The Interview: John Tavares
The start of the Buffalo Bandits' season is right around the corner as they try to defend their championship. Head coach John Tavares talked with Budd Bailey about what happened last season and what might happen in the coming season.
Buffalo Sports Page: It sounds like you had a good summer.
John Tavares: I was coaching Six Nations in the Ontario Lacrosse League. We won the Mann Cup. It’s nice to have two championships in one year. I’m getting used to it.
BSP: What do you think about when you reflect back on the Bandits’ season?
Tavares: It was fun. I was happy for a lot of the guys, winning their first championship – especially to do it at home in front of their fans. That’s extra special to do that. That’s a lifetime memory. That banner will live on forever. But going into the season, all it means is that everyone is trying to knock us off. It’s going to be a tough year. It’s going to be challenging. It’s going to be competitive. I hope the guys are up to the challenge.
BSP: As a coach, I assume it must have been very rewarding to see the guys peak at just the right time. If the last game wasn’t a perfect game, it’s got to be darn close to it.
Tavares: That’s an important part of sports. It’s a long time to be the best at the end of the year. Colorado does a good job of that. They were .500 throughout the year, then all of a sudden they were peaking at the playoffs. They’ve done that the last couple of years. I’d like to think we’ve done that as well. Unfortunately we fell short a couple of times. But just to get to the finals, it’s still a success. We were getting better, and that all culminated with last year’s championship. It definitely was a long time coming – going back to the Calgary series, and the Saskatoon series. To be in the finals four times in six years, that’s impressive. The guys deserve a lot of credit. I was so happy to see them, and the majority of them were with their families. I was happy to see our fans enjoy it. I don’t think there was an empty seat in the building for 10, 15 minutes after the game.
BSP: So after knocking on the door, you finally walked through it. Does that mean you have to change your approach a little bit in terms of motivation? Is it a different type of motivation?
Tavares: The strategy isn’t going to change, but the mentality is. The guys have to put everyone on the line again to be as successful as we’ve been in the past. We can’t be content with their past accomplishments. It’s all going to depend on the players. I’m going to go from there. If there’s anyone coasting, well, there will be young guys pushing on their tails and pushing to make their roster spot. I have to keep these guys honest. One thing I know is that everyone wants to play. If you are satisfied with what’s been done in the past, that’s not good enough for me. I trust the players are here for the right reasons – they want to win again. They’ll be willing to put the effort and commitment in as they did in previous years. Winning the championship – you get a taste of it, and some guys are going to be satisfied with that. Some guys are going to want it more. I want the guys who want it more.
BSP: You’ve got almost everyone back from last year. Sometimes that can be a great idea, sometimes the odd new face can help rejuvenate the team.
Tavares: (Steve Dietrich) and I have had this conversation many times. You want to build a nice nucleus, and you want to add to it every year – one, two, three spots. You can always get better. You need a good mix of veterans and guys in their first, second, or third year. That’s the ideal combination. If you have too many young guys, they aren’t experienced. If you have too many older guys, they get content. So it’s nice to have a nice mix. It keeps everyone on their toes. It’s competitive, and you get the best results when you are pushed by teammates.
BSP: When I asked him about the new players, Steve said what struck him was that they don’t look tentative out on the floor. It’s a big step to play in the NLL, and they handled that first step very well. Did you notice that?
Tavares: They fit in really well. We have a lot of guys coming back, and that makes it tough for guys to crack the lineup. There are only so many spots, and it’s going to be hard for them. They’re all looking good. When you have a great team, it’s always tough to bring in someone new and let someone go. You don’t know what you’ve got. We’re going to have some difficult choices to make in a couple of weeks. I have to give credit to the veterans for helping the young guys to get through what they needed to do. And that could be their spot that is being jeopardized. So it can be a tough situation for someone who is on the border - that 50/50 guy who might say, “Why should I help this young guy?” But they all did a good job of communicating and helping.
BSP: Matt Vinc is back in goal this season. Did you figure he’d come back at the age of 41?
Tavares: I didn’t figure it. But I know I played for a long time. Matt’s a goalie. He’s in much better shape than I ever was. How can he not come back? He’s got young kids, and family is important to Matt. It’s nice that where Matt lives (St. Catharines) is only about a half-hour away from Buffalo. I think that’s a big part of what allows him to play in Buffalo – including his family at all the home games. That’s a big part of it. Family definitely comes first. When your family can be supportive and enjoy your successes and career, that makes it more special. Matt is going through that, and as they grow they’ll have more memories of Dad playing lacrosse. That’s important for him and them. I’m happy that he’s back. He’s the backbone of our team, and he gives us a chance to win every game.
BSP: I was thinking that he’s 14 years younger than you are, and he’s playing with guys that are 20 years younger than he is. I’m sure this keeps him young.
Tavares: It does. He’s staying on a professional team, playing with young guys, and that keeps you young. Mentally, I told myself that the day I retire is the day I become old. My body started to fail the day I retired. It’s a mental thing. It’s something I convinced myself of – “As long as I’m playing, I’m young.” I’d like to be young forever. Matty is enjoying it. It’s a fun time of his life. He’s on a great team, he’s a great goalie, he won the championships, his kids are enjoying it. He’s in a great place. Why would you want to give it up?
(Follow Budd on X.com via @WDX2BB)