Brett Dobson always wanted to be like Dillon Ward, now he wants to beat him

By Lauren Merola

Sep 18, 2023

Flying is a breeze for Brett Dobson.

Before the Archers goalie boards flights at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for Premier Lacrosse League games, he spends time in the Delta Sky Club lounge enjoying complimentary drinks, meals and wifi. The lounge access, courtesy of his Delta SkyMiles, is Dobson’s favorite byproduct of having a Chase credit card, and a perk he didn’t know existed until July.

At the World Lacrosse Games in San Diego this past summer, during which Team USA took home gold and Team Canada silver, Dobson backed up Team Canada and Waterdogs goalie Dillon Ward. The two-week tournament was the first time Dobson and Ward were in the same place long enough to build their lacrosse-focused relationship into a friendship, Dobson and Ward both said.

And friends don’t let friends live in the United States without an American credit card. 

Dobson moved from Canada to the United States last winter, choosing Atlanta as a home base for his National Lacrosse League team. His first time living in a new country came with questions about credit scores and visa requirements, which Ward — an Ontario native who lives in Colorado — answered happily, and hastily.

In the midst of conversation, Dobson said Ward grabbed his phone and showed him what credit card to apply for and how to do it.

[Dobson] had his eyes on those big shiny credit cards that give you all the points,” Ward said. “I had to reel him back in and teach him how he needs to build his credit up before getting the fancy ones.”

“It was funny seeing it all unfold in San Diego,” Dobson said, adding that Ward has been “very helpful” in teaching Dobson “how to grow up in the sense and get things taken care of” in the U.S.

Dobson, 23, calls Ward, 32, “a tremendous role model” to him. He first started looking up to Ward in the eighth grade and hasn’t looked down since. The two are set to face each other in the 2023 Premier Lacrosse League Cash App Championship on Sunday at Subaru Park in Philadelphia, with Ward in net for the Waterdogs and Dobson in net for the Archers. It’s a feat in Dobson’s young career that shows he’s gaining ground on his goal to follow Ward’s path.

[Ward] was the World Games MVP in 2014 and I felt like he was on top of the world lacrosse-wise, and that’s where I want to be at some point,” Dobson said.

It was also around that time, in November 2014, that Dobson, a then-eighth grader at The Hill Academy in Ontario, first met Ward, an alumnus of The Hill Academy, in a winter league in Oakville, Ontario, where Dobson was playing and Ward was coaching. By that time, Ward was one year removed from his college career at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. – where he was a Tewaaraton nominee as a senior and the first player in program history to be named an All-American – and the MVP of the 2014 FIL World Lacrosse Championships, in which Team Canada took home the gold medal. Ward was also a member of the Hamilton Nationals of Major League Lacrosse and Colorado Mammoth of the NLL.

“Any chance you get to look at somebody who plays for Team Canada as a young guy, you’re in awe and you want to be like him, learn from him and be as good as him,” Dobson said.

Now, Dobson said the goal is to beat him.

Ward saved a league- and career-best 61.2 percent of shots so far this season behind the best defense in the league in settled situations. Ward and the Waterdogs’ defense allowed 86 goals on 377 shots (22.8 percent) when settled in 2023.

In three years as the Waterdogs’ starter, Ward saved an average 55 percent of shots each season, never dipping below 51 percent, and he’s just as consistent off the field as he is on it.

When Ward gets to whichever stadium he’s playing at that week, he’ll sit alone in the corner of the stands for 20 minutes “getting in the zone” to EDM through his Bose headphones, he said. He thinks about the scouting report, specifically on the other team’s shooters, before heading into the locker room to put on his uniform. That routine doesn’t change either: right sock, left sock, right shoe, left shoe.

And black sweatpants, always.

Despite such a meticulous pre-game regimen, Ward is actually “laid back and chill, but he’s also a lax rat,” Dobson said. Combine those attributes, and you get Ward’s approach to the game.

“Calm confidence,” Ward said.

[I try to] just be a calming influence on my team,” Ward said. “You get scored on, everyone’s eyes are on you. The way you react can directly affect how your team reacts... I try to have that confidence that my team can look back when things aren’t going well and think, ‘We’re OK.’”

Dobson’s demeanor is a direct derivative of that. Dobson said Ward’s in-game mentality is “one thing Ward passed upon me.” To keep from dwelling on the past or overthinking the future, Dobson splits each quarter into four-minute intervals. He focuses intently for 240 seconds, and whether he lets a handful of goals in or none during that time is forgotten as soon as the next four minutes are up. It’s Dobson’s own spin on “calm confidence,” and it works. Dobson saved 58 percent of shots so far in his second PLL season and first as a starter. In two games against the Waterdogs this year, he stopped 23 shots on 57.5 percent.

[Dobson] is pretty low key… but everything boils down to lacrosse. He’s a total lax rat,” Ward said. “He knows everyone’s stats and what everyone’s using equipment-wise. The guy is a complete encyclopedia when it comes to lacrosse.”

Sound familiar?

The most discernible difference between the two, Dobson said, is that “[Ward’s] a dad now and I’m a 23-year-old kid. I still have a lot of years to get to where he is… He’s more mature and prone to these types of moments.

Though he’s young, Dobson helped lead the Archers to an 8-2 regular-season record and a first-round bye during the 2023 Cash App Playoffs. In the Archers’ 14-6 win over the Redwoods in the semifinals, Dobson saved 78.3 percent of shots, making a whopping 18 saves as the most effective goalie of either semifinal matchup.

The second-most effective? Ward, nabbing 72.2 percent of shots.

“Winning [the championship] would be huge, and it’d be something I’d cherish for a long, long time,” Dobson said. “When you’re a kid who’s looked up to Dillon as many times as I have through my career, being friends with him, you want to enjoy the moment, look back to where I was a couple years ago and where I am now.”

In Dobson’s first college game with St. Bonaventure University on Feb. 2, 2019 against High Point University, he posted 23 saves in a performance that had Dobson’s mom calling him a day later to tell him just who tweeted about the game that earned him MAAC Rookie of the Week.

It was Ward.

“Casually tied my personal best in college in one game… Sheesh,” Ward said on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Feb. 3, 2019.

From mentor to friend to foe – for a day – Ward and the Waterdogs are the only team standing in Dobson and the Archers’ way of their first-ever PLL championship.

“There’s always the young buck chasing the stalwart, the vet, who he’s looked up to,” Archers Head Coach and General Manager Chris Bates said. “I like the subplot.” 

So before Dobson gets on his flight to Philadelphia, he will again frequent the Delta Sky Club lounge. While he continues to rack up the points on plastic, he’ll work to keep them to a minimum on the grass of Subaru Park.

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