ADJUSTMENT PERIODFeatures | 4/26/2012 1:34:19 PM | Chris Ryndak
Tracey Kelusky has high personal expectations and has been working hard to meet them since joining the Buffalo Bandits.
The Bandits acquired the 12-year veteran from Calgary before the 2011 season but so far, Kelusky hasn’t been as productive as he was with the Roughnecks.
In eight seasons in Calgary, Kelusky averaged 32 goals and 67 points, including a 45-goal campaign in 2005. Last year, his first with the Bandits, he scored 21 goals and 54 points in 16 games.
This year, he’s posted 12 goals and 28 points in 12 games.
Kelusky returned to the lineup last weekend against Rochester after missing the three previous games with a concussion. He scored twice.
“I don’t think I’ve lived up to my expectations as far as my offensive output since coming to Buffalo, but, with that being said, I know last weekend was good because I was able to cash on my opportunities,” he said. “I had to kind of adjust my game a little bit coming here with the personnel that we have. I guess I’m slowly trying to get into that groove.”
When he was with Calgary, Kelusky said that the offense ran through him and he was the primary ball handler.
In Buffalo, with players like Mark Steenhuis and John Tavares already here, and a player like Luke Wiles joining the team this season – players that are going to carry the ball in the offensive zone – Kelusky has changed the way he’s played.
“I’ve had to take on a little bit of a different, new role, trying to maybe share the ball a little more, set some picks and do the little things to open those guys up,” Kelusky said.
“It’s been a little bit of an adjustment obviously for me to kind of come in here, but with that being said, it is what is, right? I’m a little bit frustrated. I just have to bear down and put the ball in the net when I’m given the opportunity.”
Initially, head coach Darris Kilgour reported Kelusky’s concussion as an Achilles injury and Kelusky said that mostly had to do with his history. The 36-year-old forward has suffered head injuries in the past and he believes that having those unfortunate experiences helped his recovery this time around.
“Obviously you’ve got to listen to the symptoms, you’ve got to be honest with yourself, you’ve got to put a lot of faith in the hands of the doctors and the training staff,” Kelusky said. “I’ve been through this a couple times, but I think it was maybe a little bit easier knowing what I have to do and what I’m capable of doing, what I need to do in order to rest of properly in order to get back and make sure I'm back permanently.”
The injury happened towards the end of the Bandits’ game in Calgary on March 24. He took a shot to the head in the final minutes and with the game virtually decided, he said it was aggravating to have to leave a game under those circumstances.
“It probably should have been a penalty but it wasn’t like a malicious play,” he said. “But nonetheless, I remember it was a minute-and-a-half, two minutes left in the game, so I look at it and it is was like, we’re getting spanked pretty good and then to go out with a minute-and-a-half left in the game, it was essentially all over but the cryin’. It was a little bit frustrating.”
Kelusky’s tenure with the Bandits could have come much sooner. He was originally a fourth-round draft pick of Buffalo back in 1995, but did not join the team right away. He was pursuing hockey and looking for a college scholarship. He eventually called up then-Bandits general manager Les Bartley in November and asked for a tryout.
“He said, ‘Yeah, you know what, we’ve already had our training camp but you’re more than welcome to come out.’” Kelusky remembers Bartley telling him. “I know I went out and practiced with the guys and they offered me a roster spot. But then the league went on strike.”
The Major Indoor Lacrosse League went on strike for about a month, according to Kelusky, and during that time, he received a full scholarship to play lacrosse at the University at Hartford.He ended up accepting the scholarship and going to school.
He made his NLL debut with Columbus in 2001 and was named the NLL’s Rookie of the Year. After spending the next season with Montreal, he wound up in Calgary. Spending the next eight years in Calgary, where he won two championships, he was able to develop a strong chemistry with his teammates.
“As an athlete, you have more success when it’s almost like second nature with the people on the floor,” he said. “You don’t necessarily have to talk about it. It’s just something that happens like executing plays or knowing guys’ tendencies and stuff like that.”
He sees a lot of similarities in Buffalo when it comes to having players who are very familiar with one another.
“As a player, it’s something I try and bring into the locker room. Let’s be accountable, let’s fulfill expectations for one another. Not for Darris [or the coaching staff or management], but for the players and do it for one another,” Kelusky said. “I think it’s a lot easier to implement those sorts of things when you have a group of guys that have been around together for a long time.”
The Bandits travel to the Pacific Northwest to take on the Washington Stealth on Saturday. Face off is scheduled for 10:30 p.m. EST and Kelusky isn’t sure if he’ll play as Buffalo prepares for the playoffs.
“I haven’t really talked to the coaching staff. I don’t know if I’m going to play this weekend or if Darris has plans on resting guys or what his thoughts are,” Kelusky said.
One thing he is sure of is that despite his injuries and statistical decline, he’s not ready to hang up his lacrosse stick yet.
“The fact I’m still kind of going here after 12 years of being in the league, I’m pretty proud of that,” Kelusky said. “I’m just blessed that I’ve been able to play this long and I’m hoping I’ve got a couple more years left in me because my body feels good. I know my point production’s down a little bit but I feel as good as I have.”