March 1, 2007

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March 1, 2007

by Tom Borrelli, Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

His opponents have called him every name in the book because of his hustling, often irritating, style of play.

He's known as "Speedy" to his fans at HSBC Arena.

But for the first time in his 12-year National Lacrosse League career, he's earned a new nickname. Just call Buffalo Bandits midfielder Pat McCready "All-Star."

McCready, a 6-foot-1, 195-pounder from St. Catharines, Ontario, who works as police detective there, has won a championship, toiled for the worst team in the history of the league and been on squads at every level in between. But when he takes the field as a member of the East Division squad for the All-Star Game March 10 at Portland's Rose Garden, it will be a unique experience for him.

"My reaction was that he should have been named a starter," said Bandits coach Darris Kilgour, who will pilot the East team, for which McCready is a reserve. "I think Patty is the best transition guy in the league right now, bar none."

In terms of loose balls, the 32-year-old McCready is one of the best in the history of the league.

McCready leads the Bandits with 93 loose balls, which ranks third in the league behind Portland defenseman Brodie Merrill (119) and Rochester's Steve Toll (107). McCready has scooped 1,105 loose balls in 145 career games, and recently passed Hall of Famer and current Colorado coach Gary Gait (1,076) to move into third on the all-time list behind Toronto's Jim Veltman (2,202) and Bandits teammate John Tavares (1,666).

"It was a long time coming for Pat," said Tavares, who will be a starter in his sixth career All-Star Game. "When you're not a big goal scorer, sometimes it's hard making a name for yourself. He gets the ball up the floor so well, but unfortunately sometimes you need a lot of goals to be noticed. And it's also hard sometimes to knock guys who have a big reputation off the team."

McCready, who began his career with the 0-10 Charlotte Cobras in 1996 before winning a championship with the Rochester Knighthawks the following season, has spent the last six seasons with the Bandits.

It's ironic, because his father Bob "Buff" McCready was the Bandits' first head coach in 1992, when Pat would often bring his stick and hang around practice sessions while still a Canadian junior player.

"I think he's probably been ignored before because some people just look past the dirty work he does and just see scoring statistics," said Buff McCready, who was a regular All-Star selection during his days as a goaltender in the Ontario Lacrosse Association. Buff now works with the Bandits' goalies.

"I think he's stepped it up this season," he said. "He gets out so fast and creates the offense. I think he can even score more goals."

Pat McCready has five goals and 14 assists, and along with All-Star teammate Mark Steenhuis, he helps make the Bandits' transition game one of the league's most dangerous. Buffalo at 5-4 sits in third place in the East Division, a game and half behind Minnesota and two games behind first-place Rochester.

"Transition is such a big part of our team's game, and its importance just keeps getting bigger and bigger around the league," said Steenhuis, who was the Most Valuable Player of the 2004 All-Star Game. "Pat is probably one of the most deserving All-Stars right now. He's been playing a solid role for us and, earlier in his career, he deserved to be there as well."

McCready isn't letting the honor go to his head.

In fact, he wasted no time slugging it out with Philadelphia rookie Geoff Snider in the waning seconds of Buffalo's 13-12 comeback victory last Saturday night. The fight took place only minutes after McCready had suffered a painful hyperextension of his left elbow.

"You can't say enough about him," Kilgour said. "He's the ultimate team guy. He's one of the best guys in the locker room, in the hotel. He's the number one guy on our team as far as an MVP in my mind. He just does it all: loose balls, goals, fighting, defense. He does everything, and he doesn't ever let up."

Which all may lead to an interesting evening in Portland.

All-Star Games in any sport aren't normally physical affairs. But that's the only way this guy plays. So what can we expect?

"Because it's my first one, I don't really know what to expect," McCready said. "But I'm not going to ease up on anybody, because that's what got me there in the first place. If it's there, I'm going to hit somebody, just keep on bringing it."

Said Bandits captain Rich Kilgour: "It will definitely be fun watching him in that game. He doesn't know any other way than going 100 miles per hour. I'm sure he'll tone it down a little bit, but I know Patty, and he's going to play hard. He'll do something out there that we'll all remember."

Troy Cordingley, a nine-year NLL veteran who is in charge of the Bandits defense as an assistant to Darris Kilgour, says nerves won't get the best of McCready, who is one of only seven players in NLL history to average at least 7.6 loose balls per game for their career.

"He'll probably be a bit nervous, especially because he's his own hardest critic," Cordingley said. "He'll be going 100 percent, because he's the type of guy who never wants to embarrass himself. His switch is always on, that's for sure."


Contact Tom Borrelli at tbwrite@aol.com.
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