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TAVARES RECLAIMS RECORD FROM GAIT

Buffalo Bandits superstar forward John Tavares lost one of his records, but only overnight.

With two goals and three assists in Saturday night's 19-14 playoff loss to the Rochester Knighthawks in HSBC Arena, Tavares jumped back into the lead in career playoff scoring with 53 goals, 70 assists and 123 points in 20 games.

Friday night in Phoenix, Gary Gait passed Tavares in the final game of his illustrious 15-year career with a goal and four assists, but his Colorado Mammoth was eliminated with a 16-13 loss to the Arizona Sting. Gait, the all-time scoring leader in regular-season play, finished with 596 goals, 495 assists and 1,091 points in 174 games. He added 66 goals, 56 assists and 122 points in 22 playoff games.

"He's the greatest player, I think, ever to play lacrosse," said Tavares, whose pro indoor lacrosse career began with the birth of the Bandits in 1992, one year after Gait made his debut with the Detroit Turbos.

Tavares, 36, will enter next season as the unquestioned old man river of the National Lacrosse League, at least among high-scoring forwards. He told the crowd following Saturday night's defeat "I'll be back" next year for a 15th season with the Bandits.

In addition to the retirement of Gait, the league also lost Tom Marechek of the Philadelphia Wings, a former Bandits draft choice who is third in career scoring. He recently called it quits after 12 seasons. Gait's twin brother, Paul, who retired after the 2002 season, came back for the final four games this season to help Gary in his quest for a championship. Paul Gait is fourth in career scoring.

Tavares' regular-season numbers include 517 goals, 534 assists and 1,051 points in 163 games. Both he and Gary Gait have won seven scoring titles and three championship rings.

"It's been a lot of fun," said the 38-year-old Gait, who made 14 playoff appearances and was a member of just one losing team during his NLL career -- this year's Mammoth, which finished 8-9 overall after dropping its final four. "But you just know when it's time, feeling the way my body does now."

Rochester's John Grant Jr., who this season led the league in goals (49) and finished tied for second in points (105), is one of the younger players who will be expected to carry the torch for the league in Gait's absence. Grant, 30, has 242 goals, 269 points and 511 points in 78 regular-season games during his six-year career and is the NLL's leader in points per game with 6.55, compared to 6.44 for Tavares and 6.27 for Gait.

"This is the same thing as when (Michael) Jordan or (Wayne) Gretzky retired," said Grant, who had four goals and four assists Saturday night. "Growing up (in Peterborough, Ont.), he was my idol."

The Bandits are 12-8 in the playoffs, including 8-5 at home but just 2-3 in HSBC Arena. The 19 goals they surrendered Saturday night were the third-most in their playoff history, topped only by the Gary Gait-led Philadelphia Wings (26 in 1994 and 19 in '95). . . . The only way the Knighthawks could host the Champion's Cup final May 14 is if they win at Toronto on Friday and Arizona defeats the defending NLL champion Calgary Roughnecks the next night in the Pengrowth Saddledome in the West final. . . . The Knighthawks made forward Tim Soudan a healthy scratch for Saturday's game. He has faced the Bandits 34 times during his 15-year career, the most of any Buffalo foe in history. . . . The crowd of 10,014 was the largest for a Bandits home playoff game since 18,055 watched the Knighthawks win their lone championship April 12, 1997.
e-mail: tborrelli@buffnews.com

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