When I read the three names being inducted into the NLL Hall of Fame as the 2016 class, I involuntarily fist-pumped with excitement. Three of the biggest players of my lifetime, Tracey Kelusky, Josh Sanderson and John Tavares, are all being enshrined next month in Oakville, ON, at the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre. It’s been since 2010 that we’ve welcomed a full class into the HOF and I’m glad to see these three names side by side forever. But I’m not the only one!
I reached out to members of the lacrosse media, current and former players, and the fans to find out what each of these three legends mean personally. I’ll let it roll from here with a fitting intro for all three:
“What’s left to be said about these three HOF inductees. All are deserving to be enshrined with this incredible honour but what makes them so special is the humility they all carry. None were the biggest, fastest, or strongest but as we all know, that doesn’t matter inside the box. Heart, desire and unrelenting need to win trumps all. Tavares, Sanderson and Keluksy embodied all of those qualities and more. However, their biggest asset will be their undeniable leadership abilities. Born leaders who not only led by example but also understood that team comes first and had an incredible ability to make those around them better.
I could watch isolation tapes all day and still learn something from all three. However, you can’t teach leadership and these three greats, were three of best leaders of men we’ve ever seen.” – Teddy Jenner, former NLL athlete, current NLL analyst (@OffTheCrosseBar)
On the ballot for the first time, John Tavares is almost being carried into the HOF with a unanimous 100% of the vote. Let me make that clear. Each and every voter cast one of their votes for a man just one season removed from the floor, to only return as a coach the following winter. That’s just a tip of the iceberg of how important Johnny T was to the NLL, and to lacrosse.
“In his last year playing with the Bandits, [Tavares] was down visiting New England. Here’s a guy that was 40 years old, still playing in the NLL and still was working to get better. Every dead ball whistle, he would grab the ball and play wall ball off the boards. If it was a timeout, penalties being assessed, etc., if he was on the floor, he’d grab the ball and keep working the boards. That kinds of relentless passion to never be satisfied is just astounding. He took all those moments to just keep getting his stick better, keep the muscles loose, stay focused, etc. Any number of things that you play wall ball for, and he was doing it in the middle of the game at every opportunity.
I don’t think many young players would ever be watching that type of thing, either. Another amazing thing he did that night was at an intermission (I forgot if it was halftime or before the game), he was of course playing wall ball as everyone else had left the floor. He was literally the last guy out there, still working his stick. When he decided it was finally time to go to the locker room, he shot the ball into the corner boards from where he was standing on the restraining line, then turned to walk off the field. The ball bounced off that corner, into the other corner on that side of the floor, rolled all the way down the length of the floor and as he approached the door, he gave the opposite goal a momentary glance, saw the ball roll in, nodded to himself and kept walking. I swear nobody else saw him do that.” – Ryan Conwell, LaxAllStars.com writer (@RyConw)
“Well, what can I say? The first time I saw JT was in the ’93 Mann Cup in Coquitlam. He was with Brampton early in his career, so early, in fact, he wore #6! He scored a reverse backhand bounce-shot to the top corner on a breakaway and I knew instantly this guy was special. I got a chance to play against John when he was with the Shamrocks. I remember giving him a little chop and he instantly turned and 2-handed me (not many people did that ). I was torn between being pissed and being in awe that Tavares just slashed me. Odd feeling. Pure and simple, Johnny T is the best to ever play boxla. [Tavares] could literally play any game you want. The longevity. The consistency. Just incredible. The Gretzky of Lacrosse” – Jake Elliott, Stealth play-by-play / NLL analyst (@PxP4Sports)
“There was a point in time when I was shocked to learn that John Tavares was playing yet another season of pro box, so when I heard he was actually retiring, that also came as a surprise. This is fitting given how crafty and surprising Tavares could be on the floor. He didn’t always dazzle you with the flashiest stick skills, but that was only because he made it all look so easy and effortless. He shot the ball intelligently, and played with poise and fundamental finesse, exhibiting how the game could still be an art form. He worked his tail off to stay in shape, and was a dedicated franchise player for Buffalo. He’s a pro sports hero from a day gone by, and a small part of me is still hoping he’ll come back next year, just to give it one more go. A Hall of Famer through and through, and a true tribute to our sport.” – Connor Wilson, LaxAllStars.com Publisher (@ConnorWilsonLAS)
“As I sit at my desk fielding calls and answering last minute emails for a new middle school box lacrosse program I started here in San Antonio, Texas, I am more than honored to write about the greatest lacrosse player of all time, John Tavares.
