RICH KILGOUR DESERVING OF JERSEY RETIREMENTFeatures | 4/13/2011 10:10:05 AM | Michael Jafari
The wait is over for Rich Kilgour, as the Buffalo Bandits’ long-time captain will have his No. 16 banner raised to the rafters of HSBC Arena on Saturday night. The Bandits will hold a ceremony to celebrate Kilgour’s illustrious career prior to their matchup with the Boston Blazers.
“It’s cool, and I can’t put it into words really,” said Kilgour. “I had been going to the Memorial Auditorium since I was a kid, and you look up and see those banners of Gilbert Perreault and Pat LaFontaine, and now my name is going up there. It’s an overwhelming and unbelievable feeling. It’s quite an honor.”
The emotions will be difficult to overcome for the Niagara Falls native, as Kilgour never thought he would be celebrated for playing the game he loved. Lacrosse was not an overly popular sport in Western New York in the past, but that all changed in the early 1990’s. In a coincidence, the Buffalo Bandits entered the then-Major Indoor Lacrosse League right around the time when Kilgour graduated from high school. The concept of a professional lacrosse team was new to Buffalo, but Kilgour saw it as a chance for the sport to grow in Western New York, and he wanted to be a part of its expansion.
“I’m the luckiest guy on the face of the earth. I got done playing lacrosse in high school, and once I was done with junior lacrosse in Canada, I thought I was done in 1990. Then the Bandits came around in 1992, and I got to keep playing. I was hoping it was something to do while I was younger because we weren’t in it for the money, but because it was just a lot of fun. It just kept going, and I kept playing. Now you look where the organization is 20 years later with the Bandit fans, and it’s just unbelievable. As a child you couldn’t even dream it because there was no pro lacrosse, let alone in Buffalo. It was the perfect storm because I was the right age when lacrosse came to Buffalo, which is just unbelievable how it all happened,” recalled an excited Kilgour.
The thought of professional lacrosse didn’t even exist for a young Kilgour, until he found out about Buffalo’s expansion team from his junior coach, Bob “Buff” McCready, who left the junior team to coach the Bandits. McCready gave Kilgour a shot to make the team out of training camp, and the Niagara Falls product did not disappoint his former mentor.
“I was kind of lucky because the first coach ever was Buff McCready, who coached me in juniors, and he got a hold of me and told me not to sign anything because Buffalo is starting a team. I was never drafted or anything, but I heard about the team, and I heard of the [players] because they were huge Canadian stars,” reminisced Kilgour. “I knew it was going to be a tough team to make, but I just went out and worked hard, plus I had an advantage since Buff knew what I had to offer before the try-out. I was able to earn a spot and never thought I would still be playing 18 years later, but that’s how it worked out, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Kilgour was able to make the team during his first professional try-out based on his tremendous work ethic and his reliable defensive skills. When Kilgour made the team, he had the privilege of meeting a 24-year-old kid named John Tavares, with whom he would end up playing his entire career. While the two were just getting to know each other at the time, Tavares picked up right away that Kilgour was a special player and remembers how great of a teammate number 16 was in the locker room.
“It’s very deserving for Richie. I’m really happy for him, and I’m surprised it has taken this long to come out with the announcement,” said the NLL’s all-time leading scorer. “Richie was one of two captains I had here in Buffalo, the other guy being Bryan Hall. He was a great captain and great leader, and a great team guy. Most people know Richie as a defensive player, but when we started playing in 1992, he was a good offensive player as well, and he was such a good team player that when he was asked to play defense he said, ‘yeah no problem,’ so he was a defender after that.”
Bandits Coach Les Bartley thought Kilgour would be more effective in a defensive role, so he altered his game a little bit. Kilgour’s quick transition enabled him to be a cornerstone on Buffalo’s defensive unit, as he proved to be a tough and rugged player who could strike fear into his opponents when it came to battling for loose balls.
“It was nerve-racking going in the corners with him. You hear the stories about how both Rich and Darris were feisty so you never knew what to expect,” joked NLL veteran and current Bandit, Tom Montour. “I remember one game I was playing here, and I went in the corner with Richie, and we were mucking it up. During the battle, he asked me if I wanted to scrap, and I turned around and I said, ‘No way! You’re Richie Kilgour! I’m out of here,’ and went straight to the bench.”
