Teachers pass test of time

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:47 AM ET

Way back in 1992, John Tavares and Jim Veltman joined forces in their introduction to professional lacrosse with the Buffalo Bandits.

It's safe to say neither man predicted they would be leading their respective teams into a first-place battle 13 years later.

Two of the sport's greatest players -- the Bandits' Tavares, 36, and the Toronto Rock's Veltman, who turns 39 this week -- will square off with top spot in the National Lacrosse League's East Division on the line tonight at the Air Canada Centre. In a sport where big men often take charge, two guys under 200 pounds continue to make great things happen.

"What John Tavares continues to do and what Jimmy Veltman continues to do, amazing isn't even the right word," Rock general manager/coach Terry Sanderson said. "What those guys do every night is a thing of beauty."

It became clear Tavares and Veltman were pretty special in 1992 and 1993 when they won four consecutive championships together -- two pro titles with the Bandits and two Mann Cups with the Brampton Excelsiors. Back in their early days, they received less than $200 US apiece for each game. Now, they make $22,425 per season as franchise players.

"If you would have asked me five, 10 years ago if I would have thought (they still would be playing), I would have said no for sure," Veltman, the NLL's career loose balls leader and a seven-time NLL champion, said. "We use our heads. Physically, we're probably not the players we used to be, but we pride ourselves on being a step ahead of everyone else."

Tavares, called the best player in NLL history by Sanderson and Veltman, recently became the second player in the NLL to top the 1,000-point mark and needs three goals to reach 500 for his career. He's second in the NLL in scoring this season, but Tavares hasn't won a championship since Veltman left Buffalo.

Like Veltman (Agincourt), Tavares (Philip Pocock) is a high school teacher in the Greater Toronto Area.

"We both make good decisions and that's the key to our longevity," Tavares, who scored the overtime winner for the East Division in the NLL all-star game last Saturday, said.

"To this day, (Veltman) is one of my favourite players ever."

Neither man has retirement plans, though Veltman's wife has made one thing clear.

"She wants me to be able to walk when I'm done," he said. "She doesn't want to push me around in a wheelchair."


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