Features | 3/18/2010 9:28:29 AM | Jackie Lewandowski
John Tavares’ 19th season with the Buffalo Bandits has been as different as night and day.
The beginning was bleak.
Suffering a calf injury during training camp, the 41-year-old forward missed the first six weeks of the season. What was thought to be a minor ailment, soon turned into a nagging problem that couldn't go away fast enough.
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“It was frustrating that it took so long, because I felt that it wouldn’t have kept me out that long,” Tavares said. “I was thinking one game and then it became five games, but I just kept trying to prepare for the next game and that just set me back.”
Tavares’ absence was severely felt on the offense. In the early weeks of the season, the Bandits suffered four straight losses to start the 2010 crusade.
And then a ray of hope - Tavares was finally cleared to play in time to take on the Philadelphia Wings on Feb. 13.
In his first game back the veteran didn’t disappoint, tallying two goals and four assists (2+4). Tavares proved to be the spark that the offense needed to capture a 13-10 win, and improve the Bandits record to 2-5.
“I was ready and it was a big game for us, and I felt pretty confident about playing in that game,” Tavares said. “My job was to produce offensively either by scoring more or getting guys open in that game and that confidence helped.”
Despite the great showing, Tavares felt there was still room for improvement.
“I got some points, but I still don’t feel like I played that well,” Tavares said. “I want to get more wins, and that means getting the ball moving more and scoring more.”
Nonetheless, he was honored for his performance shortly after, being named the Offensive Player of the Week by the NLL.
It was after that game that the Bandits’ season began to come together. Now with a 5-6 record, and still battling for a playoff spot, Tavares’ play is the greatest shining example of why the team has won four of their last five games.
In his short time back, the forward has accumulated 14 goals and 11 assists for 25 points on the season. He is second only to Mark Steenhuis on the team, and has proved that after 19 years in the League, he still has it.
Tavares also tallied both game winning goals in overtime last week against the Toronto Rock and the Boston Blazers, making him third in the League for game-winning goals despite playing four fewer games than both Ryan Boyle and Gary Gait.
The forward was also named the NLL Offensive Player of the Week and more importantly, the Overall Player of the Week for his performance over the weekend for the 10th week of the season.
Tavares and the team as a whole have kept the Bandits in the playoff hunt, as the Bandits look to continue battling for the final spot in the East.
“We have to win and the way I look at it is one game at a time,” he said. “I’m looking at the loss column and the other teams, we are still in the hunt and we have to win one game at a time.”
After 11 games, the Bandits are one win away from tying the Rochester Knighthawks and Boston Blazers for 3rd place. The Bandits need to be in the top four to make the playoffs, and with five games left on the season that feat is still possible.
With a week off, the Bandits including Tavares will get a final chance to rest before taking on the Knighthawks at the Blue Cross Arena on Saturday, March 27 at 7:30 p.m.