The Bandits’ leader anchored the team’s defense for a long 18-year span in which Buffalo would go on to win four championships in 1992, 1993, 1996 and 2008. Although every championship was memorable for the Bandits’ longest-tenured captain, Kilgour’s most memorable title was in 1993, when his brother, Darris Kilgour, scored the game-winning goal with just 29.7 seconds left in the game to defeat the Philadelphia Wings 13-12 inside the Memorial Auditorium.
“My personal favorite was when Darris scored the game-winner at the old Aud, which was pretty great. Now that I had a year or two to think about it, Darris’ goal was the highlight of my career, because when we watch the old tapes, you can see the cameras shaking, and everyone sitting on top of each other at the Aud. It was just incredible especially because all of our family and friends were there, and it doesn’t get more special than that,” Kilgour said with a smile. “A really close second was the 2008 one because I was near the end of my career, and we hadn’t won in almost 13 years. To win one late in my career and share it again with my brother, who was the coach, made it pretty special.”
What makes Kilgour’s career more special was that he was able to share his accomplishments with Darris. The brothers played together for eight seasons in Buffalo, before Darris moved on from the organization in 1999. Darris returned to coach Buffalo in 2002, where he reunited with his brother for more seven seasons. This season, Rich has joined the Darris’ staff as an assistant coach.
“When we were younger, we were normal boys that hated each other, and we seriously fought like twice a day until we were about 16-years-old. Once we got to junior lacrosse we kind of had to knock it off since we were teammates and traveled a lot, and the next thing you know, we became close,” said an emotional Kilgour. “He is my best friend, and I love working with him, and I love to think that we both had a huge hand as to how the Bandits started out. Darris, Tavares and I were Bandits from Day One, and we hope to be with the Bandits organization as long as we can.”
Kilgour isn’t the only Bandit to receive the honor of having his number retired. The Bandits have also honored Thomas Gardner, a prominent figure in youth lacrosse in Western New York, by retiring his No. 34 after he died in 1998. Darris also had his No. 43 hung up at HSBC Arena, and the team’s bench boss is delighted to have his brother’s banner right next to his.
“I’m very proud of him because he’s been my leader my whole life, and he has taught me a lot about not only lacrosse, but about life. He is a terrific guy and a terrific person who deserves this, and I am very glad the organization decided to do that,” said the Bandits coach.
Kilgour’s legendary career finally came to an end when the transition runner announced his retirement from the sport at the end of the 2009 season. The Bandits’ captain left the game with 317 points (94 goals, 223 assists) and 824 loose balls in his 18-year career. He is the team’s all-time leader in faceoff wins (359) and ranks second in games played (200) and fifth in loose balls (824).
Following his retirement, Kilgour left the sport for a year, but he couldn’t stand to be away from the game. Kilgour returned to lacrosse in a coaching capacity, starting at Niagara Community College. He then moved on to be the head bench boss for Six Nations in the Major League Lacrosse Series before joining the Bandits as an assistant coach prior to the 2011 season.
“When I first started, I used to sit on the bench and think about things I would do differently. I think to play that long and to love the sport makes you feel like you have to give back,” recalled Kilgour. “I took a year off because I did it for 18 years, so I thought I would just sit back and see what was going to happen, but I just missed it terribly. This year, Darris was nice enough to hire me, and it has been a lot of fun, and it’s very rewarding. It’s the next best thing to playing, and instead of taking bumps and bruises, I tell the players to get them instead. It’s a lot of fun, and I wasn’t sure how much I would like it, but I love it and hope to be here for a while.”
With both Darris and Rich behind the bench, Buffalo has exceeded expectations this season and has climbed to the top of the East division with a 10-4 record. The Bandits have also clinched a playoff spot in Kilgour’s first year of coaching professional lacrosse, but he is still getting used to behaving as a coach rather than a player.
“When we beat Toronto in overtime my wife started to make fun of me because I ran out on the floor like I was a player still, even though I was the only one in the huddle wearing a suit. It’s a different role, but at the same time, you get really involved in the game and on how the team does. It’s like being a player, but the bad thing is that you can’t do anything but sit there and sweat it out. I’m having a lot of fun.”
The Bandits will retire Kilgour’s jersey number prior to their game against the Boston Blazers (7-8). The faceoff is set for Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. inside HSBC Arena. In honor of Kilgour’s night, the organization has lowered all 300 level seats to just $16.