Features | 4/28/2014 4:40:52 PM | Chris Ryndak
| Bandits captain John Tavares (Credit: Bill Wippert)|
At 45, Buffalo Bandits captain John Tavares has been answering questions about when he might retire for 10 years now.
He said it was rare back then for a player to be competitive past age 35 but Tavares has been able to defy the odds.
Since he turned 35 in 2004, he’s averaged 2.29 goals per game and 5.22 points per game. He’s eclipsed the 40-goal plateau five times since then and even scored 51 goals in 2009, tying a career high.
In the 12 seasons prior to his 35th birthday, he’s scored 3.24 goals per game and recorded 6.53 points per game. In 2012, he finished second in the NLL with 41 goals and seventh in points with 80. He also led the League with 21 power-play goals.
This season, however, marked the first time he’s actually thought about retiring.
“I’ve never really thought about it until this year,” he said. “Lately, I’ve been thinking about it more because we’re losing, I’m not producing. I didn’t play in Minnesota.
“My age, and I’ve said this for the longest time, when you’re older and you’re slumping, you’re washed up. When you’re young and slumping, it’s called a slump. If I was 25 with my production, that’s a good year, but at 45 with my production, that’s not a good year.”
Tavares just finished his 23rd professional regular season. He posted 24 goals and 51 points in 16 games played. He scored five against Philadelphia in the third game of the year and came back with four more two weeks later against Rochester.
But he feels the season has been a disappointing one, mostly because of the slump the team ended the regular season on. The Bandits head into the playoffs on a franchise-record eight-game losing streak.
They’ll go to Toronto on Saturday for a one-game playoff against the Rock at 7 p.m. at Air Canada Centre.
“Any time your team is losing, you can’t be satisfied with how you’re playing. Statistically, I haven’t been producing and that’s part of the reason why we’re losing,” he said. “I feel like I got off to a much better start and the team did as well. The last seven, eight games, I haven’t been playing well and the team’s been losing. ”
This season, Tavares played in all but two games. He did not play in Colorado on Jan. 18 and was a healthy scratch in Minnesota on April 12 but was glad to be back in the lineup for the final three games of the season.
He’s noticed some differences in his game as he’s grown older and more experienced. He hasn’t been particularly happy with the way this season has gone and with how the Bandits offense – until last game – had gone cold.
“When I was in my prime, I didn’t ever force the game. I just kind of let things happen naturally, took what the defense gave me,” he said. “I kind of found a few games before the last two before I sat, I was trying to force the issue and try not to make mistakes – and making a lot of mistakes and not picking the ball up and whatever, turning the ball over.”
Tavares has spent his entire career with the Bandits and has helped lead the franchise to four championships. The first came in 1992, his rookie year. He scored the overtime winner in the Final against Philadelphia to give Buffalo its first title.
That goal and the championship game the Bandits won in 1993 at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium are two playoff moments that have stuck with him through the years.
“I’ve got a really bad memory, but I always go back to the original stuff like the championship goal in 1992 in Philadelphia. That one sticks out,” he said. “The year we won at the Aud with Darris Kilgour scoring the winning goal and how loud that was, those goals there were two that definitely stand out.”
Tavares is the NLL’s all-time leading scorer with 803 goals, 914 assists and 1,717 points.
He’s led the Bandits in scoring in 17 of his 23 seasons and holds single-season franchise records in points (115 in 2001), goals (51 in 2001 and 2009) and assists (64 in 2001).
In addition to hold those records, Tavares is one of the most prolific postseason performers in the history of professional indoor lacrosse. He’s first all-time in goals (77), assists (106) and points (183).
In three playoff games against the Rock, Tavares has four goals and 14 points. Buffalo’s last two postseason losses have come at the hands of Toronto. The Rock defeated the Bandits 12-11 in the semifinals in 2011 in Buffalo.
In 2012, the first-round matchup at Air Canada Centre came down to the last shot. Down a goal on the final possession, the Bandits ran the ball up the floor in a formation reminiscent of the Flying V from “The Mighty Ducks.” Tavares shot the ball into the net just before the final horn sounded. However, the officials waved the goal off because of a crease violation, thus ending the game.
“We’ve had some intense battles with them over the years and I would say they’ve dominated the last couple years in terms of knocking us out of the playoffs or eliminating us from the playoffs or whatever scenario, they always seem to come out on top,” Tavares said. “We need to find a way to change that.”
The winner of the game will face the Rochester Knighthawks the following week for the first game of a two-game series.