Any thoughts that Garrett Billings is just happy to be home in Langley, can quickly be put to rest.
That was clearly evident as he walked away from a media scrum following the Vancouver Stealth’s season-opening loss at the Langley Events Centre on Jan. 9.
As he walked away from the assembled reporters and prepared to sign autographs on the LEC floor, Billings let out an unprintable word to express his dissatisfaction.
He does not like losing.
“It was a pretty frustrating loss, especially with all the hype around the game. It left me pretty sour for a couple of days,” Billings admitted a little less than a week after that National Lacrosse League game.
Billings, who turns 30 early next month, was the Stealth’s prized off-season acquisition as the team picked him up in a trade with the New England Black Wolves.
Prior to coming home — Billings played through the ranks of the Langley Minor Lacrosse Association — he had played one forgettable game as a professional at the LEC.
It was in the final month of the 2014 season while he was a member of the Toronto Rock. Leading up to the game, Billings was in the newspapers, on TV and the radio, promoting the game.
“There was a lot of excitement about the first time coming back,” he said. “I was happy that Vancouver had a team, I was happy to be in Toronto and coming back while that team was on a bit of a tear.
“Unfortunately, it ended in probably the worse way it could have, going down with an injury.”
Billings tore the ACL in his right knee, the first major injury of his career.
The only good thing was the fact an ACL injury is more week-to-week, meaning each week brought something new he could begin doing in his rehab.
“It was a long grind, but it was easy to stay in it,” he said.
“It has been a long battle getting back, finding out who I am as a lacrosse player again.”
Prior to his injury, no player in the NLL scored more than Billings’ 315 points from 2012 to 2014. He was a finalist for the league’s most valuable player award all three years. He is also the first player in league history to post three consecutive 100 point seasons.
“Garrett brings great leadership to the offence. His lacrosse IQ is a tremendous asset for us,” said Stealth coach Dan Perreault. “He is always looking to make his teammates better and puts them in great situations to score.”
Once healthy, Billings was in a contract impasse with the Rock, who wound up trading him at last year’s deadline to New England before Vancouver acquired the right-hander back in the fall.
“It feels really comfortable (here),” he said. “I know all the guys. It feels like this is where I am supposed to be.”
The timing of the trade could not have been better with his mom having been diagnosed with cancer.
She was at the home opener earlier this month, along with about 30 or 40 family and friends Billings estimates.
“My dad could not have been more excited for the trade; he has been wanting this for awhile,” Billings said.
“With Toronto and school (the University of Virginia), I have been gone for the better part of 10 years.
“Everyone is pretty happy to have me back in town.”
Billings was born and raised in Langley, graduating from Brookswood Secondary.
But he is more than just a name, brought to town in hopes of filling seats.
The Stealth play in the smallest venue (5,276) in the NLL and have averaged 3,662 fans in their two seasons in Langley.
Billings remembers the now-defunct Vancouver Ravens, who played out of downtown Vancouver before leaving following the 2004 NLL season.
“I know we can be successful in this market,” he said. “It is not an overnight solution; we just have to do our part.
“But I am excited about our prospects for the future in Langley.”
The majority of the Stealth roster are based out of the Lower Mainland and the players love being in such close proximity to the team’s training facility throughout the week.
While winning on the floor should help the team gain a stronger foothold in the market, Billings is also working with the Stealth as a community liaison.
“I love selling the game, to be able to pour my energy into growing the game,” he said.