By HOWARD BALZER
His arms were raised in exultation. He pounded the floor with his stick to relieve the frustrations that had been building within him for almost two months. When Dave Wilfong saw the red light go on August 22 in the Coliseum, “it felt like 500 pounds of weight had been lifted from my shoulders.’
When Wilfong scored eight goals in Boston on June 29, his record- tying effort came on only eight shots. Reflecting on his achievement recently, Wilfong said, “l was very proud of myself and I hoped that my success would continue.” Of course, he never dreamed that dark days in July and August lay ahead. The eight goals gave him 62 for the year through 29 games and he owned a shooting percentage of 41%.
What happened next, Wilfong would rather erase from his memory. “When you’re on a hot streak, teams put one player on you wherever you go—and that’s what happened.” He continued, “they give you the extra slash, the little cheap shot away from the ball and you can’t take it all the time. Eventually, you have to give it back.” And that’s what Wilfong did in record-breaking form.
After the Boston game, he had 69 minutes in penalties—during the next 18 games he picked up 111 minutes to give him the league lead in that department (He now has had 192 minutes—a league record). And his scoring suffered too—only 24 goals in 18 games and a shooting percent- age that fell to 38%. “What happened is that I became frustrated and took it out on everyone—and got in a lot of fights in the process.” And we all know that you can’t score from the penalty box.
But Wilfong was still getting the scoring opportunities; but something was missing. “It’s really a mental thing” Wilfong said. “You begin thinking—maybe it’s the stick—and you start trying different things and that just makes things worse. I began losing my confidence, passing off all the time and I thought it would never end.” Finally a talk with Coach Morley Kells and others helped. “Morley told me that I was getting away from my natural shot by turn- ing my shoulder and coming in on the goalie from the side, rather than straight-on,” So I began concentrating more and finally it paid off—but not without a battle.
The opponent was the Maryland Arrows on Celebrity Night and Wilfong had two early breakaways but the slump continued. “I just told myself—keep concentrating.” And shortly afterward he found himself going in alone on Arrow goaltender Bob McCready. “I concentrated on the goal—picked the corner—and the slump was over.” Wilfong scored an- other that night and was then named Tomahawk player of the game against Montreal when he scored three power- play goals in Long Island’s 16-11 televised victory over Les Quebecois.
Now, Wilfong is relaxed and eager to play in the opening round of the playoffs—even though at press time he didn’t know who the opponent would be—and he doesn’t care. “When you reach the playoffs, you have to play your best lacrosse, and we’re ready to beat any team we play.” And that’s a message of confidence from a guy who was a little short on it just two weeks ago. Funny what a few goals can do.