On September 19, one of lacrosse’s greatest players announced he was retiring. Tracey Kelusky has accepted a position as defensive coordinator with the migrated New England Black Wolves (formerly Philadelphia Wings, where Kelusky rejuvenated his career in 2014 after some quieter years with Buffalo), thus ending a spectacular 14 year NLL career in which he racked up an awe inspiring 823 points in 195 games. He also amassed 499 points in 159 regular season summer games playing in the MSL and WLA between 1992 and 2013.
While his feats on the floor are beyond compare, it is Kelusky as a person that fans will miss the most. The first time I interview any player, I get a little nervous because you never know what their personality will be like, and how they treat members of the media. I’m happy to say that 99% of the players I interview are patient and accommodating, and happy for the attention. Kelusky is at the top of that list as perhaps the nicest lax player I’ve ever met.
The last time I interviewed Kelusky this summer was during the MSL playoffs, after the Lakers had forced a game six against the Six Nations Chiefs. I caught up with Kelusky on the floor just after the game had ended, and he agreed to the interview but was then pulled off the floor for a meeting in the dressing room. I waited as long as I could but he didn’t come back. I figured I’d just get him next game and proceeded to interview some players who were quick out of the room. However, after I’d submitted my press release to local media and verified the game stats for Pointstreak, I went down to the arena restaurant to meet my parents, where he found me, nearly an hour after the game had ended, so I could interview him. Beer in hand, even!
I’ll also remember the time I interviewed him after the Lakers final game of the season in 2013, and a little boy came up and asked if he could have Kelusky’s shorts (that might sounds weird, but the Lakers traditionally give away their uniforms at the end of each season). Kelusky took off his shorts right there and gave them to the child and did the rest of the interview in his underwear. There was also the time at one of the Lakers year end banquets where he came up and hugged me out of nowhere, because he’s just that type of person that is genuinely happy to see you.
Kelusky has had a long career, meeting and interacting with thousands of fans over the years, and it is likely that everyone who has ever seen him play has some good memories of him. He was captain in Calgary, a true ambassador for the game. He owns Evolve Elite Lacrosse, teaching hundreds of kids per year about the benefits of sport and ingraining a love for lacrosse in future generations. Even though his time as a player is over, he will still be one of our sport’s best ambassadors.
In the age of social media, news spreads quickly, with many outlets reporting Kelusky’s decision even before he announced it on his own account, stating that he is “thankful for the 14 NLL seasons. Thanks to my teammates n friends who all made the experience unforgettable! #coupleofcups #tonsofmemeories” and “Lucky to have had something that made saying goodbye so hard. Not saying goodbye as much as whats next. Looking forward to a new chapter.”
Friends and former teammates took to the social media over the next few days to express their emotion over the announcement.
Lakers teammate Alex Henderson tweeted that he was “very fortunate to get the spot beside @Traceykelusky17 in the Lakers dressing room as a rookie, great teacher, leader and mentor #congratsTK,” while eight year teammate in Calgary Andrew McBride praised Kelusky as a “warrior, leader and champion. What a fantastic teammate and player, congrats on an amazing career @Traceykelusky17 #2xnllchamp #day&night.” Former Lakers teammate Dan Carey tweeted his support for Kelusky as a coach: “Congrats to @Traceykelusky17 on a terrific playing career. Great teammate, leader, friend and will be a great coach with @NEBlackWolves.”
The Black Wolves announced Kelusky’s role change on both Facebook and Twitter, although they chose to focus more on his new job as defensive coordinator than on his retirement. Their statement on Facebook said: “Coaching update! James Milligan will return for his second season as offensive coordinator while Tracey Kelusky will make the transition from player to coach, stepping into the role of defensive coordinator after making the decision to retire.” This update received 21 “Likes” from fans.
Kelusky’s former team, the Calgary Roughnecks, posted a touching statement to their Twitter account: “Congratulations to former #NLLRoughnecks captain @Traceykelusky17 on a remarkable #NLL career! #OhCaptainMyCaptain,” and added his team stats: “Kelusky sits 2nd in #NLLRoughnecks franchise goals (256), assists (283) & points (539) @Traceykelusky17 #Warrior.”
Likewise, Kelusky’s hometown Peterborough Lakers tweeted their congratulations on a fine career: “Congratulations @Traceykelusky17 on a fantastic career in the NLL. You make Peterborough proud.” Some players have been known to continue summer lacrosse even after retiring from the NLL (Darryl Gibson comes to mind), and although it is not his intention to return, I’m sure the Lakers will try to convince Kelusky to return at some point.
Tracey Kelusky was a player’s player, and he will be a player’s coach. The New England Black Wolves are lucky to have him coaching their back end, and he’ll help lead the team to success. Regardless of his sure success behind the bench, his friends, family, and fans are sure going to miss seeing his leadership on the floor.
Thanks, TK. We wish you nothing but the best.