The sport of lacrosse has granted Troy Gutowski many opportunities. A standout box lacrosse player whose roots can be traced back to the North Winnipeg Falcons program, he also enjoyed a stellar career with the Manitoba Blizzard (Junior B), Port Coquitlam Saints (Junior A) and Saskatchewan SWAT (Junior A).

Gutowski was also a key contributor for Canada West during the 2021 World Junior Lacrosse Championships, where he led the tournament in assists, with ten in three games. The pinnacle of his box career came a month later, when he was drafted by the Saskatchewan Rush of the National Lacrosse League (NLL), joining an exclusive list of Manitoba natives.

Gutowski’s LAX experience also extended to the field, where every spring, he looked forward to playing with his friends as part of Garden City’s program.

“Playing high school field was definitely the highlight of my high school career, more than hockey, more than anything else,” noted the multi-sport standout.

“I miss it all the time, getting to see all my friends through the whole spring. And the weather is nice and everything. At GC we would be the underdog quite a bit, so having that mindset where it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we just have to outwork them. That helped us quite a bit.”

Every year, the Fighting Gophers had around 25 players, which included a mixture of lacrosse veterans as well as those who were new to the sport, but were strong in other disciplines. A leader relatively early on, Gutowski, along with some other veterans, took it upon themselves to recruit fellow multi-sport athletes to join the roster, which reaped rewards.

A great example was Marcel Arruda-Welch, a basketball and football playmaker and current All-Canadian with the Manitoba Bisons football team as a defensive back. He was the B Division championship MVP in 2016, as Garden City claimed the Justin Lysack banner and came just one goal away from their first-ever provincial lacrosse championship after going undefeated in regular season play.

“There’s obviously guys who are experienced, but since the team is so big, everybody has to do some recruiting, so we’d always be asking football players and hockey players and we’d get a whole bunch of guys. Some of them would end up being really natural at it and really good and I think that’s what makes a big difference for most teams, is who can get those new guys to develop,” said Gutowski.

“[Arruda-Welch] was one of those guys where we were just like here’s a stick, come play. He’s so athletic, he helped us out so much. He plays defensive back, so he was just a monster on defence. No one could get past him. It came really naturally. It was pretty impressive. His first year he came in and was a starter, he was one of the guys we relied on.”

Because of his vast lacrosse IQ, Gutowski played a variety of roles for Garden City. In grades nine and ten he was a goalie, and in grade 11 he switched back and forth between attacker and netminder. As a senior he was a straight up attacker as well as an incredibly gifted facilitator.

“I think both positions helped me out quite a bit,” he recalled.

“Playing goalie helped me as an offensive player, because then I’d know what the defence is looking for and what the goalie is expecting. I know as a goalie I hated bounce shots so much, because on the field it could go anywhere, so when I was playing attack I would always shoot bounce shots, because I remember hating them as a goalie.”

Every year, the highlight on the schedule for Gutowsi was the Kelly Clay-Justin Lysack (KC-JC) Field Lacrosse Classic. The game, played in honour of the pair, serves as a tribute to their memory. Clay suited up for the Wolverines until shortly before his passing in 2010, while Lysack helped build the Garden City program and was coaching there at the time of his death in 2012.

“Both teams were just working their asses off and it meant so much to each. Even though it was just a season game, it didn’t matter. We wanted to win that game. There was a trophy and everything and tons of fans and family and alumni. We’d have one every year and that game was probably the most meaningful to me,” said Gutowski.

“Justin Lysack’s dad would come talk to us before the game and he’d always say to play every game like it’s your last, because you never know when it very well could be. That always stuck with me, and playing my hardest until the last whistle.”

A dedicated supporter of the sport, Gutowski is thankful for all the people he’s been able to meet through lacrosse (including fellow Rush draft pick, Blizzard and MHSFLL alum Kelson Borisenko), and the memories that will last a lifetime.

“[Borisenko] and I were just talking about how crazy it is that we were [in Saskatchewan] playing against the best players in the world, like [NLL champion, league MVP and Rush all-time leading scorer] Mark Matthews who were playing Team Canada box. It doesn’t get much better than that. I never thought I would actually be there. I’m super thankful for the sport altogether. It’s definitely in the memories that I’ll cherish forever.”

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