After guiding the Rochester Knighthawks to their third National Lacrosse League championship in franchise history, the team’s eldest player and captain has decided to go out on top.
Pat McCready, a veteran of 17 seasons in the NLL, held off retirement to make his return to the Knighthawks’ lineup. His storied career came full circle when he hoisted the Champion’s Cup in same city as he did 15 years prior.
“To be able to come back and play with the team that gave me the start after (the Charlotte Cobras) folded, that was very special,” McCready said. “There are a lot of the same guys there who don’t get a lot of credit, like (Vice President of Player Personnel) Jody Gage, (Director of Player Relations) Tom Cincebox and (Assistant Coach) Paul Day. All those guys were there right from the start.”
At 38 years old, “Speedy” retires from the NLL with 141 goals and 243 assists. His 1,593 loose balls ranks third all-time in league history. He also ranks second in penalty minutes (468) and seventh in games played (219). He was also a three-time champion and three-time All-Star selection. Age never slowed McCready down. He played one of his best seasons in 2011, earning the NLL Defensive Player of the Year Award while earning First Team All-Pro honors.
“I don’t think he walked away from the game because he couldn’t do it anymore,” said Mike Accursi, who played alongside McCready for seven seasons in Buffalo and Rochester. “Everybody knows that he could. He’s an elite-level defender and a guy I definitely loved playing with.”
As an unrestricted free agent heading into the 2011 season, McCready was able to join any team that made him an offer. No offer, however, could outweigh the opportunity for him to play alongside his nephew, Joel, on the Knighthawks.
“Back in the day when he was playing in Rochester and Buffalo, I used to go watch all of the games,”
Joel said. “He’d bring me in the locker room to meet some of the players I’m playing against now. I
remember always telling them I was going to play with him one day. I finally got to play with him.”
“I probably would have hung it up (in 2010), but I got the chance to play with my nephew and that was pretty special,” said Pat McCready. “It was pretty much the only reason (I returned). I could have gone anywhere. Joel being in Rochester was a big reason.”
It is no coincidence Pat’s game can be seen by watching Joel. Both McCreadys play in transition, although Pat noted his nephew is more offensive-minded than he was. Joel adopted his uncle’s No. 10 jersey this season as well.
“He’s been my role model my whole life,” Joel said. “I just try to emulate his play. He was obviously an
outstanding player and I’m just trying to do what I can to emulate my play after his. He’s done everything and seen everything. I’m just trying to help the organization like he did.”
Although Joel would be forced to miss the 2012 season while pursuing his firefighting career, his uncle decided to return for one last season.
“I pretty much thought I was done,” he said. “(Knighthawks Owner and General Manager Curt Styres) called me and made me a pretty good offer. I thought we had the makings of a pretty good team. We fell short in 2011. You always want to have a positive ending to everything. I figured I’d give it one more shot. Thank God everything worked out.”
In his last season, McCready registered 18 points (5+13) and led the Knighthawks with 94 loose balls. He scored a hat trick on February 18, 2012 in a 15-12 win over Washington. He contributed another two points and 20 loose balls in the playoffs, including a Champion’s Cup game-high 10 loose balls. After a 9-6 come-from-behind victory over the Edmonton Rush for the championship on May 19, 2012, McCready was the first Knighthawk to hoist the Cup when NLL Commissioner George Daniel presented him with the trophy.
“To be able to win it with the great group of young kids that are there now, it was real special,” McCready said. “It felt like a real achievement to be able to share with everybody.”
“He’s a quality guy,” said Rochester Head Coach Mike Hasen. “He’s a constant team-first guy. I doesn’t matter what happens to him. As long as his team is successful, that’s his priority.”
It was with Cincebox, Day and Gage in 1997 when McCready and the Knighthawks won the Major Indoor Lacrosse League championship, the first league title in franchise history. In 1996, at the age of 22, the St. Catharines, Ontario native broke into the NLL with the expansion Charlotte Cobras. McCready led the struggling franchise with 25 points (14+11). After a 0-10 season, the team folded, leaving McCready’s professional lacrosse career up in the air.
“Paul Day coached me all through my junior years,” McCready said. “He was a guy who I really looked up to and respected. After I got done with the Charlotte Cobras, I was available, and he was good enough to bring me to Rochester.”
“I coached him with his dad (Robert ‘Buff’ McCready) before Rochester in St. Catharines,” Day said. “He was our captain then. He was one of those guys who did whatever had to be done to win. (He was) probably raw-talented back then.”
