CALGARY, AB — Oh, he’d go and play elsewhere. Model other jerseys and forge different allegiances.
That try, indomitable willpower, insatiable drive to compete, the inbred ability to drag others along beside him to heights they otherwise might not have considered, remained parts of the package.
He was still very much Tracey Kelusky.
And yet …
“When we traded him to Buffalo, and then he went to Philadelphia after that, ’’ recalls the first owner of the Calgary Roughnecks, Brad Banister, “well … it wasn’t the same.
“I know. I kept in contact with him.
“This is where his legacy lies. You could say ‘Forever a Bandit’ and it wouldn’t fit. You say ‘Forever A Roughneck’ and his name pops to mind.
“He was what Lanny McDonald meant to the Flames. That guy. Heart-and-soul. A symbol.
“The one everyone else lined up behind and followed.”
Longtime ‘Necks captain Tracey Kelusky, a two-time Champions Cup winner here, will be feted March 26th, when the New England Black Wolves – where he now works as an assistant coach – pay a matinee visit to the Scotiabank Saddledome.
A ‘Forever A Roughneck’ banner in his honour will be unfurled and raised to the rafters of the building in which he held sway through eight seasons, making him the second Roughneck so to be honoured, following Kaleb Toth in 2013.
“Anytime I think of my career,’’ says Kelusky, “I automatically think of being a Roughneck, of my time spent in Calgary.
“It’s an honour first and foremost to be recognized by that group, the franchise I took a lot of pride in.
“What this means to me … well, I know the significance of it. I’ve been to the Saddledome numerous times, of course, been down the hallway and seen the championship teams recognized there and the players that are honoured, the Joel Ottos, the Joe Nieuwendyks. Then you look up in the rafters and you see the Lanny McDonalds and the Mike Vernons.
“Then, to be up there alongside a guy like Kaleb, who, when I think of Calgary Roughnecks, I think of Kaleb Toth, is pretty awesome.
“It’s something you never, ever think about, to go up there with those kinds of people and be a part of history.”
This latest honour comes on the heels of Kelusky’s induction into the National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame.
“I guess,’’ he muses, “this just means I’m getting old, right?”
He’s responsible for setting the standard for those who follow.
Arguably even more than that, though, because of him kids in this town got hooked on the sport, picked up sticks and asked for No. 17 Roughnecks’ jerseys under the Christmas tree.
Tracey Kelusky aided immeasurably in a franchise taking root in a community.
“Calgary lacrosse,’’ notes Banister, “is healthier than ever right now and Tracey played a big part in that.
“He set the bar high. Whether it was playing or coaching or conducting clinics. My oldest son’s 26. He went through the coaching thing with Tracey when he was 11 or 12, I guess. And the young players of today mention him as a inspiration, too.
“So he touched a broad range of ages. I mean, you go from the 1990 kids to the draft-age players of today, the 2000s.
“That’s a decade of being the guy they looked up to.
“That was Brad,’’ argues Kelusky. “He wanted us to give back, to be a part of the community. I’m proud, though, of helping build some of the grassroots lacrosse in Calgary, as a lacrosse coach and a lacrosse teacher at various camps and clinics.
“It’s definitely special.
“I look at it not as a playing career, but as a career. And I think I speak for all lacrosse players of that era – championships aside, all the wins and losses – we felt good about being so-called ‘pioneers’ and helping grow the game and hopefully taking it to the next level.”
On the floor, of course, Kelusky was renowned for not cutting corners, for being demanding and uncompromising in both approach and performance.
“Tracey encompassed all facets,’’ lauds retired ‘Necks’ captain Andrew McBride.
“From being a dynamic player to being the leader on the floor to being out in the community promoting lacrosse to speaking to the media.
“And he scored the big goal and was the face of the franchise, too. Not much else, is there?
“I know the word ‘culture’ is thrown around a lot in sports these days. But when you’re talking about Tracey Kelusky, it fit. Because he set the culture for the last 14, 15 years. And the Roughnecks, every year, have to live up to that culture, his culture.
“Having a guy like Tracey right there from the get-go was so important. He was always there doing the right thing. You didn’t want to let him down.
“Some superstars expect double treatment. Not Tracey. He expected of you what he expected of himself – the very best you had to give.”
On March 26th, Tracey Kelusky’s career will come full circle. On that night, Calgary will pay tribute to its adopted lacrosse son.
“This,’’ says his old boss, Banister, “is where he was in his groove. This is where he ran the town. This is where he was probably happiest. This is where he was at the right age, the lacrosse intellect and competitiveness, to be at his best as a player.
“This is where he set standards for himself and this is where he set the standard for a franchise.
“This is where it was all at its maximum. This is where it all came together.
“For him and for us.”
Then. Now. And Forever.