GURT'S BLOG: A SPECIAL PLAYERBlogs | 2/15/2011 11:35:28 AM | John Gurtler
They see the game differently. They think differently. React differently. Approach the game differently.
A common sentence used in the world of sport when talking about great players, and I’ve used it in previous blogs, is, “the game moves at a slower pace for them.”
As tough a game as it looks from my vantage point, and never having played a second of indoor lacrosse, it appears John Tavares takes the law of averages to a new level and chases father time farther from the truth.
Saturday’s nine-point performance (5 goals, 4 assists) by the greatest player ever to play indoor lacrosse was an example of how Tavares leads and how he makes the players believe. It was truly a remarkable moment at the 9:51 mark of the first quarter last Saturday night in Philadelphia when he scored his 700th National Lacrosse League goal. Nobody in the 25-year history of the League has been able to – or come close to – what the 20-year veteran of the Bandits did. Modestly, he passed on the significance of the milestone.
“Honestly 699, 700, it’s not a really big difference,” Tavares said during our pre-game interview Saturday night. “It’s just going out and playing a lacrosse game. If I score and make it my 700th, at the end of the day, it really doesn’t change my life one bit.”
Another sign of Tavares’ elite skill is the fact that all 14 of the shots he attempted at Philly were recorded on net, and five of them went in for goals, which gave him a very impressive 36% shooting percentage from the floor. “I know it sounds really simple, some nights the ball goes in for you and some nights it doesn’t,” said Tavares. “You’re shooting for one spot that goes somewhere else. The game in Toronto (on Jan. 29) for example, I know I took a probable 15 shots and 10 of them hit (Rock goaltender Bob) Watson right in the stomach. Not to take anything away from him but I am not aiming at his stomach, I am aiming at his corner.
“You’ve got to make sure everything is clicking including your own personal stick. Also the complexity of the game, if you’re trailing I find sometimes you’re pushing a little harder, you’re holding your stick tighter, you put a little more pressure on yourself to score. When you’re leading a game, you feel a little bit more relaxed (and) the goals just seem to come a little easier. That was evident against Minnesota. I don’t think we trailed once in that game and we were very comfortable. Against Toronto when we trailed the whole game, we were tight the whole game.”
John Tavares is ingenious. He creates opportunities for himself and his teammates. He works incredibly hard and draws on his gifted talents that are few and far between among the 220-plus players in this league. Yet, there are times this year when he has wondered if he should be on the floor. Really?
“I’ve always been hard on myself,” noted Tavares. “I’ve always been my worst critic; I’ve never played good enough, even when I was in the prime of my career. There are so many other variables. The game has changed defensively as well. Teams put a lot more pressure on the ball carrier on the offense now, so it forces you to react faster as well. So definitely I still try to slow the game that way. Different parts of the game that are out there that came so easy to me, now I really have to concentrate on.”
With that said, the Bandits roster has a diversified group that provides support, starting with lowest number to high. For example, first-year Bandit Tracey Kelusky has added some key assets.
“Tracey is a great player, he’s a great leader,” said Tavares. “It’s one of those things that people look at statistics, and they see how many goals and assists you have and if your numbers are not high they think you’re not playing well. Tracey provides a lot more out there. He’s a good leader, that I mentioned, and he’s willing to do the dirty work, he’s good on the ground balls, he’s great in the change room. He will score and he’s getting his opportunities.”
That scoring was prominently on display Saturday night, including his super-fast over-the-shoulder shot that found net in the third quarter, which was a part of a 3-4-7 night for Kelusky.
Thirty-seven percent of the season is done. The Bandits, at 4-2, have plenty of lacrosse left, including playoffs. With a complete game last Saturday night by the goaltending, defense, transition and offense, the challenge now is to continue to play at that high level while drawing from the depth of this year’s roster and players who see the game differently.
The Bandits will host the Wings this Saturday at HSBC Arena. Saturday’s radio coverage will be on WWKB 1520 AM with the pre-game show starting at 7 p.m. Time Warner Cable Sportsnet (channel 87) joins for the face-off at 7:30 p.m.