Jesse Gamble has decided it’s time to come out of retirement to take another shot at playing on a team that is a contender for the National Lacrosse League championship.
Gamble has joined the San Diego Seals for the 2022-2023 NLL season. That puts an end to a five-year retirement from the league as the John F. Ross CVI graduate last played in the league with the Toronto Rock in 2016-17.
“It's a whole combination of things,” the 34-year-old said of his return to the league. “The team captain's Brodie Merrill who was my roommate for a bit in Toronto and we get along really well. His brother's the head coach, Patrick, who I played with and Josh Sanderson is the other coach. All three are Orangeville guys where I played junior and played with them a bit here and there. They're some of my favourite human beings in the world type of thing.
“It's run by some really good guys. We're going to be a phenomenal team and that comes into play. And the body feels really good so taking five years off and treating your body well does a lot for making things heal and feeling good. It was just kind of a lot of those things and I think I'll still be able to work and be productive on airplanes and in hotels. It's all come together for hopefully a really good season.”
That work was his reason for hanging up his lacrosse stick in the first place, halting a run of six years with the Rock.
“It was strictly a work commitment,” he said. “I wanted to take on more responsibility and to say you want to take on more responsibility and also you want to fly out on Thursdays or Fridays and practise on a weekday and leave work here and there, that's a hard sell. I wanted to take on more responsibility and that was the decision that had to be made at the time. That was the decision at the time and now I seem to be more on top of things and the way the world's kind of going, it's kind of a different environment.”
A senior vice-president and portfolio manager of a downtown Toronto asset management firm, he has a plan to combine both his work and new lacrosse commitments.
“The pandemic kind of opened my eyes and a few people's eyes,” he said. “I still feel like I'm more productive in the office where you still get a decent amount of collaboration and that kind of thing, but it does make you realize if you have internet and a laptop or your phone, you can still stay on top of things.”
Gamble was born in Toronto and his family moved to the Belwood Lake area when he was three. On weekends, he still lives “just down the road” from where he grew up.
Weekdays he’s in Toronto, close to his office.
The NLL is basically a weekend league so it’ll mean flying to San Diego or wherever the Seals are playing, getting in a practice the day before the game, playing the game and then flying home afterwards.
“I've been travelling a decent amount for work the last few months here and it's easier and easier to be productive from airport lounges and on the plane and in hotels,” Gamble said. “As long as you're productive and you don't waste your time here and there, I think you can juggle it a little bit.”
And he won’t be alone making the trips as the Seals are likely to have as many as 10 players on the team who are based in Ontario.
They got their first preseason test last weekend with a pair of games. The Seals defeated the expansion Las Vegas Desert Dogs and the Halifax Thunderbirds.
And Gamble picked up a black eye and some ‘turf burn’ on his forehead in his return to the league.
“There were a couple of comments,” he said of talk in the office Monday morning. “It's not the first time it's happened. I also work beside the office of Chris Corbeil who's another player in the league. It's not unexpected from us.”
Getting back in the league after five years away, Gamble could feel like a rookie again, but he says that’s not quite the case.
“I feel mostly like a veteran,” he said. “It was crazy getting to know some of these young guys. When I left the league I wasn't a young guy, but I definitely wasn't one of the older guys and I come back and I'm one of the oldest guys on the team, which is fine ... that was pretty eye-opening talking to 19- and 20-year-olds. They didn't know who people were and I didn't know what they were talking about. That was pretty funny. The generational divide is interesting.”
While he hasn’t played in the league for a while, Gamble has watched a lot of games, especially last year when they were available on a streaming app.
“Last year I watched a lot just because they made it easy to do that,” he said. “A few years ago I went to a Rock game and that was difficult. You're sweating all the time. It wasn't as enjoyable as going to a Leaf game or something was just because of anxiety. I don't know what it was. I've been watching a ton, probably more than I ever have been just because they made it easy and that's what I like.”
As far as the season which starts next month, Gamble’s goals aren’t complicated.
“Staying healthy and winning a championship,” he said. “That's not a personal goal, but that's a team goal. I haven't won an NLL championship and that's part of the reason to come back and play. Staying healthy and winning, that's pretty simple.”
A defender, Gamble won’t accumulate a lot of offensive points. He had 32 goals and 81 points in 93 career games with the Rock.
And how long will keep playing?
“I don't think I have an answer for you because a lot of it will depend on how it goes,” he said. “If something breaks down, then that's the answer. If we don't do as well as we hoped maybe the answer changes. If we do well, maybe the answer changes. I'm currently taking it week by week. I could answer that question maybe next year.”