The Rochester Knighthawks announced that goalie Charles Claxton has agreed to a two-year deal. The Prince Rupert, BC native signed his first National Lacrosse League contract Thursday afternoon. (Photos by Gary Johansen)
“I am just trying to take the process as humbly as possible,” said Claxton. “I am very honored to be selected by such a sought-after organization like the Rochester Knighthawks, who have (won) multiple championships. There are such big names that play for this organization; I am just proud to be a part of it.”
The 24-year-old starter for the Western Lacrosse Association’s Nanaimo Timbermen is currently enjoying a career year. He finished the regular season second in the WLA in saves (463) and save percentage (.827). He also posted a 6-4-1 record and an 8.71 goals-against average. On July 15, he also showed off his offensive skills by connecting for a WLA-record two goals against Maple Ridge.
“I am very excited to sign Claxton,” said Knighthawks Owner and General Manager Curt Styres. “He has a great future ahead of him.”
“He’s just a good, young, up-and-coming goalkeeper,” added Knighthawks western scout Kevin Hill. “He is foundationally strong with his angles and is very athletic. A lot of teams have had an eye on him. He just needed an opportunity to shine, and he got it this season while playing Senior ‘A’ in Nanaimo. He took a big step forward in his game and showcased himself as a No. 1 goalie.”
Claxton’s biggest break came in February when the Langley Thunder traded him to Nanaimo. After finishing the regular season as one of the league’s top goalies, he has the Timbermen ahead 1-0 in the opening round of the WLA Playoffs. In fact, he played one of the most important games of his senior career on Wednesday, making 48 saves in a 12-11 double-overtime win over the Victoria Shamrocks in Game One of the best-of-seven series.
Playing against the Shamrocks is a big test for Claxton and Nanaimo. It’s a lineup that includes established NLL players like Rob Hellyer, Jesse King, Rhys Duch, Chris Wardle and Steve Priolo.
“It’s going to be the most experience I have gained in all the years I have been playing,” said Claxton. “They have star talent there, so it’s going to be a battle 100 percent of the time.”
The Maple Ridge Burrards originally drafted the 6-foot-2, 190-pound goalie in the 2016 Graduating Junior Player Draft. He completed his four-year Junior “A” career in 2015 by being selected a First Team All-Star. During that season he starred in goal for the Victoria Shamrocks, recording an .824 save percentage and a 7.66 goals-against average. He also logged 1,065 minutes in 19 games as he went 12-4-1. At the end of the season, he was promoted to the Senior “A” Shamrocks and won his first Mann Cup.
“I had the opportunity to go to the Mann Cup with the Shamrocks in my final year of juniors when my season ended,” he said. “I was lucky and got to start facing that caliber of shots early, which was very nice. I saw what was coming to me in senior.”
Long before he was one of the hottest goalies in the senior circuit, Knighthawks western scout Bruce Clark had been following Claxton’s career, and it didn’t take long for him to notice the vast potential of the lanky, athletic goalie.
“I have been watching him from intermediate through junior and have seen his game progress. “Every year he has been getting better and better,” said Clark. “He is very focused and intense when he is in goal. He is a great angle keeper and has a really good stick. He is a real presence on the floor, and his team plays great in front of him. He is probably one of two or three reasons that Nanaimo is where it’s at (in the playoffs).”
In October, Claxton will fly east to attend his first NLL training camp. When he pulls on a Knighthawks sweater for the first time, it will continue a whirlwind year that saw him go from reserve to starter to NLL prospect in a matter of months. It will also be his first chance to savor the moment.
“I don’t think it will sink in until I am in that spot practicing with those big names,” he said. “That’s when it will first sink in for me. I know it’s happening, and I have to take it seriously, of course, but once I get on the floor and it’s something I can touch, that’s when it will be real.”