by John Smallwood, Daily News Sports Writer
Philadelphia Wings forward Gary Martin can’t think of a more appropriate scenario for ending his eight-year, Major Indoor Lacrosse League career.
On April 7, 1989, Martin was a second-year player as the Wings won their first MILL Championship by beating the New York Saints at the Spectrum.
A lot of things have changed since then, but at 1 p.m. tomorrow, when Philadelphia plays the expansion Rochester Knighthawks for the 1995 MILL title at the CoreStates Spectrum, Martin will have come full circle.
“It’s definitely going to be special,” said Martin, who will play in his record 12th playoff game for the Wings. “The first title I won was at the Spectrum. After we won the semifinal game in Buffalo, I thanked all my teammates for giving me a chance to play one last time in Philadelphia.”
Playing in their sixth championship game and shooting for an unprecedented fourth title, the defending MILL champion Wings are hosting the final for the first time since losing to the Buffalo Bandits, 11-10, in overtime, in 1992.
Since then, Philadelphia has won 14 straight games at home.
“Our fans have always been a big part of our success,” Martin said. “It would be nice to win a championship in front of them. Scott Gabrielsen and I are the only guys on the team who have had the feeling of winning a title in Philadelphia and carrying the cup around the Spectrum floor. The rest of our guys want to know that feeling.”
Last season, MILL Most Valuable Player Gary Gait and his identical twin Paul led the Wings to a 26-15 victory in Buffalo to end the Bandits’ two-year reign as league champions.
With Paul traded to Rochester in the offseason, the Gaits, who led Syracuse to NCAA lacrosse championships in 1988, ’89 and ’90, will square off for the first time in a championship game.
“It will probably be tough on our parents,” said Gary, who led the MILL with 30 goals and was second with 48 points. “I wouldn’t want to be them trying to figure out who to root for in this game.”
Last summer, the brothers, from Victoria, British Columbia, played against each other in the semifinals of the Canadian Box Lacrosse championships, with Paul’s Six-Nation’s Cheese team, which went on to win the title, defeating Gary’s Brooklyn Redman, 4-2, in a best-of-seven series.
“I’m one up on him, so I’m sure he’s looking for revenge,” said Paul, who scored eight goals in last year’s title game. “I know Gary doesn’t want to go down two to me.”
On Jan. 20, the Wings (7-1) opened their home schedule with a 20-19 victory over the Knighthawks (4-4).
“I’m sure the Philly fans won’t be happy to see me on the other team, but they won’t hold a grudge unless we win,” Paul said. “If we lose, I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to see me and cheer. Our team is playing well and our confidence is high. It was only a one-goal loss last time.”
Paced by Gary Gait and high-scoring forwards Tom Marechek (17 goals, 18 assists, 35 points) and John Nostrant (14-11-25) and play-maker Kevin Finneran (21 assists), the Wings have outscored opponents, 414-389.
Named an MILL first-team All-Pro for the fourth consecutive season, Wings goalie Dallas Eliuk is 6-0-0 with 240 saves.
“The key will be for us to do what we’ve done all year and go from there,” Martin said. “There was this thing in Sports Illustrated recently about how hockey teams are composed of superstars, playmakers and grinders.
“Our team is defined a lot like that. If we all play within our roles, we’re going to be successful.”
About 4,000 tickets remain for the championship game. The game will be televised live on ESPN but will be blacked out locally if it is not a sellout . . . The Wings will have an open practice today (5:30 p.m.) at the Eagles’ practice bubble. The Knighthawks will follow with a walk-through practice.
(Philadelphia Daily News, April 7, 1995)