Warden Of The Woods: How The Redwoods’ Tradition Came About

After the Redwoods defeated the Chaos 12-7 to advance to the inaugural PLL Championship, the mood in the club’s locker room at Red Bull Arena was, rightly, jubilant. After a couple failed attempts to wheel in a refrigerator filled with Peroni, assistant coach Dom Marzano and some of the equipment managers transported the adult beverages with cardboard boxes, garbage cans, and equipment bags.

Before the celebration reached full force, though, there was an important matter to address.

“Hold up, hold up, hold up,” Garrett Epple said while Wes Berg placed a green hard hat adorned with three Redwoods stickers on Matt Landis’s head. Landis then spit out his peppermint cobalt flavored gum and chugged a beer.

This summer the Redwoods have added their own spin to the game ball after wins. The Warden of the Woods, who’s selected by its previous recipient, doesn’t necessarily go the player with the greatest number of points or the one who pulled off an outlandish goal. “It goes to the person that plays a heck of a game and through their energy and their effort inspires others to do better and raise their game,” explains Redwoods Head Coach, Nat St. Laurent.

There were many worthy candidates to list after the Redwood’s dominant performance against the Chaos. Seven players tallied two points and the defense gave up only one goal in the second half. Yet, it’s fitting that Landis, a New York Jets fan, received the honor after he marooned Connor Fields on Landis Island the way Darrelle Revis used to negate the opposing team’s best receiver.

“Matt was kind of the ring leader,” St. Laurent says when asked how the Warden of the Woods got its start.

“So it’s kind of a long story,” Landis cautions.

The origin of the Warden of the Woods has its roots more than five years ago in South Bend, Indiana. Back in 2013, then Notre Dame and now Redwoods midfielder Jack Near dressed up around Christmas as Buddy the Elf--Will Ferrell’s character from the 2003 movie “Elf.” The costume included a brown wig with billowing curls. It was a big hit amongst the team. How the wig ended up in Notre Dame’s locker room at Arlotta stadium is uncertain, but it remained there.

Matt Kavanagh and Near, both huge New York Rangers fans, were inspired by their favorite hockey team’s ritual of the “Broadway Hat”--a fedora presented to the player of the game. They decided to start their own headwear themed tradition. Although Kavanagh had three goals and four assists during the Fighting Irish’s 19-7 win over Jacksonville on February 17, 2014, he presented goalie Conor Kelly with the first “Arlotta Afro.” Apart from a few absences when someone forgot the wig in their dorm room, the postgame ritual caught on. The Arlotta Afro even has its own Instagram account.

Landis wanted to bring a similar tradition to the 'Woods. He brainstormed with his fellow Notre Dame alums about what would best fit the club’s identity. They thought about Smokey the Bear and his ranger hat, firemen, and a workmanlike attitude. They decided on a hard hat.

“The hard hat is kind of like the way we play,” says Redwoods defenseman Garrett Epple, who leads the league in caused turnovers. “We want to play tough. We want to play physical.”

The name came second.

“It sounded nice,” Landis says. “Some alliteration. It just kind of stuck.”

He purchased a MSA V-Gard Full Brim Hard Hat in “Standard Green” for $15.49 from, where else, Amazon. He had it shipped to Boston. When he arrived at the Courtyard by Marriott at Logan Airport before the Week 1 matchup against the Atlas, it was waiting for him. He personalized the hard hat with three Redwoods stickers. He didn’t have to wait long to unveil the accolade.

The Redwoods managed a 11-9 victory over the Atlas at Gillette Stadium in large part because of rookie Tim Troutner Jr.’s 17 saves. When Landis tossed Troutner the hard hat, Troutner’s smile stretched from ear to ear. His expression resembled a kid opening presents on Christmas.

“It’s got rookie written all over it,” St. Laurent says of Troutner’s reaction. “He was just so happy to be here and on that stage.”

St. Laurent thinks each player’s response in a small way reflects their personality. When Epple received the hard hat from Troutner after the Redwoods’ Week 4 win over the Chrome, he flexed for the cameras and pointed to his throwback white University of Miami Ray Lewis jersey. When Wes Berg earned the honor after he scored a natural hat trick in the final two minutes of the third quarter during the Redwoods’ Round 1 postseason win, he was more understated, keeping with his humble demeanor.

No one has been named Warden more than once.

“It really reflects who we are,” St. Laurent says. “It’s never the same person over and over again giving us that spark and standing out in a game. I think guys have been consistent, obviously, but every game I feel like it is somebody else who has gotten us to this point.”

Since the hard hat only changes hands after a win, Troutner had to haul it around for three weeks. Brent Adams, who was named the Warden by Kyle Harrison after club’s third straight win on July 6th in Washington, D.C., held onto the hat for 50 days until August 25.

St. Laurent strayed from the routine after the Redwoods toppled the Chrome 18-7 and clinched the final spot in the playoffs. Once he presented Jojo Marasco with the game ball for scoring his first goal, St. Laurent’s tone turned more serious.

“I know this is a little out of character,” he said while holding the hard hat. “Some of you guys might not know this, but Dr. Logan recently has been diagnosed with cancer.”

St. Laurent praised Dr. Catherine Logan, the Head League Physician of the PLL, for her assistance throughout the season looking after the club and helping players like Kavanagh and Eddy Glazener get back on the field after sustaining injuries.

“She is one of the toughest people I know,” St. Laurent continued. “We talk about the why all the time, but we wanted to let you know you’re gonna kick cancer’s ass.”

Applause drowned out his final words as he presented Dr. Logan with the hard hat and another game ball.

Along with St. Laurent’s message of “what’s your why,” the club that walks onto and leaves the field from pregame warm ups as a group has embraced the idea that each playoff victory grants them one more weekend with each other. That camaraderie was evident in the locker room after their win over the Chaos when the creator of the Warden of the Woods finally received the honor.

Landis says the hard hat has accrued a few signs of wear throughout the season, but nothing too bad. Although it might cause some packing problems, he doesn’t mind.

“It’s worth it,” he explains. And while the selection process makes a back-to-back winner unlikely, Landis is more than OK if he has to part with the hard hat in Philadelphia.

He knows what that will mean.

“I have it until this weekend and hopefully we take care of business,” he says. “I’m excited to pass it on to the next player who leads us to this Championship win.”

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