up a lot of lakes and just go swimming and relax.
Favorite food: Sushi
Favorite color: Blue
Favorite TV show: I don’t watch much TV right now, I’m trying to think what my favorite show is. Max & Ruby. A little kids show. That’s what I spend my time watching. I never watch my own shows any more!
Favorite movie: Shawshank Redemption
Favorite band/musician: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Favorite sport (besides lacrosse!): Hockey