Meet Mr. 1,000

TY PILSON -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

It's the type of debate that rages in sports bars and rec rooms across North America.

Who's the best hockey player ever? Who's the greatest quarterback of all time? Who was the most dominating pitcher in the history of the majors?

In every sport rages some variation of the question: Whose accomplishments stand above the rest?

In the National Lacrosse League, it most often comes down to two players: The Colorado Mammoth's Gary Gait or the Buffalo Bandits' John Tavares.

Tavares, playing for the East Division, and Gait, suiting up for the West, will take part in tomorrow's NLL all-star game at the Saddledome (noon, NBC).

Just like the Wayne or Mario argument, everyone can make their own case for who is better.

Tavares recently became only the second player in NLL history to crack the 1,000-point barrier -- joining Gait -- after he assisted on a goal in the third quarter of an 11-7 win over the Rochester Knighthawks Feb. 19.

Tavares became the fastest player to achieve the feat, doing it in 154 games. It took Gait 157.

Bandits GM Kurt Silcott said the play of Tavares, a 37-year-old high school teacher in Toronto, constantly amazes him.

"He's a little bit slower and probably not quite as strong as he used to be but he's smarter," said Silcott. "He's playing smarter lacrosse out there and always finding new ways to score and work with his teammates. Every night, I keep wondering, 'Is this going to be the night that John finally starts to slow down?' And that night never seems to come. And boy, I hope it never does."

Heading into this season, the 6-ft. 2-in., 225-lb. Gait was the all-time leading scorer in NLL regular-season play with 563 goals and 447 assists for 1010 points in 158 games. Tavares, 5-ft. 11-in., 175-lb., was second with 474 goals and 475 assists for 949 points in 147 career games.

While Tavares is still second in all-time scoring, he leads in all-time assists and is second in loose balls behind Toronto's Jim Veltman.

Silcott said he agrees Tavares is often overshadowed by Gait, who is more popular with the mainstream.

"It's funny that sometimes he gets lost behind Gary," said Silcott, who obviously has some bias on the issue. "Last time I checked, he was the fastest player to 1,000 points. People keep talking 'Gary Gait, Gary Gait' and I'm looking at John's numbers and I think they're better.

"He has more loose balls and better assist numbers. So, sometimes I do think John does get slighted on the national scene ... In my opinion, he's the best of all time."

In the win over Rochester, Tavares finished with three goals and four assists and said the road victory meant more to him than notching No. 1,000.

"It was nice it happened in a win in Rochester, which has always been a tough place for us to play," said Tavares. "I think it meant more to me that it happened in a win."

Gait, who has said he will retire after this season, has struggled to score at his normal clip this year. Tavares, however, sits second in league scoring with 22 goals and 30 helpers in seven games and is definitely aging like a fine wine.

"I'm just playing the way I always play," said Tavares. "Of course, I have lots of assists in there which is a tribute to all the guys I've played with over the years that can score. Without them, I definitely wouldn't be where I am.

"I think sometimes fans put too much emphasis on guys getting older. I rely a lot more on the mental aspect. I've done that all my career and I think that's why I've always been consistent."

Tomorrow's game will be Tavares' first trip back to the 'Dome since the Bandits lost the championship game 14-11 to the Riggers May 7. However, despite that painful defeat, Tavares said returning to the scene of the crime won't open any old wounds.

"I have no ill feelings at all," he said. "It was a great game. A great game for the league, a great game for the city and the fans."


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