WINGS WELCOME BANDITS AS FIRST TEST OF SEASON

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by Marcus Hayes, Daily News Sports Writer

It’s a pleasant problem, that of Philadelphia Wings coach Tony Resch.

After winning the last two Major Indoor Lacrosse League titles, how do you motivate your team for the 1996 season?

“That’s probably going to be the biggest part of my job this season,” Resch said.

The solution, for now, is simple. Play Buffalo.

The Wings open their season, and that of the Buffalo Bandits, when they entertain their rival tomorrow at 8 p.m. in the CoreStates Spectrum (ESPN2, 9:30, tape delay). Like the Knicks and the Bulls – or, more accurately, like “The Simpsons’ ” Itchy and Scratchy – the Wings and Bandits share an innate animosity.

Mention Buffalo, and the Wings get instant juice.

“Without a doubt,” Wings captain Scott Gabrielson said.

It dates back to the 1992 season, when then-expansion Buffalo defeated the Wings in the title game. And then did it again in 1993.

“Since that time, there’s been a pretty bitter taste in our mouths,” Gabrielson said.

The Wings beat the Bandits in the ’94 title game. The Bandits gave the Wings their only loss in eight games last season. Then the Wings ousted the Bandits from last year’s playoffs before beating the expansion Rochester Knighthawks for the title.

The ‘Hawks, with star attacker (and former Wing) Paul Gait, again loom as the MILL’s top contender. But the Wings’ relations with the Hawks are positively peachy when compared with the physical Bandits. Witness the fallout from last year’s playoff game.

Bruising Bandits attacker Darris Kilgour grabbed a Wings player’s facemask, was ejected from the game and accumulated a remarkable 22 penalty minutes. As a result, the MILL suspended him from tomorrow’s game.

Kilgour’s absence, said Gabrielson, is significant and disappointing.

Kilgour shreds the Wings, accounting for nine goals and four assists in five games. The Bandits will miss his scoring punch and his aggressive style, resulting, said Gabrielson, in fewer penalty minutes for both sides.

But the Wings will miss him.

“He’s a player we like to go for,” Gabrielson said with a chuckle. “We don’t care for the guy very much.”

The Wings have other Bandits to focus on, including forward Jim Veltman (six goals, 22 assists vs. the Wings) and attacker John Taveres (13 goals, 17 assists).

The Wings will have to adjust to a few alterations from last year’s title-winning team.

Forward Gary Martin, a rock since 1988, retired and became Resch’s special coaching assistant. Forward John McEvoy, a Wing for five years, is taking the year off to coach and teach in England.

Forward Chris Bates moved to North Carolina to attend graduate school and play for the expansion Charlotte Cobras.

Resch will look to Gabrielson, an eight-year pro, and fiery forward Chris Flynn, the team’s associate captain, to fill leadership voids.

And he will continue to count on the league’s best player, Gary Gait, and best goalie, Dallas Eliuk.

Much was made of attacker Gary Gait’s conditioning program last season. Gait, the twin brother of Paul Gait, cruised through the season toned and trim with a league-high 30 goals. He also dealt 18 assists and won the league’s Most Valuable Player trophy.

Nearly as much was made of Eliuk’s performance last season. Eliuk went 6-0-0 in the regular season after missing the season opener in Buffalo with a strained groin muscle.

Factor in the return of the Wings’ No. 2 scorer in 1995, Tom Marechek (17 goals, 18 assists), as well as their No. 3 scorer, Kevin Finneran, (6, 21), and the Wings appear ready for ’96. With Buffalo as the first test, the Wings’ readiness will be evident early.

Said Resch: “It’s definitely a way to measure yourself very quickly.’

(Philadelphia Daily News, January 11, 1996)

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