Five NLL Championships in six appearances. One NLL MVP award. One NLL Sportsmanship Award. Induction into the NLL Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Toronto Rock Hall of Fame in 2014.
And before Friday night’s 7:30 p.m. game vs. New England, Veltman’s jersey will be lifted to the rafters at Scotiabank Arena. The induction can be watched on B/R Live ahead of the game in both the United States and Canada.
Since Veltman retired in 2008 as a 43-year-old, the Rock have retired goalie Bob Watson’s number 29 and Colin Doyle’s number seven.
Now, it’s time for the former captain to join them.
“To me, everything is about timing,” said Toronto Rock owner Jamie Dawick. “When Jim was done with his playing career it was right about when the new ownership was taking over. Bob’s (Watson) retirement came first and then we were on to Colin’s (Doyle) retirement. Now seemed like the right time to retire Jim’s jersey.”
The process of retiring a player’s jersey doesn’t take as long as one may think. Veltman got a call from Dawick only three weeks ago. Once he saw who was calling, he questioned what the call may be about.
“I didn’t expect it, which made it better,” said Veltman. “When he told me (about the jersey ceremony) I was really happy. It was one of those things that doesn’t sink in right away but after I hung up the phone, I sat back and I was flooded with memories about what it was like playing in Toronto.”
Though Veltman won five NLL titles with the Rock, serving as team captain for all 10 of those years, his NLL career began right over the US-Canada border with the Buffalo Bandits in 1992 when the league was still known as the Major Indoor Lacrosse League.
When Veltman was with the Bandits, the franchise won Championships in both 1992 and 1993. In 1994, they lost in the Finals before making it back in 1996, defeating the defending champion Philadelphia Wings, 15-10.
His first five years in Buffalo didn’t solely feature team success. “V” was named a Second Team All-Pro in 1992 and starting in 1993, he was named First Team All-Pro four consecutive years. Veltman was also named first team All-Pro in 1999, 2000 and 2004 and was named Second Team All-Pro four other years.
After the 1996 season, Veltman took a break from lacrosse. No, it wasn’t the early career success that stymied his hunger for winning the way Michael Jordan retired from basketball after winning three consecutive NBA titles. This break was far bigger than lacrosse. Veltman took off for Uganda on a humanitarian mission in June of 1996.
“My wife and I were working so hard at the time (both as teachers),” said Veltman. “We were recently married. We both said is this what the rest of our life is going to be, working all the time? So, we said to each other that we want to spend more time together and volunteer elsewhere. We always had an affinity for developing countries, volunteering wherever we can.”
He had no phone, no internet, and no way to communicate with anybody. It was just he and his wife, Teresa.
“The only way to access information was accessing fax machines at the local post office,” recalled Veltman.
“One day I was told I had a fax. It was Marty Cooper, the general manager of Buffalo. He said, ‘Jim I know you have been in Uganda for a while. We just want you to know you are still our property and we can’t wait for you to get back.’ The next week another guy says to me you have a fax again.”
“This time it’s John Mouradian. He said ‘Look, we wanted to let you know that we started a team in Ontario and we’re going to select you first in expansion.’
“I was all mixed emotions like what is going on? I didn’t have any way to speak to anyone, so I let it be till I got home. I then got in contact with the PLPA and told them that I was contacted by two teams.
“They let me choose between which teams I wanted to go to. It was a tough choice because Buffalo was very established. They had big crowds, and they were financially viable. But my friendship with Les (Bartley) and my trust with what he was able to build let me think ‘Let me play closer to home.’ Ontario was an hour closer to home (than Buffalo).”
Les was Jim’s coach in Buffalo for all five years and again for his first five years in Toronto.
“I think Les really sold him on the idea that they were going to build the team around him,” said Georgia Swarm head coach Ed Comeau, who was an assistant coach under Les in Buffalo and Toronto, and briefly served as the Rock head coach in 2004. “They spent a lot of time together talking about the game of lacrosse and life.”
The first year in Ontario was a bumpy one. The Raiders finished 6-6 but they had a nucleus of young players. There was Chris Gill, Colin Doyle, Pat Coyle, Bob Watson and Dan Stroup.
At the end of the year, Bill Watters spearheaded a group of investors to buy the team. The next year, they were in Toronto and playing in Maple Leaf Gardens.
It didn’t take long for the Rock fanbase to emerge. During their inaugural game at Maple Leaf Gardens, the opening faceoff was delayed because there weren’t enough bodies in the ticket booth to sell tickets. The Rock were expecting 7,000 fans. 11,000 showed up.
When did Veltman know the Rock had a special team in Toronto?
“After the first championship,” recalled Veltman. “We didn’t have to win with any big names. We prided ourselves on being a team and it required everyone buying in. The changes every year didn’t impact us because we bought into the team aspect, similar to the New England Patriots.”
“I was given the captaincy, but in no way was I the only leader of that team. We had different people step up all the time. There were a bunch of collective leaders.”
The rest is history. Five straight championship appearances in the Rock’s first five years in Toronto. Five NLL titles. Two goals in the second half of the 2003 NLL Finals against Rochester. The most loose balls in league history (2,517) that earned him the nickname “Scoop.” And a legendary career by one of the game’s finest players and, more importantly to many, one of the game’s finest people.
“Jim was an outstanding player and a great leader, but most importantly a great person,” said Comeau. “Everyone looked up to him on the team. He led by example in the way he played. I can’t imagine too many players or coaches that don’t have good things to say about V. That was one of the nicknames we called him. You’ve made it when your nickname is just a single letter.”