This kind of accolade is, of course, nothing new for Tavares or his family. If you've watched angame in the last five years, you've probably heard a variation of the following sentence:
"John Tavares has an uncle who's a great pro lacrosse player and who is also named John Tavares!"
Since the trade of Matt Moulson, whose brother-in-law is Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (amazing, right?), the twin Tavareses have become the go-to trivia tidbit for other broadcasts involving the Islanders.
In his latest book, Hockey Confidential, TSN NHL insider Bob McKenzie has a chapter on the Tavares lineage, from the Islanders captain's grandparent's emigration from Portugal and Uncle John's childhood in Canada, to Young John's exceptional talents and even the next generation, a newborn nephew named Jonathan Tavares.
The chapter offers a lot of back story on what makes the elder Tavares such a legend in the lacrosse world. He's compared to Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Gary Gait, who Tavares himself thinks is the best of all time, and is credited as being extraordinarily prolific (on both indoor and outdoor lacrosse) for an incredible 23 seasons. All while being a high school math teacher as his "real" job.
The info on the Islanders' Tavares lends some extra footnotes to the story we've been watching unfold since 2009. Even into his junior hockey career, young Tavares played lacrosse in the summers before giving up the sport to train for hockey full time. Still, some guys are just wired for sports. When he was four years old and playing against six-year-olds, Tavares was already special:
"In John's first lacrosse game, his team won 17-1," Barb Tavares said. "John scored all 17 goals."
McKenzie sat down with both Tavareses and got them to open up about goal scoring, being natural athletes and their relationship. Below are a few excerpts for discussion that might resonate with Islanders fans. (But just buy the book for the full chapter and much more, because the book is packed with great stuff).
On Memorable Goals
Bob McKenzie: This may be repetitive, because you've talked a lot about goals already, but what about, for any reason you see fit, the most memorable goal you've scored?
Uncle John: That would be the game-winning goal in the Founders Cup Junior B championship or the 1992 National Lacrosse League [overtime game-winning goal] against Philly.
Young John: For me, that would be when I broke Wayne Gretzky's record for most goals by a 16-year-old in the OHL. I tried to pass the puck to Cal Clutterbuck on the back door, Logan Couture went down to block it, the puck went off his skate and back to me. The goalie anticipated the pass, went down and I shot it low blocker. I didn't even celebrate the goal; I just went and got the puck. The guys gave me a hard time about that one.
Tales of Dealing with Opponents' Abuse
Young John: I know when I played in minor atom, a guy was shadowing me, being really dirty with me. My dad thought it was coming from their coach and he would tell me to protect myself. They would butt-end or stick me in the nuts. I scored a hat trick in that game. The guy who was sticking me, after I scored, he faked like he was going to slash me in the head. He got a penalty. I didn't even move, never flinched. I scored again and I said, "What are you going to do now, fake slash me in the head again?
What is Pronger doing these days, anyway?
'Do Like Robbie Schremp Did'
Uncle John: I'm always trying to convince [Young] John to pick up the puck on the blade of his stick and whip it around and bounce it in, like Robbie Schremp did. As a fan, that's what I'd like like to see John do on a shootout shot. What's the percentage of scoring on a penalty shot or shootout - maybe 20 percent? I'm surprised you don't do that.
Young John: I do it in practice.
Uncle John: Do you score?
Young John: Yeah, sometimes.
Uncle John: See, it's easy. I've seen high school kids do it. Easy. Do it.
Young John: Now you sound like my dad. My dad can shoot right or left in hockey, both ways, and he always says to me, "shoot both ways, it's easy."
On Celebrations and Taunts
You'll notice Tavares scores kind of a lot, and his celebrations are often understated.
Young John: My dad always told me, "Don't ever celebrate, it's like saying the F-word." So when I was young, I'd put my hands in the air and then take them down. Actually, there probably was one for me: the World Juniors in Ottawa, against the Americans. When they went up on us 3-0, one of their players went by our bench and taunted us, with his hand to his ear. When I scored my second goal to make it 3-2, I did, I did it back to them. I probably would like to take that one back, but it was a really emotional game. I try not to be too obnoxious.
Hockey vs. Lacrosse
Where would you rather cut through the middle?
Bob McKenzie: Where's it more dangerous in front of the net: in hockey or lacrosse?
Young John: Lacrosse.
Uncle John: Really?
Young John: For sure. You can legally cross-check in lacrosse. Guys would cross-check you in the hips. And in lacrosse, you have to go through the middle, and that's where you can see the kids who are afraid. You have to have the balls to cut through the middle in lacrosse, because you're taking your life into your hands.
On Scoring Instincts
What is it about the Moulsons and the Robitaille's of the world? They can shoot...
Young John: When you talk about a natural or pure goal scorer, I think you're talking about some guys who don't look like they have the greatest skill set - they don't have a real hard shot or they're not fast or big - but when you talk about a guy like my [Dan note: now ex-]linemate Matt Moulson, or someone like Luc Robitaille, they have great scoring instincts and an ability to put the puck in the net. That's my definition of a natural goal scorer. Some guys have the skill to be great scorers, some guys just have the knack; some have both, and those are the really great ones.
...and they probably have another attribute, which John describes in himself below:
'No One Wants to Score a Goal more than Me'
We've heard the following sentiment a lot about Young John. In McKenzie's book, you hear it from the man himself:
Bob McKenzie: Okay, guys, most important question: What's the deepest, darkest secret to your goal-scoring success?
Young John: I just feel like I want it more than anyone else. Whether it's lacrosse or hockey, I always wanted to score. I feel like I wanted it more than anyone else. I still feel that way. I know everyone likes to score, but I just have this feeling that there's no one in the world who wants to score a goal more than me.
There are many more great quotes and much more insight from both Tavareses in the book as well McKenzie's usual in-depth reporting on what makes the hockey world go 'round. It's available now in both hard cover and electronic versions from Amazon.