One on One with Joe Hiltz

If you follow us at LaxPhilly then you probably are aware that we have a few friends who grace us with their insight. Joe Fee has done a few analytical pieces and recently had occasion to sit down with Joe Hiltz. Hiltz, a Peterborough native has been involved in just about every aspect of the game. Minto Cups, MANN Cup, Coaching, Administration, and 47 National Lacrosse League games with the Detroit Turbos, Pittsburgh CrossFire, Washington Power, Baltimore Thunder, and the Montreal Express. Hiltz notched 93 goals and picked up 115 assists in his career.

With that being written, let’s have Joe Fee take the stage as we go, One on One…

Fee: Can you tell us a little bit about growing up and playing lacrosse in Peterborough? Who were your mentors or heroes?

Hiltz: Growing up in Peterborough playing lacrosse has been great. I got to play for a great organization and got to watch a lot of really good lacrosse players. I had so many great coaches who all played junior and senior in Peterborough which is something you don’t see anywhere today except maybe in Orangeville.

John Martin and Dan Dunn were instrumental in my junior years and John Grant Sr for much of my career, shaving my wood stick down for me whenever I needed a new one. He also helped me get involved in the coaching and administration part of the game as well.

My favorite player was Jimmy Johnston, a left-handed offensive player who was a genius with the ball. What I know about stick work is all because of him and how I practiced too be like him.

Fee: You were part of some big-time Minto Cups against the Gait led Esquimalt Legion teams. Can you talk a bit about that?

Hiltz: Playing junior lacrosse I competed in 4 Minto Cups winning 3 of them.

We played against Gary and Paul for 3 of them. We won 2 and lost 1.  Our first meeting was in Coquitlam in 1986 where it was a double round-robin. They went 4-0 and we went 1-3 edging out Coquitlam on goal differential. The final was a 1 game winner take all and our coaches changed up our defense by throwing in a zone. We got out to a 7-0 start and ended up winning 11-7 to capture our first Minto.

In 1987 we again played in a double round-robin in St Catherines.  Our first game was against Esquimalt and it went to double overtime where they won 27-20. We beat them in our second meeting with each of us going 3-1 and St Catherines went 0-4. This time we played the best 2 out 3 final. We won both games in a dominating fashion, capturing back to back Minto Cups.

When 1988 came around it was their last chance to get their Minto and they did just that. We went out unprepared and never even made the final. The Gait brothers win their first and only Minto in 5 years of trying. They lost their first 2 to Whitby. It was a disappointing Minto for me but I ended up on the all-star team which was a little special.

Fee: Your Senior A career kicked off with an award then eventually led you out to New Westminster and a chance to play in back to back Mann Cups. Could you share some of that experience?

Hiltz: I had a great first season in 1990 when I won Rookie of the Year and lost the scoring title by 1 point to Peter Park, who would later become a teammate in New Westminster. John Grant Sr was my coach and gave me the freedom to play with no pressure and have fun. John got let go the following year and my interest went with him. Before heading to New Westminster I played for the Guelph Power (winning a championship there) and then the Detroit Turbos.  I had an opportunity to go out west and play for another fantastic organization, the New Westminster Salmonbellies. With them, I got the opportunity to play in 2 Mann Cups, both against the highly talented and highly paid Six Nations Chiefs. We lost both times in 6 games.  Playing in New West was a great opportunity and I will always remember the friends I met while there for 6 years.

Fee: You had a chance to play in the NLL for a few years that included playing alongside your former rival Gary Gait. Can you share some details about that experience?

Hiltz: Playing against Gary was awesome. Our first meeting was in Peewee when his team came to Peterborough for the Canadian championships where his team won in the finals. The next time would be in Junior when we would compete against each other in 3 Minto Cups.  My Peterborough team would beat them in 2 of 3 meetings.

Knowing what he could do on the floor, I was excited because my style of play complemented his. I hadn’t played with anyone like him since I played with Jeff Hardill, one of the best two-way players ever to play. My first year playing with Gary we finished 1-2 in the scoring race.

Along with Gary, I’ve played with a number of great lacrosse players. To name a few:

  • John Grant
  • Tracey Kelusky
  • Andy Ogilvy
  • Paul Day
  • Geordie Dean
  • Eric Cowison
  • Todd Lorenz
  • Paul Gait
  • John Tavares

Fee: Once your playing career was over you got into coaching but it seems like that was more in field lacrosse and not as much in box lacrosse? What moved you in that direction?

Hiltz: When I first finished playing I had just torn my ACL. I tried to come back but I was in my mid-30s and decided to take another path in the lacrosse world.

I started in box by assisting with the Peterborough Senior Lakers at first then moved to the Junior A Lakers four about 4 years. While this was going on I was also coaching minor teams in Peterborough. I then moved to our Junior C team in Peterborough which we had just started. I coached and was the general manager there for a few years before I really made the change. To me, it was about doing different things and helping different people.

This is when I made the move to the field. I sat on the minor field executive for many years. I joined the OLA as the VP of Field and was there for many years. During this time I started a U9 and a fall U13 program.

I also had the opportunity to coach with Team Ontario, winning 2 gold medals. One with U19 and the other with the U15 team.

I love both aspects of the game but the idea of being outside and enjoying the field game really was a factor.

Fee: The 2019 season was your first year as commissioner for the Ontario Senior B Lacrosse League. What new challenges did that present?

Hiltz: I had to get used to being the one to make the hard and final decisions. I’ve been on executives where I help make them but never to the extent of my first year here. This first year put me right into it with a bench-clearing brawl where I suspended 11 players right in the midst of playoffs. We also had a referee work stoppage after we saw a few referees being verbally and physically abused. We can’t have these kinds of things happening in sports and I will do my part to help clean it up.

Fee: The 2020 season is up in the air with the potential for cancellation. What can you tell us about how things stand at the moment?

Hiltz: The OLA has set a date in April to re-evaluate the situation the world has endured. At this time it’s more important to stay healthy and if not playing helps then we don’t play. We are hoping we can get back on the floor but …

Fee: What are your plans or goals for the League beyond 2020?

Hiltz: My plans are to continue being the Ontario Series Lacrosse commissioner if that is what the league wants. My goals are to maintain stability while growing the league to hopefully 8 teams within the next couple of years. This is the most competitive league in Canada at this level and I want to keep it like that.

We want to thank Joe Hiltz and Joe Fee for taking the time to do this!

Thank you both, gentlemen.

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