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New Bandit Kelusky returns to Calgary

Tracey Kelusky will be part of opening night for the Calgary Roughnecks for the ninth straight year tonight when that team hosts the Buffalo Bandits in the Scotiabank Saddledome (9:30 p.m., webcast on NLL.com, Radio 1520 AM).

Here's the catch: He won't be playing for Calgary.

Instead, Kelusky will suit up for the Bandits as they begin their 20th season. Buffalo acquired the forward from Calgary in the offseason. Shortly after the trade was completed, Kelusky realized he'd play his first game as a Bandit back in Alberta.

"It's bittersweet," Kelusky said about starting the season in such familiar territory. "I'm looking forward to getting back to Calgary. It obviously will be a little different after playing there for eight years. I'm looking forward to the challenge."

It won't be easy for Calgary either, according to coach Dave Pym.

"Tracey is the consummate pro, one of the best ever to play the game," Pym said. "It's going to be an emotional night for him and for a lot of us. It will be tough to see a guy who was our bread-and-butter leader and the backbone of our team wearing a Bandits uniform. But once the ball is dropped, all bets are off."

Kelusky has been one of the best players in the National Lacrosse League throughout his career, ranking 11th all-time in career scoring (684 points), and the Bandits certainly were overjoyed to add him to the roster. Kelusky's career started with the Columbus Landsharks, where he was Rookie of the Year in 2001 after being the first overall draft choice. Then he spent a year with the Montreal Express, where he had a career-high 94 points in 16 games.

The Express perished after the 2002 season, and Kelusky was selected by Calgary with the first pick in the dispersal draft. There he was a first-team All-Pro three times, and won one of two championships with the Roughnecks when they defeated the Bandits in the title game in 2004.

Kelusky was happy to play in Calgary, where he had 64 points in 35 games last season, but then life got in the way.

"My wife and I relocated to Ontario, and it made the most sense to look at Eastern-based clubs," he said. "I had a lot of conversations with the owner in Calgary. They had to look at whether they wanted me to be a 'fly-in' guy."

Some players do travel long distances to play in games in the NLL, but it's usually for everyone's benefit if a trade can be worked out to shorten the commute. In this case, Kelusky went to the Bandits with a third-round draft pick for a first rounder in 2011.

"I don't live in the community here, but I'm as close as I can be," Kelusky said. "Being able to practice with the guys weekly and being part of the team is great. That's why I looked at Buffalo, and that's why it's a great fit."

Toronto and Rochester might have worked well, too, for the 35-year-old. But Kelusky liked the idea of playing before 17,000 people on a regular basis -- even if it had been awhile since he had taken the HSBC Arena floor.

"I played here in the playoffs my first year in Calgary [2003]," he said. "When you look at the Buffalo Bandits, it is the NLL. They have been around for a long, long time. They've done a remarkable job here in the community. Obviously, every night in HSBC Arena has an awesome atmosphere."

As could be expected, Bandits coach Darris Kilgour was thrilled to acquire someone who could add so much to his lineup.

"He's smart," Kilgour said about Kelusky. "He's very good on offense. He should help our power play. Our power play has been struggling for about a year now. I think he's a great team leader in the locker room. He says the things that need to be said. He doesn't care about what toes he steps on, and that's what we need. You need honesty among yourselves. I think he brings the whole package here."

The idea, naturally, is for Kelusky to help generate offense, which would lead to more victories in the upcoming season.

"The guys in the locker room want to win games," he said. "They haven't won the NLL Cup in a few years now [2008], but they've been in the postseason every year and gave themselves a chance. That's what I want to do. I want to win championships, and this year is no different. I'm looking to win right off the bat. You want to go to a team that has a chance."

e-mail: bbailey@buffnews.com

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