Tavares, Bandits ready for Rock

RICHARD MAUNTAH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:31 PM ET

TORONTO - Folks in Buffalo may not necessarily see this. And even if they do, they may be reluctant to say it. So allow an outsider to say it instead.

John Tavares is the greatest athlete in the history of Buffalo professional sports.

Greater than Jim Kelly, you ask? Greater than Gilbert Perreault or Dominik Hasek? Yes.

And that’s no slight to those icons of the Queen City. It’s just that no one has done it better, for longer, than the Buffalo Bandits’ forward.

So while it has been a difficult season for the Bandits who are currently riding a six-game losing streak, it’s hard to lay any blame on this all-time great who visits the Air Canada Centre on Friday to face the Toronto Rock.

The Toronto native is the career NLL leader in both goals and assists and continues to get it done at age 43. Again, his team’s leading scorer this season, Tavares is also in the top 15 in league scoring with 42 points. He is averaging 5.25 points a game, not that far below his career average in the league of 6.09.

It is incredible for an athlete in any sport to be in his 21st season and still be one of the most feared offensive weapons in the game. But his coaches feel his age has required an adjustment to how he is utilized.

“John is the heart and soul of the Bandits,” assistant general manager Derek Graham said. “He still wants to log the minutes but at 43 years old we need to get him to log minutes in key situations.”

“We also need him to be an inspirational leader to the young guys.”

It has been a difficult stretch for the Bandits who defeated the Rock 14-10 in their season opener on Jan. 14 and followed that up with a win over Rochester the following week. Their losing streak continued last week with a 13-10 defeat at Rochester in which they trailed 12-5 after three periods.

Graham said his staff had individual talks with the players this week in hopes of turning things around. The team is also moving forward Mark Steenhius around to try and spark the offence.

“We’re trying different things and so far, they’re not working,” he said.

The Rock meanwhile will be trying to snap a two-game slide but it was hard to fault them for much in last week’s loss at home to Philadelphia. They played a physical game, clicked on both the power play and at even strength, and out-shot the Wings.

“Our compete level was where it needed to be,” general manager and assistant coach Terry Sanderson said. “We wouldn’t be disappointed if we put the same type of effort against Buffalo.”

“Of course we’d like to finish better. We were getting quality shots but (Wings goaltender Brandon) Miller was great against us.”

If there isn’t enough incentive for both teams to beat their QEW rival, the trade deadline is next Tuesday while the free-agent deadline is next Thursday and the bottom two teams in the NLL Eastern Division would be expected to at least explore options.


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