By Marcia C. Smith, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
The memory of last season makes them whip their sticks a bit faster, smack the wrists of their opponents more wildly, charge the ball, the net, the win a little more aggressively. That’s what a letdown does in lacrosse. It makes you want that diamond-studded championship ring that much more.
The Philadelphia Wings (2-0) play their Major Indoor Lacrosse League home opener at 8 tonight, facing the Baltimore Thunder at the CoreStates Center.
The Wings are coming off a 9-3 season in which they reached the league’s championship round, only to lose to Buffalo.
Scoring leader Gary Gait termed the title-game loss “an unfortunate setback,” mainly because the Wings had won the MILL title in 1994 and 1995.
They have the diamond-studded rings to prove it.
“We want to kick the heck out of Baltimore, get the bragging rights and be on our way,” said Gait, a 29-year-old all-pro and team most-valuable player who played on three NCAA championship teams at Syracuse. “I’m a veteran. Time’s a-ticking.”
With the Wings, anything but a title is a failure, which explains the intensity at their weekly practices.
The Wings return veteran threats Gait and Scott Gabrielsen; forwards Kevin Finneran and Tom Marechek; goaltender Dallas Eliuk; Team USA players Chris Flynn, Brian Miller and Brian Voelker; and Steve Govett.
Not-so-new additions are John McEvoy and Chris Bates, who return from the 1995 championship team, and rookie Greg Traynor, an all-American from the University of Virginia.
“We’ve got an advantage talent-wise with a lot of guys growing up being champions,” coach Tony Resch said. “Now we’ve got to establish chemistry between the old and the new.”
Through the season they run drills and scrimmage, leaving behind their full-time jobs as mortgage and stock brokers, insurance and real estate salesmen, coaches and teachers to make $300 to $800 a game and a little extra for practices.
Gait, his neatly groomed sideburns and goatee beginning to gray, operates a lacrosse equipment store in Baltimore and coaches the women’s lacrosse team at the University of Maryland.
He is the lead warrior here, holding most of the Wings’ scoring records, including the still-climbing statistic of most goals scored – 117 through 35 regular-season games.
He’s a seven-year veteran in his fifth year with the Wings, and some consider Gait the best player in the world because of his goal-scoring and his unorthodox shooting techniques such as the “back breaker,” in which he whips his arm around his back so far he can fire a shot from between his legs.
“He’s unbelievable. I thank God I don’t have to face him,” said Eliuk, an all-pro goaltender and freelance cartoonist who has been with the team for seven seasons.
“We’re all getting physically and mentally prepared to go all the way. We want it all.”
(Philadelphia Inquirer, January 18, 1997)