NHL star John Tavares honed his hockey skills in Ontario box circuit

There’s no denying the scoring prowess that New York Islanders center John Tavares has. Leading his team in scoring with 81 points (31G, 50A) in 81 games — eighth overall in the NHL — one can’t help but wonder what the Ontario native would be doing on the box lacrosse circuit had he stuck with that route instead of the National Hockey League.

The nephew of legendary lacrosse player John Tavares — currently with the Buffalo Bandits — the 21-year-old Tavares admits that his skill on the ice is in large part thanks to what he learned from his uncle and the sport of lacrosse beginning at the age of three. 

“People always talk about my hand-eye coordination and how that translates from lacrosse to hockey and from hockey to lacrosse, which is true,” said Tavares, who played lacrosse for 13 years before switching focus solely to hockey. “But the biggest thing that translated for me was using my body to protect the ball, spinning off checks and moving through traffic.

“All those things translated into skills on the ice that have helped me excel in many areas in hockey, such as puck protection, moving through traffic and gaining time and space from tight checking.”

A natural stick-handler whether there’s ice on the rink or not, Tavares excelled in both sports, never being forced to choose until later in life, even juggling lacrosse and hockey in the esteemed ranks of junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League.

“I was lucky enough when I was drafted in to the OHL, the Oshawa Generals allowed me to continue to play lacrosse,” said Tavares, who was the first overall pick in the 2009 NHL draft. “So I played two more summers at the junior A level with the Mississauga Tomahawks.

“Then I realized when I was 17 that with how intense my hockey career was starting to become, I had to make a bigger commitment in my off-ice training in the summertime and decided then that I had to give up lacrosse. But I always wanted to play hockey, it was my first passion.”

Tearing up the league since the 2009-10 season, Tavares said he still makes time to pick up a stick and play as old habits die hard, especially when lacrosse is in the blood.

“I do pick up a stick still when I can,” Tavares said. “Me and my cousins grew up playing and still have some laughs over us growing up playing together and as some of my younger cousins just started playing and are falling in love with the game and it’s great to share that with them.”

So could there ever be a chance for a second John Tavares to etch his name in box-lacrosse history? Not likely.

“I wouldn’t have done things differently at all,” he said. “I love both sports very much, but as a kid I felt a great connection with the game of hockey and my uncle had done great things in the game of lacrosse and accomplished so much that I wanted to be able to try do that in hockey.

“(But if I did play) it’d definitely be for the Buffalo Bandits.”

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