January 9, 2013

NLL Notebook: Bandits Veteran Tavares is Captain at Last

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

John Tavares has been named Buffalo captain for the first time in his outstanding 22-year Bandits career.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

It is hard to believe that John Tavares, the all-time leading scorer in indoor pro lacrosse, had never been Buffalo's captain. After all, No. 11 is entering his 22nd NLL season — all as a Bandit.

"They always asked me in the past but I always told them I don't need the 'C' on my shirt to be a leader,'' he explains.

He's had a change of heart and will be wearing the "C" in 2013, taking over from Chris White who signed with Toronto as an unrestricted free agent.

''They asked me this time and I said, 'I think I'm ready for the responsibility. I'm at a point in my career that I don't mind the extra responsibility,''' Tavares said.

Tavares is a high school math teacher in Mississauga, Ontario, and the drive to the Peace Bridge that links Canada and the United States is about 90 minutes. We asked him how many times he's crossed the border to suit up with the Bandits. Rounding numbers off, he estimates ''400 or 500 times'' and counting.

He has a visa card as a part-time worker that he shows when he pulls up to the border guard's booth. Most of the guards recognize him so it's usually a brief stop — except for last year.

''Last year was a weird year,'' he said. ''I kept getting pulled in. They had me mixed up with another John Tavares.''

As for the season opener Friday night in Philadelphia, ''It's the first time in a long time we've got a lot of new faces in the lineup,'' he said. ''I'm eager to get on the floor and see how our team is going to do this season.''

Scott Self and Shawn Williams are the assistant captains.

Kilgour Revises Strategies

Darris Kilgour is revving up Buffalo's offense.

''We're looking to get a lot faster this year,'' said the Bandits head coach.

A roster makeover by new GM Steve "Chugger" Dietrich, the former all-pro goalie, furthered the process. There are 11 changes on the 23-man active roster.

''We're trying to change our systems almost completely,'' Kilgour said. ''We definitely want to go more transition than five-on-five.

''We've got some guys in different positions than they've been used to. We've got Nick Cotter, Mike Hominuck and Chad Culp going out the back door. The big thing is: Can we get these guys to believe that is the best thing for them? If we can get them to believe in that and it works, great. If it doesn't, we've got options to go the other way.''

Tavares, Tracey Kelusky, Shawn Williams, Aaron Wilson and Luke Wiles are veteran forwards who know what to do with the ball when it's in their sticks and getting it to them quickly is the key.

Rookie Carter Bender, a six-foot-three Canadian out of the University of Hartford, will try to be part of the plan.

''He's gone out the back door to create transition for us in training camp and he's really committed to it,'' Kilgour said. ''He's a very, very athletic kid and if we can get him into the open floor I like his chances of beating anybody one-on-one. We're very pleased with his effort.''

Bender is thrilled to get the chance, and to be reunited with Hominuck, Jon Harasym and goalie Anthony Cosmo who were his summer teammates in Brampton, Ontario, for a Canadian senior amateur title run in 2011.

"It's great,'' he said of being a Bandit. ''It's been a lifelong dream too play in the NLL. Growing up playing box lacrosse my whole life, I always wanted to play at this level. Getting the chance to is just incredible. Being on the roster is huge for me and my family and I'm looking forward to it.''

Kelusky likes what he sees out of all the newcomers.

''The youth infusion has been absolutely phenomenal,'' Kelusky said. ''It's really surprised me that right off the bat we've got some chemistry.''

Sid Smith New Captain of Knighthawks

Defenseman Sid Smith has succeeded Pat McCready as captain of the Rochester Knighthawks. The No. 1 pick in the 2009 entry draft is into his fourth NLL season and head coach Mike Hasen has witnessed improvements each year.

''He leads by example,'' Hasen said. ''He came into camp in better shape than he ever has been. He does a lot of good things on the floor and off the floor. He's really improved himself that way. That's one thing that we pride ourselves on, that hard work mentality."

Smith was captain of the Iroquois Nationals when they won silver at the 2011 world indoor championship so his leadership attributes are well known.

''It is an honor to wear the C for this organization,'' he said in a team news release. ''We have a lot of leaders and veterans on this team. It shows the coaching staff has faith in me. I will do my best to represent the team and provide leadership for the next run (at the championship)."

McCready wore 10 with the 'Hawks, and there was still a McCready wearing 10 when Rochester lost its season opener 13-12 in Everett, Wash., last Saturday. Joel McCready now proudly wears the 10 favored by his uncle.

Powell Return Delayed

Casey Powell, having sat out Rochester's game in Washington, is expected to begin his comeback on Jan. 19 when the Knighthawks play their home opener against Buffalo. Powell's last appearance was with Boston in an 11-10 to Buffalo in a first-round playoff game April 30, 2011. The Blazers folded, Rochester selected Powell in the dispersal draft, and he sat out in 2012.

Who Is This Guy?

"We got an undrafted freebie and the rest is history. The world works in mysterious ways."

— Washington coach Chris Hall on undrafted free agent Mitch McMichael

Mitch McMichael scored a goal in his first NLL game Saturday, which was an impressive accomplishment considering he cracked Washington's lineup as an undrafted free agent. McMichael dove into the crease to extend his reach and plant a ball behind goalie Matt Vinc for the 12th Stealth goal with 5:46 remaining.

So, who is this guy?

He's 24. He's 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds. He shoots from the left side. He was best known in high school in Oshawa, Ontario, for the badminton titles he won. He played a bit of Jr. A box lacrosse and concentrated on the field game Cornell. He did not play box lacrosse last summer.

So, he finishes up at Cornell and last summer he trips out to the West Coast to visit his brother, Ryan, who's playing senior indoor lacrosse for the Langley Thunder alongside the Stealth's Lewis Ratcliff and Athan Iannucci. Ryan introduces Mitch, who winds up helping Ratcliff out working with kids in the Stealth Lacrosse Academy while looking for full-time work. He lands a job in Seattle.

No NLL team mentions his name during the 2012 entry draft in September.

Now it's November. The Stealth hold open tryouts. Ratcliff and Eastern scout Mark Baldini put in some good words for Mitch and GM Doug Locker invites him. He then gets invited to the main camp. He makes the team.

''He just kept progressing,'' coach Chris Hall said. ''He easily made a spot for himself on our 23-man roster. He's one of those extremely valuable commodities in the NLL that is capable of doing many things. He can play pure offense or defense or transition, he's also an outstanding draw man and he is highly game intelligent.

''It really was a no-brainer to start him last Saturday simply from observing his multi-skill abilities throughout training camp. We got an undrafted freebie and the rest is history. The world works in mysterious ways.''

Iannucci Needs A Glass Of Milk

Athan Iannucci of the Stealth after scoring the winning goal last Saturday night: ''I was a little nervous there for a sec. It was as easy as eating a peanut butter sandwich.''

Lacrosse at Its Best

The Rochester-at-Washington season-opener was an exciting and fast-paced game and one of the things I really enjoyed about it was the fact that only four penalties were assessed. The league's crackdown on whacking, hacking and hits to the head has driven the point home that players will be in street clothes serving suspensions if they don't play by the rules. What results are displays of pure lacrosse skills — as we saw last Saturday night.

Congrats to referees Todd Labranche, Bob Taylor and Keith Gagne for an impressive night's work.

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli — a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor — are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame.

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