My older brother, Dave, played field lacrosse at Grand Island High School and every time he jetted off with his friends I snuck into the garage, stole his stick and grabbed a tennis ball. Instead of wall ball, I would throw the ball on the roof of the house and catch it as it rolled off. I remember running into the house to show my mom the first trick I learned which was to simply spin the stick around with the ball staying intact. I was hooked.
Fast forward to January 4th, 1992 when my dad agreed to take me and my friend Tommy Welch and I to watch the first ever Buffalo Bandits game in the War Memorial Auditorium aka “The Aud.” All Buffalonians who attended events there have vivid memories of that arena. The beer stained concrete, the smoke filled corridors and the steepness of the upper deck known as the Oranges. Walking into the arena we saw two grown men get into a shouting over a place in line, one of Buffalo’s favorite pastimes.
We got into our seats and prepared to watch something we had never seen before. There was one player that stood out from the rest. Number eleven. He was skilled but tough. He took so much abuse but never lost his cool. He, like every other guy on the floor, wore spandex shorts, something we had a good laugh about. As the game went on the mostly uneducated crowd was completely wrapped in the action. As middle schoolers, it wasn’t cool to get excited about anything. By the end of this game, Tommy, who has never played lacrosse, my dad and I were jumping out of our seats with every goal.
If there is a list of the most important people involved with the Bandits, Tavares is clearly at the top, but one man who doesn’t get the credit I think he deserves is Chris Swenson. The PA announcer for the Bandits has a direct impact on the game. His inventive call and answers for every aspect of the game has become a staple since 1992. One of the most used calls is “Johnny Who?” A call he has had to use in excess considering it was used for Tavares the leagues all-time leading scorer.
Solid, stable, durable, balanced and tough are the adjectives I would use to describe John Tavares. When I played high school lacrosse we would go downtown on the weekends and scream for Johnny T. When I went away to college, he was there dominating. When I went overseas to coach lacrosse, he was in Buffalo on the weekends, tutoring the new draft picks on how to play the game the right way. When I took college job after college job he was there, churning out consistent seasons in front of the the most dedicated and loudest fans in the league. John Tavares is Buffalo Bandits lacrosse.
Tommy Welch never got around to playing high school lacrosse although we begged him every season. He went on to become a high school principal at Meadowcreek High School in Norcross Georgia (something no teacher of ours would ever predict). One of his first orders of business was to start a lacrosse team. Between that night at the Aud watching Tavares in his spandex fly in between the lines and my relentless sharing of all things lacrosse on Facebook, lacrosse stuck with Tommy. He has admitted many times his regret for not joining our team (he would have dominated) but he has more than made up for it. The Meadowcreek Mustangs were 6-8 this year up from 4-12-1 in 2015 and 0-9 in 2014. John Tavares had a direct impact on that team without ever knowing it.
Box lacrosse in San Antonio has been attempted in a couple of different forms over the years. Since moving here in 2013, I knew it was the only way we could catch up with the other cities in Texas. John Tavares instilled the love of box lacrosse in me and my goal is to provide it in its most authentic form. John if you’re reading this and you want a vacation to Texas, we can set that up. I’ll book the barn.
From everyone in Western New York, Southern Ontario and across the world, Thank you John Tavares. When Swenny asks Johnny Who? I scream loudly JOHNNY T.” – Mike Brand, Buffalo sports fanatic, lifelong lacrosse coach (@MikeJBrand)
“Tavares was the best all-round offensive threat we have ever seen. He could play both ends of the floor and had a sixth sense about him that allowed him to be a second or two ahead of you. There will never another JT.”– Teddy Jenner, former NLL athlete, current NLL analyst (@OffTheCrosseBar)
John Tavares is the definition of the Iron Man, playing a mind-blowing 24 seasons in the league. The most incredible part of his record, 306 games played and 24 seasons, is that all of those years were spent in Buffalo (1992-2015), where he won four Champion’s Cups (1992-1993, 1996 & 2008). Johnny T, as he is well known, retired all the all-time goals (815), assists (934) and points (1,749) leader, second in loose balls (2,169).
The nineteen-time NLL All-Pro was also the NLL MVP in 1994, 2000 and 2001. When it comes to the playoffs, Tavares sits as the all-time leader in games played (38), goals scored (815), assists (116) and total points (200). Tavares scores 30+ goals with 80+ points in 12 seasons, including 10-straight years from 2000 to 2009, with four 100-plus point campaigns. What he was able to accomplish over more than two decades in the league will never be duplicated. The game was blessed with John Tavares and Buffalo is blessed to keep him on the bench running the offense.
Also on the ballot for the first time is Josh “Shooter” Sanderson, not even a full-season removed from the floor. Think it’s crazy that he made it in so quickly? Read on, then reconsider.
