All signs point to John Tavares, a fixture on the Buffalo sports scene for the last 24 years, announcing his retirement as a player with the Buffalo Bandits of the National Lacrosse League at a Wednesday morning news conference.
Tavares, who was unavailable for comment Tuesday night, is scheduled to appear at 11 a.m. with coach Troy Cordingley and Director of Lacrosse Operations Scott Loffler in First Niagara Center for “a major announcement.”
Tavares told The News in May that he would ponder his future over the summer, as he has the past five or so seasons. However, he never has been party to a news conference announcing his return, hence the speculation that he’s calling it quits.
Tavares, who will be 47 on Friday, is the NLL’s all-time leading points producer with 1,749 as well as its all-time goals (815) and assists (934) leader in regular-season games. Naturally, he owns the Bandits record in all three categories as well as the franchise record for games played because Buffalo is the only NLL team he ever played for.
The Toronto native, the son of Portuguese immigrants, took up the game first played by native North Americans and thrived. Although he stood out in outdoor lacrosse he was especially prolific in the indoor version of the sport.
He was the first 100-point scorer in an NLL season and is the first in league history to reach 500 goals and 500 assists for his career.
Although he has been a Bandit throughout his playing career, Tavares came to the team from the Detroit Turbos in a trade for Brian Nikula just before the start of the Bandits’ first training camp in the Major Indoor Lacrosse League in October of 1991. The league later became the NLL.
Tavares became an instant Buffalo sports hero in the team’s first season. He scored an overtime goal at Philadelphia in the league championship to give the Bandits the MILL title. Another league title came in 1993 and two more, in 1996 and 2008, came later with Tavares leading the way each time.
The Bandits made the playoffs 20 times in his 24 seasons with the team. In 38 playoff games, Tavares scored 84 goals with 116 assists for 200 points. His postseason points-per -game average of 5.26 is not much off his career average of 5.72 in regular-season games.
His list of achievements and firsts seem endless. He was named MILL Most Valuable Player in 1994. He added NLL MVP honors in 2000 and 2001.
The 2001 campaign was Tavares’ best statistically. He scored a team-record 51 goals (he equalled that in 2009) and a team-record 64 assists for 115 points, another Bandits record which still stands.
Although the Bandits’ offense usually revolved around him, making him a marked man for opposing checkers, Tavares was an amazingly durable performer.
In his first 18 seasons with the team, he missed only four of 223 regular season games. Age and injuries began to catch up in recent seasons. Since 2010, Tavares missed 20 games due to injuries, including eight of the 18 this past season when he scored a career-low 12 goals with 20 assists. In Buffalo’s one playoff game, Tavares’ last with the team, he scored two goals and assisted on another in a loss to Rochester.
Tavares’ career in outdoor lacrosse is as remarkable as it is in the indoor game. He began play in 1983 with the Mississauga Tomahawks in an Ontario Junior B League at the age of 14.
In Senior A League play in Ontario, Tavares scored 771 goals with 1,108 assists for 1,789 points in 365 games over 24 seasons. He played on six Mann Cup championship teams and three times won the Mike Kelly Memorial Trophy as the most valuable player in Mann Cup competition. He won eight Major Series Lacrosse scoring titles and was the league’s MVP.
Tavares attended D’Youville College in Buffalo and is a mathematics teacher at Philip Pocock Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont.
Tavares will be inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame on Nov. 4 at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.