April 30, 2008

April 30, 2008

by Tom Borrelli, Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Jim Veltman's last National Lacrosse League game didn't end the way he would have liked, at least on the scoreboard.

But other than that, the 42-year-old Toronto Rock captain couldn't have asked for more in his farewell appearance at the Air Canada Centre last Sunday afternoon.

Veltman - playing the 194th and final game of his 16-year career - had a goal, a couple of pretty helpers among four assists, appropriately enough a team-high 17 loose balls, and a boatload of emotional moments in a 15-14 loss to the playoff-bound Philadelphia Wings before 15,332 people he referred to as "his second family."

After his teammates had warmed up wearing blue t-shirts inscribed with "Jim's Last Dance" on their backs, Veltman addressed the crowd with his 9-year-old son Kristopher at his side before the opening faceoff.

"I can't go quietly without saying something," he said. "It's an awesome experience for me, a dream come true to play before this many people."

At this point, the eight-time NLL champion needed a moment to regain his composure.

"I love playing this sport," he continued. "It's a big part of my life. This is my second family. You people have treated me like family and I've really appreciated it over the years. The more you give, the more you get back. You haven't gotten rid of me just yet, because they want me to do some coaching."

Veltman will indeed join the Rock coaching staff next season in some capacity. But first, there was the matter of one last lacrosse game.

He broke the ice for the Rock with 5:10 left in the first quarter, cutting down the middle and accepting a nice pass from Cam Woods before beating Wings goaltender Rob Blasdell for his last goal. It was his sixth of the season and the 157th of his career.

Before the game, there was a touching video tribute to Veltman shown on the scoreboard. It featured highlights from most of his 12 All-Star seasons and included a scene of him embracing late Rock coach Les Bartley.

During timeouts, the scoreboard showed video tributes from teammates as well as opposing players and coaches.

Though the game meant nothing to the Rock (7-9), who lost their last five and were eliminated from the postseason chase the week before, Veltman was at his best when it was all on the line.

With 8:08 remaining, he whipped a sweet behind-the-neck pass to a cutting Kasey Beirnes, who proceeded to trim Philadelphia's lead to 14-11.

After two more Rock scores, Veltman hit Aaron Wilson near the crease with a beautiful touch pass that led to the tying goal, with 4:40 to go.

Philadelphia's Athan Iannucci, the league scoring leader who set the NLL single-season record for goals, nailed his 71st, on his 100th point, with 44 seconds to go to give the Wings a one-goal lead.

During a timeout with 31.6 seconds left, the big crowd was chanting, "Thank you, Jim." He reciprocated by blowing kisses toward the stands. But there was still enough time left on the clock for perhaps one final magic moment.

After empty possessions by each team, Veltman got one last opportunity with four seconds left. But Philadelphia's Brandon Miller, who had replaced Blasdell for the second half, kept it out the net.

And that quickly it was over.

Toronto was left out of the playoffs for the first time since its expansion season of 1998, when the franchise was located in Hamilton and called the Ontario Raiders. This is only the second time a team that Veltman has played for failed to qualify for the playoffs.

No matter. Years from now, nobody will remember that fact.

Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band's "Like A Rock" blared over the speaker as Veltman was serenaded in one final lap around the field, during which he tossed his helmet, stick and gloves into the crowd.

Then the man who earned his nickname "Scoop" with a career-best total of 2,417 loose balls, finally disappeared up the tunnel to another rousing chorus of cheers.

Gone, but never to be forgotten.

"It has been a great ride, and I look forward to what comes next," Veltman said afterward. "The only regret will be next season when I see these guys going out onto the floor, because I love being out there playing when they give an effort like that."

Contact Tom Borrelli at tbwrite@aol.com.
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