“He definitely has the athleticism, but the key thing was his heart,” said Gage, who was in his first season as the Knighthawks General Manager when he signed McCready. “He was highly, highly competitive and he would do whatever it took to win. He’s one of those guys you hate when he’s on the other team and love him when he’s on your team. He’s got everything, but I would say his biggest thing was his heart and desire to win. One of those great players and great guys.”
McCready joined a team led by many Knighthawks Hall of Famers, including Paul Gait.
“He was one of the younger guys in the league at that time,” Gait said. “He didn’t have a lot of experience playing at that level. When we watched him practice, we recognized that he certainly had the enthusiasm and speed, which were major advantages over a lot of the other younger players in the league. And then his willingness to learn his role on the team was outstanding. He was a team player all the way. He always wanted to do what was right.”
“It was surreal to be able to come in as a young kid and see how Paul went about his business,” McCready said. “We basically played two-way lacrosse back then before offense-defense. I’d go set picks for Paul Gait. He’d get a pretty open lane to the net. He’d come by and say, ‘Good job kid.’ That was the best thing ever for a young kid.”
One of the most memorable moments from 1997 was the semifinal victory over Philadelphia. Steve Dietrich’s stellar play in goal propelled the Knighthawks to a win and the championship game.
“We weren’t favored to win,” he said. “In Philadelphia, we were getting penalty after penalty called on us when we were ahead. I remember being on the man-short at the time and being out there for what seemed like most of the game and Dietrich standing on his head.”
In the second quarter of the 1997 championship against Buffalo, McCready broke his hand. According to Day, “his knuckles were where is wrist was,” but he didn’t leave the game.
“(Gait) asked me, ‘Can you still catch a ball?’ I told him, ‘I don’t think so,’” McCready explained with a laugh. “So the first shift out in the middle of a championship game, he looks over at me, gives me the heads up and wires the ball right over at me. I one-handed it and ran it right back to him and said, ‘Nice, buddy.’”
He would play in a Knighthawks’ uniform for five seasons until he was traded to the Buffalo Bandits as part of a seven-player deal.
“At that point in time, part of the reason Pat was moved was that he was going to be a police officer and wanted to be closer with his commute and practice,” Gage said. “We thought we owed that to him. He did everything that we asked of him.”
“Was it tough? Yeah, it was tough,” McCready said. “It was sad to leave, but at the same time it really helped me in my career, kind of lit a fire back under me. Those years in Buffalo were wonderful as well.”
The seasons that followed were some of the best of his career. In 2001, his first as a Bandit, he set career-highs in goals (16) and assists (24). The following year, he set the franchise’s single-season record with 173 loose balls. He still ranks third in Bandits’ history in loose balls (990), sixth in assists (135) and eighth in points (206).
“Patty’s a great team player, a fun guy to be around on the floor and off the floor,” said Buffalo forward John Tavares. “He’s a guy who would fight for loose balls, fight, score, so a well-rounded player. A guy guys wanted to be a part of who makes everybody else a better player on the team. I can’t say enough about the guy.”
Retirement was a question lingering in the back of McCready’s mind since 2008. Although he won his second of three league titles with the Bandits that year, he played the final leg of the season with a shoulder injury that would require surgery after the season.
“I had to limp through and still keep playing and we were fortunate enough to win it in Buffalo,” McCready said. “After that, having to have surgery, I kind of started thinking about it.
“The way that lacrosse is set up now, everybody has other jobs they have to work with and we have to provide for our families,” he added. “It started playing into my head. I can’t keep getting hurt, taking the bumps and bruises every day, day in and day out, and go to work. You’re in danger of losing your job if you get hurt too bad too many times.”
Day and McCready, who are both police officers for the Niagara Regional Police, often reminisce about the McCready’s late father. Buff served as an assistant coach for the Knighthawks from 1998-2001 and as the Buffalo goaltending coach until his passing in 2007. Day is confident McCready will soon follow in his father’s footsteps.
“For the two of us, a big part of it is his dad,” Day said. “He was a Hall of Famer. Played in the old NLL and was a great person above all. Patty’s kind of the same. A lot of that is our connection. We think about him all of the time. His next step is doing what his dad did and what I do. He’s going to be a coach in this league soon.” “I’d like to thank the fans for all of the support and making my time while I was in Rochester really enjoyable,” McCready said. “Lacrosse is a great game and it should grow more than it has. I’m going to be involved in trying to make the game grow.”