Connecticut has had lacrosse at a high level for decades. No surprise that in that time, the state has produced its fair share of exceptional players. The organized pro outdoor game still has only been around for a little over 20 years, just a fraction of how long lacrosse has been around. But Connecticut connections continue to build the bond between the sport and the Nutmeg State.
Fans young and old will recall some legends of the game, and there is no list to truly do justice to all the great players that have come from the state. But with the PLL visiting Fairfield for the second year in a row and bringing pro lacrosse back, it’s only fitting to recognize truly great players from CT who had a big impact on the pro game.
The defensive side of the ball is where Connecticut has thrived in the pros. Glastonbury native Jack Reid was one of the most feared physical defenders in lacrosse, playing for over 10 years in Rochester and Boston, on both indoor and outdoor teams. Jamie Hanford also played over 10 years, and has rings both indoors and outdoors as a pro. CJ Costabile is now over 10 years as a pro, and is part of a wave of defenders who changed the face of the position by being skilled and athletic offensive threats. Arden Cohen finished his high school career in Darien and now is an every week starter for the Redwoods after going 3rd overall in the 2022 PLL draft. But one defender stands above the rest.
The great Lee Zink.
Zink played at Darien high school before playing at Maryland. He is one of the best cover defenders the sport has ever seen.
At Maryland, he played on some of the top defenses in college history, alongside other elite defenders like Chris Passavia and Michael Howley. Even among those players, he stood out, with Dave Cottle calling him the team’s best position defender. In 2003, guarding the top matchup, in the postseason, Zink had a four game stretch where he didn’t allow a point to his man. Georgetown, Notre Dame, Ohio State, UMass, all in a row. Georgetown and UMass were ACC tournament games, Ohio State and UMass were NCAA tournament games, and Zink’s matchup had zeroes for all of them. Maryland as a team surrendered a total of 21 goals in those four games.
He was an All American twice, and won the Schmeisser award as the nation’s top defender in 2004.
Zink went fifth overall in the 2004 MLL Draft. The players taken ahead of him were, from one to four, Mikey Powell, Ryan Boyle, Tillman Johnson, and Sean Lindsay. His Maryland teammate, Chris Passavia, went sixth, a pick after Zink. The fifth pick belonged to the Bayhawks, but Zink would join Denver after two seasons when the Outlaws were added to the league.
He was the top defender for the Outlaws in the MLL for nine of his 11 pro years, joining the club from their first year and playing at least 10 games every season.
Zink never fouled. He covered everyone from Jordan Wolf to Jesse Hubbard, but rarely ever fouled. From 2009 onwards, he averaged less than six penalty minutes a year. In 2011, he had two penalty minutes. In the season.
He never missed the playoffs in his career. He won Defensive Player of the Year twice. His first win, in 2012, was the first time someone other than Brodie Merrill had won the award since 2005. Zink won two Steinfeld Cups, one with Baltimore in his first year and won with Denver in his last year. His number 29 is one of three retired numbers for the Outlaws, the others being Jesse Schwartzman and Matt Bocklet.
Zink won silver at the World Championships as Team USA’s top defenseman in 2014. Played in Denver, the gold medal game is still remembered as one of the slower games played at that level, as Team Canada leaned on Dillon Ward in net and dominated possession time with no shot clock to keep the score low and win.
Zink doesn’t own a ton of records. He never filled up the stat book. The stats he dominates are stats like games played (his 110 set a Denver Outlaw record). He scored one goal and took six shots in his entire pro career. He didn’t cause a lot of turnovers with highlight reel over the head checks. If he played today, casual viewers might gloss over his greatness, because his method of play doesn’t translate to social media posts or YouTube highlights. He simply got his assignment every week and won it, against the best in the world, regardless of the style of attackman. He ran with smaller, faster players. He won the leverage game with bigger attackmen who would try to back him down.
Being a little bit light on recognition isn’t new to Zink. He didn’t get a ton of accolades in high school. He was never an All American, he wasn’t even ever 1st Team All State. He was never even first team All Conference. At Maryland, his game took off, and in the pros, he reached a level of the all time greats. He was not included in either of the first two classes for the PLL’s new Pro Lacrosse Hall of Fame, which surprised some players and coaches. Without a doubt, he will be enshrined eventually, carrying the torch as one of the best players to ever come from Connecticut.