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Gloves Off: Joe Resetarits

If you’re reading this, you’re likely an NLL fan. You likely even have a favourite player within the league. That’s generally how it works: professional athletes are talented, personable and in the best cases (like NLLers), truly humble and able to recognize how much of their success is due to fan support.

But did you ever think about the fact that before they were pro athletes, our players were probably fans themselves? Most still are!

In fact, MVP Finalist Joe Resetarits, who recently signed with the Philadelphia Wings, counts himself as one of the Buffalo Bills biggest fans, and chuckles when asked about it.

“It’s hard not to cheer for the Bills if you grow up in Buffalo. I grew up in a household where football was always on,” Resetarits says. “All my friends are Bills fans. It’s hard to find somebody here who isn’t.”

The Bills are famous for their epic pre-game tailgate parties. With the stadium in Orchard Park, 10 minutes south of downtown Buffalo, there’s a lot of room to spread out and celebrate.

“You can tailgate at people’s houses and pay to park there,” Resetarits describes. “People who witness it for the first time are taken aback. It’s wild. It can get pretty rowdy. I haven’t done any crazy stuff, but tailgates are a very good time in Buffalo.”

The parties have to be, because Bills games can sometimes leave the fans pretty despondent.

“We always go back and cheer them on, though,” Resetarits says. “Buffalo is a special sports city. We’re pretty crazy fans, pretty loyal fans.”

Long suffering ones, to be sure. Buffalo has never won a Super Bowl, though Resetarits says this past season’s close loss to the KC Chiefs in the Divisional Playoffs means good things are coming. In the next couple of years, for sure. He remembers with disappointment consecutive years in the early 90s when the Bills lost four Super Bowls in a row.

“There have been a lot of dark days in the Bills fandom but that’s what Buffalo fans are used to. They’ve been through some tough times; with the (NHL) Sabres, too. We’re haunted by that. It’s the joke about Buffalo sports; that we’re jinxed. This city deserves a championship more than anybody,” he says, before adding cheekily, “Just maybe not the Bandits.”

Resetarits actually played for the Bandits for a season and a half early in his career, so he got to experience the crazy, loyal fans as a pro himself, but has played more games as a member of the opposition at KeyBank Center.

It’s a tough building to play in, and he has only won two games there as an opponent against a strong Bandits club in recent years. Kind of the opposite of the Bills, who missed the playoffs for a record 16 years between 2000 and 2016.

But, win or lose, fans of Buffalo sports support their teams.

“I’ve been to a lot of games that have had heartbreaks,” he says, but there are highs, too. “A few years ago the Bills beat the Patriots, coming back from a 21-0 deficit and winning on a field goal and people were storming the field because we’d never beaten Tom Brady before.”

Using a recognizable sports metaphor, Resetarits says that the team just has to get hot at the right time.

“This is the team to do it this year. If they don’t do it this year I don’t know if they ever will and I’ll leave it at that.”

He had season tickets for several years but gave them up when he and his wife Kelly became parents.

Resetarits hopes to pass on the Bills love to his two daughters, Ripley, age three, and Rooney, one-and-a-half, and his newborn son Raider, who are the best thing that has ever happened to him.

“They’re the most important thing in my life right now. Watching them grow has been a treat. With the pandemic, I really enjoyed the time that I wouldn’t have gotten with them if I was on the road. Those are days I will forever be thankful for. They keep me busy, they’re a handful, but I love every bit of being a father.”

Ripley hasn’t yet attended her first Bills game, but Resetarits is hopeful to get her there in the next couple of years.

“It would be too much of a crazy atmosphere for a three-year-old,” he cautions. “She’d be freaked out by all the noises and the crazy fans, so right now she watches from home. We put it on and she tells me she doesn’t want to watch but she’ll ask me questions about it: if that’s the sport I play, if those are my friends. I usually end up watching by myself. Things change over time, so hopefully one day they’ll be diehard fans like their dad.”

Maybe they’ll even play football, although it’s more likely Resetarits will put them in lacrosse. Resetarits played football as a kid, only giving up the sport in high school, when legendary Buffalo lacrosse coach Ed Van Tine told him to focus on lacrosse.

“He was kind of a scary guy; he was a Navy SEAL in Vietnam,” Resetarits says. “He got shot nine times. He was a guy no one wanted to mess with: an old school, hard-nosed coach. I look back at all the times he yelled at me if I scored and didn’t throw a fake first. After all these years at a pro level I’m still throwing a fake if I’m in tight. Everything he yelled at me or drilled into my head made me a better player.”

Van Tine passed away in 2012 from cancer.

“High school lacrosse wouldn’t be in Buffalo without him. He brought it to the area and started a bunch of travel teams. I couldn’t thank him enough for where I am. I owe a lot to him. He passed away but I wish I could have had one more chance to tell him how much I appreciated him.”

Resetarits spent last NLL season as  one of those hometown heroes like Van Tine. Well, sort of – as a member of the Albany FireWolves, he had a six-hour drive from Buffalo. The FireWolves relocation to the capital region was like a homecoming for Resetarits, who played four seasons with the University of Albany Great Danes after graduating from Van Tine’s program.

“I actually hadn’t been back to Albany since I finished college,” he says. “It’s a very popular lacrosse area and this has been very good for the league. It’s a big field lacrosse area in both college and high school. They added the indoor game to a city that wasn’t super familiar with it and they’ve fallen in love with it.”

Albany’s also a big hockey town, Resetarits says, which has worked in the NLL’s favour.

“The similarities to hockey, the up and down, how rough it is – compared to hockey, we’re high scoring and the game can change in a matter of seconds.”

It was a dream season for Resetarits personally, and the team did well, finishing the season with a 9-9 record and making the postseason.

Resetarits finished third in league scoring with 111 points, first in goals with 47 and fifth in assists with 64. He reached the 100-point plateau for the second time in his career. He is the only American-born player to achieve this feat in league history.

“I went into the season a lot differently than I used to,” he explained. “I was always in the gym a lot but it was more so the two years off and being older that drove me. Trying to get back in shape again was the key thing. I got a personal trainer, started doing things differently and hopefully it paid off.”

Resetarits had a heavy presence in NLL social highlights whenever Albany played, routinely scoring hat tricks, and some in ridiculous ways, too, though he is more of the classic shoot and score type rather than a high flyer or dunk artist, making those outside-the-box goals all the more special. He was an MVP nominee and named to the first All-Pro team.

In the upcoming 2022-23 season, he will suit up as a member of the Philadelphia Wings – still just six hours away from Buffalo, just in a different direction. He never seems to stray too far from home.

This summer, Resetarits took some time off to recover from an ankle injury before joining the MSL’s Peterborough Lakers for their playoff run, where he hopes to win a second consecutive Mann Cup championship.