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Scoring mark within Tavares' reach Needs six points to catch Gary Gait

John Tavares is on the verge of making history and couldn't care less.

Question: "Are you more excited now that you're getting closer to becoming the National Lacrosse League's career scoring leader?"

Answer: "No. I haven't really thought about it."

Question: "Will it mean anything special once it's yours?"

Answer: "[Long pause] Over the summer I was told I had broken the record for career points in Canada. But then the next day it was the same old thing. What I'm trying to say is that nothing had changed in my life.

"Big deal!"

Getting Tavares to brag is tougher than trying to prevent Don King from doing it.

"That's why guys love him. Love to play with him. Love to be his teammate," said captain Rich Kilgour, along with Tavares the last of the original Buffalo Bandits who have won three championships together.

"I read a couple of articles about [Los Angeles Lakers guard] Kobe [Bryant] when he scored 81 points," Kilgour said. "They interviewed Scottie Pippen, who said, 'we always wanted Michael [Jordan] to do well.' That's exactly the attitude Johnny brings out in his teammates."

Teammates and opponents have compared Tavares to Jordan. To Wayne Gretzky. To Superman. Even if he doesn't want to hear about it.

With a typical game -- typical only by his lofty standards -- Tavares can tie or break Gary Gait's record in tonight's 7:30 game against the Minnesota Swarm at HSBC Arena. Tavares enters with 1,085 points in 168 career games, six points fewer than Gait -- now the head coach of the Colorado Mammoth -- compiled in 174 games covering 15 seasons. Tavares, 37, is averaging 6.8 points per game this season, 6.46 for his career and 6.33 against the Swarm.

"I'd like to think I had a part in it," said coach Darris Kilgour, whose uniform No. 43 has been retired by the Bandits (3-2). "To be the leading all-time scorer in any league is just huge, not only on a team level but also on a personal level. . . . I know the personal stuff means something to him but he never puts it in front of the team. He wants to win first."

No NLL goalie has faced more rubber from Tavares' stick than the Portland LumberJax's Dallas Eliuk, the league's career saves leader who is in his 16th season. Eliuk's 13 wins over the Bandits are the most by any opponent.

"He has a great head on his shoulders," said Eliuk, who is the only goalie ever to hold Tavares without a point in a regular season game (in an 8-7 Philadelphia Wings victory on Jan. 25, 2002). "He's a thinking player who's tricky, who's deceptive. He doesn't do the same thing over and over like some shooters do. He has four or five go-to shots and you're forced to watch him absolutely all of the time."

Tavares almost certainly will break the record at HSBC Arena. Should he fall short tonight, after playing in his fifth All-Star Game Feb. 25 at the Air Canada Centre in his home town of Toronto, the next game is at HSBC against the Swarm (4-3) on March 4.

But because of the relative obscurity in which pro indoor lacrosse players toil, Tavares will probably never share a similar place in the hearts of Western New York fans that more famous Buffalo stars to wear No. 11 -- like Gilbert Perreault and Bob McAdoo -- will always occupy.

That despite the fact that Perreault never won a scoring championship and began this season 24th on the NHL career scoring list, while McAdoo won three NBA scoring titles but is not among the top 30 career scorers. Tavares has won or shared seven NLL scoring titles and will soon be the career leader.

"I'm hoping that when he does it, he finally gets the full recognition he deserves," said Bandits assistant coach Troy Cordingley, who spent seven seasons as Tavares' teammate. "Gary and Paul [Gait], nothing against them, but Johnny has never received the recognition the Gaits have. Johnny doesn't care. Because he's so unselfish the guys love him and will do anything for him."

Said Rich Kilgour: "Twenty other players in our [locker] room look at him and say, 'there's the best player of all time and he's still working the hardest.' It's been an honor to play with the guy for 15 years."


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