NLL all-time leading scorer continues historic career with Buffalo at age 46
Buffalo Bandits captain John Tavares, the 46-year-old “Wayne Gretzky of lacrosse”, will continue his illustrious career with his return to the National Lacrosse League for yet another season in 2015.
Widely considered to be one of the greatest lacrosse players of all time and one of the best athletes in Buffalo pro sports history, Tavares has been and continues to be a significant part of the Bandits organization to which he has dedicated the past 23 years of his life.
Born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Tavares fell in love with the sport and started playing lacrosse at a very young age.
“I started playing lacrosse when I was four years old so I have grown up within the lacrosse community,” he said. “It has, and always will be, a big part of my life. From the time when I was just a little boy learning how to play the game, my life consisted of going to the arenas, making new friends on the team, learning under different coaches and basically sharing my life with anyone who loved lacrosse as much as I did.
“And not much has changed today. Even as a professional lacrosse player, it still is a huge part of my life. I have been lucky to have made many friendships along the way and learned many valuable life lessons throughout my career.”
Age is just a number for the league’s all-time leading scorer who has recorded more than 1,700 points, over 800 goals and 900-plus assists during 296 games and 23 seasons played. To put his influence in perspective, Tavares has a point on over 30% of the Bandits franchise’s all-time goals and has scored almost 15% of them.
After so many years, one must wonder what motivates the four-time NLL champion to keep him passionate and interested in playing the game at such a high level.
“One reason why I still play lacrosse at the ripe old age of 46 is that my kids love to watch me play,” Tavares said. “My son Justin, 8, and daughter Breanne, 7, love to come to the Bandits games and cheer me on. They love the atmosphere and are true Bandits fans; they really are my #1 fans. The other reason why is that I am a very competitive person who enjoys playing and being part of the Bandits organization. It is like a second family to me and it is hard to imagine giving that up.”
Lacrosse can be described as a family affair for the Tavares clan. There have been many supporters throughout his successfully long run, with a few special people who have truly helped him become the lacrosse player that he is today.
“My wife Katrina has been a huge part of my career, especially over the past few years,” Tavares said. “She is my biggest supporter and is a big reason why I can still continue to play. She helps me stay fit, healthy and confident. We have made my sport a part of our lives so we are able to share and enjoy it together.”
“Three other important people in my career are Bob Ellis from my minor days of lacrosse at St. Christopher House, Al Burton from the Mississauga Tomahawks and Bob Perry from the Vancouver Burrards. They all provided me with opportunities to excel in lacrosse and I thank them for opening the doors for me to become a successful player.”
Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich, an NLL Hall of Fame goaltender who has played against Tavares since 1987 and has known him personally since 1992, believes that Tavares’ return to the NLL for another season positively impacts the Bandits in many ways.
“’JT’ is still an exceptional lacrosse player,” Dietrich said. “He had 25 goals last year and was a tremendous force for us in the playoffs. He is also our captain and team leader and is such a positive influence both on the floor and in the locker room. Such a calming influence on the bench and on the floor during the games. With him playing, you just believe you are going to win every game. That is a special feeling you only get when playing with one of the greatest players playing in any sport.”
Bandits teammate Dhane Smith, who hadn’t even been born yet when Tavares started his NLL career in 1992, described Tavares as a quiet but powerful leader.
“The type of guy that won’t say much in the room, but when he does, you know to listen,” Smith said. “I think he would tell you himself. He’s a ‘lead by example’ kind of guy who works as hard or harder than anyone game in and game out.”
Dietrich echoed the same type of exemplary leadership qualities displayed by Tavares.
“John has never been a emotional ‘rah rah’ type of leader,” Dietrich said. “He really only speaks when something important needs to be said. He always has led by example of hard work and dedication. He is still one of the best conditioned athletes in the league and that shows our younger players what it takes to be a great player.”
A large majority of professional lacrosse players in the NLL hold a full-time or a few part-time jobs on the side. Tavares chose the path of education as a high-school teacher in Mississauga, Ontario.
“It is a perfect balance being a teacher and lacrosse player,” Tavares said. “Usually lacrosse is just on the weekends so they don’t typically conflict. And having the summers off was great when I was playing summer lacrosse because it gave me the time to travel and go to weekday games. It has been a perfect fit for me and I am very fortunate to have both careers work so well together.”
His record book statistics and unrivaled passion for the game indicates that Tavares has no intention of slowing down in the near future. Taking into consideration the fact that he is 46 years old, a full-time father and high-school teacher, a loving husband and a professional athlete, one may ask how he finds the time to maintain his great health and physique?
“I don’t have too many secrets but I basically work out four times a week and eat well,” he said.
Admired by so many fans, young lacrosse hopefuls and professional athletes alike, Tavares continues to be a lacrosse standout and a superstar in Canada’s other officially designated national sport.
“I admire so many things about John’s game, but what I admire most is how humble he is,” Smith said. “How such a great player is never satisfied with having a good game and how he always wants to be great.”
With such an amazing career, it is no surprise that Tavares has garnered a vast fan base throughout the world, specifically fellow lacrosse players who idolize John’s game.
So who does Tavares look to for inspiration? He said he “respects and admires the hardest-working players in lacrosse,” the type of player who gives 100% on every shift.
“No matter if they are superstars or guys just trying to make the team, those are the people who I respect the most,” he added.
As a veteran that has been a part of the many changes and different directions the NLL has taken over the years, the former two-way player has adapted to a more specialized role as a forward on the roster.
“The game has actually become much faster and I have gotten slower so it has forced me to be smarter in how I play the game,” Tavares said.
“John has never been the biggest, strongest or quickest player. He has never relied on any of those traits to make him great,” Dietrich said. “I believe that is one of the reasons he has been able to stay at such a high level for so long. His biggest strength is his lacrosse IQ and game awareness. The game just seems to be played at a slower pace for him than anyone else. It allows him to be in the right place at the right time most often.”
“If I had one word to describe John’s game it would be ‘smart’,” Smith added. “His lacrosse IQ is outstanding. And as he gets older, he still remains to be a huge threat out on the floor.”
Having the utmost confidence in their captain, the Bandits are more than ready for another promising season in Banditland in their quest for the Champion’s Cup.
“Lacrosse is such a great sport and it provides a lot of action because it is so physical and fast paced,” Tavares said. “There are a lot of goals but it is tough to score. The fans in Buffalo have always been passionate and are, by far, the best fans in the league. That is another reason why I still love to play the game.”
A new season brings new players. For the Bandits, they will bring five talented draftees plus rookie free agents to training camp, while also welcoming back their dedicated veterans.
“I look forward to seeing all the guys again and meeting all the new players and trying to learn their names,” Tavares said.
Dietrich shares in the enthusiasm for this upcoming season and strongly believes that all of the players on the team should absorb as much as they can from one of the game’s greats.
“The new players can learn many things from John,” he said. “Mostly, how to prepare and be prepared for the season and the ups-and-downs that come with it. Maybe most importantly, they can learn how to carry themselves as professionals and to always be a great teammate.”
With the start of the 2015 NLL season on January 2 right around the corner, fans can’t wait to see the highest scoring player in the history of indoor lacrosse return to the floor.
“Besides bringing the average age of the team up, I think I bring a wealth of experience to the Bandits,” Tavares said. “How can I not after 24 years?! I am a calming leader, someone who is going to work hard and put the team first. I have always been a bit of a practical joker so I’ll have fun while I’m at it.”