“What separated Josh, beyond his talent/skill, was his competitiveness, leadership, and game IQ. He saw things before they developed on the floor and would push further than anyone in terms of his drive and will to win.
He could really pick apart a defense and was the ideal quarterback for his team. You would just know he would always make the smart play, or the tough play, when he was on the floor.
He was definitely a “pass first” player, but if you gave him too much space he would make you pay with his shooting and finishing ability, [Sanderson] always seemed to score timely goals. There’s not many that loved celebrating with his teammates more than Josh and that was infectious.
After idolizing Josh as a young player, was fortunate to play alongside him and he is one of the biggest influences on my career. Like his father, Terry, and the rest of the Sanderson family, he has had a major impact on lacrosse in Orangeville and set the standard on how the game should be played in our town.” – Brodie Merrill, Toronto Rock defenseman (@BrodieMerrill_)
“Josh and I became friends in the late 90’s when he played for the Sr. Adanacs. I lived in Coquitlam but was playing for the Bellies. I’m not sure how exactly the friendship began but we’ve remained friends ever since. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a bigger “pro” than Shooter. One story I recall was my first ever TV game for the Swarm, which was played in Calgary. I was super nervous and ran into Josh at the hotel who calmed me right down. It must have been 7 hours before the game and he was heading to the Saddledome. I asked, “why so early?” “Need to work on my stick. ” He was one of a handful of guys still using a traditional pocket. Josh went off for 10 points that night. Just an incredible talent and heart in a body better suited for a horse jockey. Crazy to think what he accomplished at that size. [Sanderson] is family man who continues to give back, coaching all of his kids. I could go on, but I’ll stop there.” – Jake Elliott, Stealth play-by-play / NLL analyst (@PxP4Sports)
“Josh Sanderson’s intensity and drive to win was second to none. It was clearly visible to every fan in the seats.
When the game was on the line, you were always glad to see him on the floor. Ready to set up an amazing pass through traffic, or unleash the most deceptive of shots. It was a pleasure to watch him play the game.” – Brad Fitzpatrick, lacrosse fanatic (@fitzie519)
“Shooter may not have the assist numbers that JT has, but will be regarded as one of, if not the best feeder the game has ever seen. Josh was so good at finding the open guy even if he didn’t think he was open. Cut through the middle with your stick up and Shooter will get it there. A pro’s pro, Josh wanted to win more than anyone out there and it showed every time he stepped on the floor.”– Teddy Jenner, former NLL athlete, current NLL analyst (@OffTheCrosseBar)
After an incredible 19 seasons in the NLL, Josh Sanderson is finally hanging it up and there should be no doubt why he was made a HOF member as soon as he retired from the floor. Sanderson may have made the most memories for lacrosse fans over the nine seasons he spent with Toronto (2005-2008 & 2012-2016) where he won the Champion’s Cup in 2005. Shooter also played two seasons in Rochester (1998-1999), four in Albany (2000-2003), one in San Jose (2004), three in Calgary (2008-2010) where he won another Champion’s Cup in 2009, before moving on for one season in Boston (2011).
The nine-time All-Pro (2000, 2002-2006, 2009-2010 & 2015) will retire fourth overall in scoring with 1,357 career points, where his 908 assists earned him second overall for his career and his 449 goals placed him at fifth all-time. He recorded 60+ points in every season from from 2002 to 2015, including five seasons with over 100 points. Sanderson is now second in NLL history in games played, finishing at 268 and earning tenth in loose balls with career total of 1,216. In the playoffs, he finishes at seventh all-time scoring 100 total in 23 games.
This was Tracey Kelusky’s second year on the NLL Hall of Fame ballot and although he was under the required 75% of the vote to get in, he received over 75% of the vote from current Hall of Famers which sealed his spot in history.
“Next to Tom Marachek, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a better BTB than Tracey. An absolute warrior who played the game the right way. He’s been a winner everywhere he’s gone. For him it was always about the “win” above all else. One of the coolest moves he had, and you’ll have to ask him about it, but he would do this shot. He would look like he was going to crease dive far pipe, but would just let it float out of his stick to the short side, but never moved his stick! I’ve never seen anything like it. He played a couple years with the North Shore Indians and I’m happy I got a chance to battle against him a few times. Just a fierce competitor and an awesome dude off the floor. Little tough to understand sometimes… JGJ likes to call him the piker.”– Jake Elliott, Stealth play-by-play / NLL analyst (@PxP4Sports)
“Tracey Kelusky is not a hero…Tracey Kelusky is not an icon…Tracey Kelusky is not (arguably) one of the best lacrosse players there ever was! At least that’s what Tracey would tell you if you asked him. But through all of this, Tracey is a gentleman, a mentor, and humble to a fault! In his years with the Calgary Roughnecks, I was never in the dressing room when he was doing his thing being an (as I’m told) an INCREDIBLE team leader, I was never on the floor to send or receive a pass. I wasn’t one of his students learning from the best. My role was to announce his name on the public address system for MOST of his time with the Roughnecks. And I did it ALOT! I did it so much that I would often get two or three Kelusky goals stacked up that I’d have to announce in sequence! The leader was not the Tracey I got to know and still proudly call my friend. The Tracey Kelusky I know is the guy that was willing to teach you everything he knew about lacrosse!
