John Tavares (left) played a big role in Mark Steenhuis’ road to 1,000 points over the years. (Buffalo News file photo)

If Mark Steenhuis needed a reminder that Saturday figured to be a special day, he got it when he picked up some coffee.

“I was at Tim Hortons this morning,” the Buffalo Bandit said. “I got into my truck, and a guy came up and said, ‘Are you going to get them tonight?’ ”

“Them” refers to the two points that Steenhuis needed to reach 1,000 for his National Lacrosse League career. The veteran entered Saturday’s game with the Toronto Rock at 998.

“I hesitated for a second and said, ‘Yeah, for sure,’ ” Steenhuis said. “It was a pretty cool perspective. The game doesn’t mean anything in the standings, but it’s special to have that support.”

His self-confidence was well placed. He scored exactly two assists to reach 1,000 on the nose.

The countdown to that moment started in 2002 with his first team, Columbus.

“I don’t know if I remember point No. 1, but I definitely remember the first goal in the league,” he said. “My first year with Columbus, I scored on Matt Roik. He was a goalie in St. Catharines, and I knew he didn’t want me to score on him. It bounced five-hole. I don’t know why I remember it so well, but maybe because it was my first goal and how mad he was. I knew I could hang it over his head for the rest of his career.”

As the years have gone by - 15 of them - the totals have gone up. Steenhuis’ career high for points came in 2009 (101). The approach to 1,000 caught him a little bit by surprise.

“I really had no idea until my kids started talking about it and a few of the guys started texting me,” the 36-year-old said. “I haven’t put too much thought into it. But it’s funny - you throw out the names of those guys who haven’t done it, and it’s kind of astonishing. I’m a guy who played out the back door a little bit; I’ve been all over the place. But the numbers added up. It will be nice to have my names next to those guys, the superstars of the league.”

The first eight players to the 1,000 mark in NLL history were John Tavares, John Grant, Colin Doyle, Josh Sanderson, Dan Dawson, Gary Gait, Shawn Williams and Shawn Evans. The last name on the list, Evans, just reached 1,000 last week.

Saturday morning, Steenhuis was reminded that he was still was 751 points behind Tavares’ total entering the game.

“He’s still way ahead of me – you’re talking about a legend,” Steenhuis said. “But it’s nice to be in a group with him.”

The veteran said he was happy that he had the chance to reach the milestone in front of the home fans. Steenhuis also is thrilled that his children are old enough to understand the significance of the achievement.
But he doesn’t have a spot in a trophy case reserved for the ball.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” Steenhuis said. “I’m pretty terrible at organizing that stuff. I’ve never been a believer that I should think about those things until my playing days are over. The trophies and the milestone balls are in boxes in a dusty part of the basement. I always look to the future and hope for the best.”

...

This is not the way Billy Dee Smith likes to end a season. Not only are his Bandits out of the playoff picture, but he had to sit and watch from the sidelines.

Smith’s season ended two weeks ago in Toronto when he tore his hamstring.

“I pulled it the week before in Calgary,” he said. “We thought it was good the next week. It lasted 57 minutes, until the last three minutes of the game. They pulled their goalie, so I sprinted off the field ... and down I went.

“They said it would be six to eight weeks. ... It’s one of those things that can nag you for a year. I’ll have to take care of it.”

Between the injury and the team’s disappointing season, Smith didn’t finish the year in good spirits.

“It’s been frustrating,” the veteran said about the year. “We couldn’t find the answers. You think you have them, and then the next game you lose again. I don’t remember in 15 years seeing my team play a meaningless game. The last time we missed the playoffs, the last game was basically a playoff game because the winning team went to the playoffs. It’s definitely something I don’t want to get used to.”

Smith has given every ounce of available energy to the Bandits in those 15 years. He says he’s not done yet.

“I think I’ve got 16 in me,” Smith said. “I still feel it Monday through Friday. But once it’s game time, the aches and pains go away.

“I can’t leave it like this, that’s for sure. We have to turn it around.”

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