He’s the guy that seems to feel an unspoken responsibility to pass along the unending knowledge of the game of lacrosse to anyone who will listen to him…AND WE SHOULD ALL LISTEN TO HIM! When my daughter was going into grade 9, Tracey approached HER and wanted her to be part of the school program he was teaching. Now in her senior year of college, she would tell you that she owes a lot of her skill, her knowledge of the game, and her love of lacrosse to this man. But then he’s always been like this. I remember when he was drafted by Calgary in the Montreal Express dispersal draft. One of the responsibilities the players had back then was school visits…a lot of school visits. He really seemed to enjoy talking and interacting with the little kids in the schools. The other players were as well, but Tracey was always there first and was always the first to step up! This past summer, through my affiliation with Team Finland, I was able to witness Tracey doing his thing in the dressing room. This time, not as a player, but as a coach. And let me tell you, it was something else just to watch and listen and learn! But let’s be honest…Tracey IS a hero, he IS an icon, he IS one of the best lacrosse players there ever was. And his spot, his place, his most assuredly deserved little corner in the NLL Hall Of Fame…it was built a long time ago and it’s been waiting for him.” – Dennis Deis, former voice of Roughnecks & Rush, lacrosse fanatic
“TK may not get the headlines the other two inductees receive, but when you rank all-time great captains in the NLL, Kelusky is near the top. From the moment he arrived in the NLL with Columbus, you knew he was something special. In Montreal, he began to break out and people took notice. His time in Calgary will be highlighted by two Championships, but the legacy he helped build there will be unmatched. Through to Buffalo and Philly where he continued to lay it on the line every night. There’s no denying his hunger, passion and toughness. A born leader and one of the best short-side backhands ever!”– Teddy Jenner, former NLL athlete, current NLL analyst (@OffTheCrosseBar)
“Tracey Kelusky is a pretty special player to me because he is one of the first pro lacrosse players that I ever met. In 2000-01 the Blue Jackets and the NHL came to Columbus and they brought the Landsharks with them. That was Kelusky’s rookie season and being a kid just introduced to lacrosse, I only recognized the guys putting up the goals. The Landsharks were only 3-11 that season, but it didn’t matter to me, I was hooked. My parents are still working on digging up all of the autographs and memorabilia from back then, but I’ll never forget being glued to a game I was barely exposed to, watching one of the smaller guys on the floor completely tearing it up.” Mark Donahue, LaxAllStars.com Editor (@donahueref)
Kelusky shined in Columbus, knocking down 24 goals and 27 assists earning him 2001’s Rookie of the Year honors. He went on to play a total of 14 seasons, heading to Montreal for 2002 before settling in Calgary for 8 seasons where he was a captain and captured two Champion’s Cups (2004 & 2009) and the 2007 recipient of the NLL Sportsmanship Award. Following his run in Alberta, Kelusky spent 2011-2013 in Buffalo before wrapping up his playing career in Philadelphia the season after.
When the dust settled, Kelusky finished 11th on the all-time most goals and points lists, with 383 and 823 respectively, and currently ranks 10th in NLL playoff goals with 37 in his career. He competed in 195 games (13th all-time), scored 50+ points per season 10 times and scooped 886 career loose balls leading to five All-Pro seasons.
He also had an awesome cameo in pro-wrestling. I’ll leave this here…
I also have to reflect on the lack of founding fathers in the class. There’s always going to be the mental asterisk that the NLL Hall of Fame wasn’t established until 2006. Since then, since so many athletes are breaking those early records and accomplishing unreal things on the floor, it’s hard to justify some of the MILL & early NLL guys when voters are only given three picks and a name only stays on the very short ballot for two years.
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Current NLL Hall of Fame
Class of 2006
Class of 2007
Tom Borrelli – Media
Class of 2008
Neil Stevens – Media
Class of 2009
Class of 2010
Class of 2011
Class of 2012
Class of 2013
Class of 2014
Class of 2015