A glimpse of the future is found by examining the past. And this past 1993 Major Indoor Lacrosse League regular season, the league’s seventh successful campaign of bringing indoor lacrosse to America, proved fans are switching their pro sports play button to… FAST FORWARD “The MILL Races Toward the 21st Century” A REWIND OF 1993 HIGHLIGHTS PREVIEWS A BRIGHT MILL FUTURE ……
by Mike Jackowski
February 27, 1993—The Buffalo Bandits vs. Philadelphia Wings game is the hottest ticket in town with The Aud sold out two weeks in advance for this “Battle of the Unbeatens.” On a typically chilled Buffalo winter evening, fans begin a steady stream into the arena an hour early as the MILL’s leading scorer, Bandits’ John Tavares, is being interviewed on the field by local television. As players quietly wade through their thoughts in their respective dressing rooms, Philadelphia superstar Paul Gait is found handing out autographed photos to “starry-eyed kids” waiting in the wings.
A sense of electricity permeates each anticipating spectator as he or she inches further toward the edge of their seat. Finally the waiting is over. The crowd erupts as the hometown Bandits are spotlighted during introductions in the darkened auditorium. Two teams who last met in the 1992 MILL Championship “eye each other down” before the opening faceoff as Prime Network’s play-by-play announcer Jon Horton sets the proper tone for the national network’s “Game of the Week”. .One more number to talk about, 16,325. That’s how many people will be packed into The Aud tonight…they’re standing in the rafters waiting for this one.”
The year 1993 proved “this one” could be every one in the Major Indoor Lacrosse League. Highlighting this league on the rise were increases in attendance, newfound star players, additional exposure on national television, along with more gratifying human interest stories on MILL personalities than you could shake a stick at. Buffalo sold out every one of their home games; Philadelphia averaged over 16,000 per game, New York set new attendance marks, averaging more than 12,000 a game; Baltimore had a single-game attendance of over 11,000, and the Boston Blazers set a new MILL- record for Boston Garden when over 9,000 fans took in a game recently. The word is getting around.
The foremost reason for this surge in fan popularity is the dawning of superstar recognition in lacrosse. The MILL showcases the best lacrosse players in the world and in 1993, these giants of the sport began to become known as exactly that. The Gait brothers in Philadelphia, “The MILL’s first bona-fide superstars,” as heralded by Sports Illustrated, continued to shine in 1993. Paul and his twin brother, Gary, finished second and third in league scoring. More importantly, Paul achieved a MILL milestone by becoming the first player in the league to score 100 career goals. But this year they
were joined on the top shelf by a slew of talented athletes, bringing a star to every market. Even in their own Wings’ lineup, the Gaits were joined by Rob Shek, who closely followed the Gaits in fourth place for league total points. Considered by many to be this year’s MILL Most Valuable Player is John Tavares in Buffalo. Averaging almost 4-1/2 goals an outing. Tavares spearheads a Bandits’ attack that has won 16 consecutive games. The New York Saints feature the league’s top goaltender, “Stonewall” Sal LoCascio. Bedrocking a tenacious Saints defense, LoCascio routinely makes almost 40 saves each game. The Saints also feature the MILL’s top playmaker, Vinny Sombrotto. His ability to make at least three assists per game on a team that only scores 11.6 goals a game, deems his contribution even more remarkable. Six-year MILL veteran Butch Marino ranks with the Top 5 goal scorers in the league for the Baltimore Thunder.
Possibly the best news of all can be found with the new kids on the block—MILL rookies who have quickly turned on the afterburners to burn up the rest of the league. “Tricky” Lindsay Dixon has become the player to watch on the Pittsburgh Bulls, netting over two goals per game. Riding into the Motor City is the “The Wild Bunch”, three rookies who have taken over the Detroit Turbos scoring reins. Chris Driscoll and Ted Dowling are joined by Native American Duane Jacobs, providing “three-punch knockout” potential. In Boston, Eric Seremet will blaze the trail for years to come. Already a natural at putting the ball in the net, Seremet plays like a proven veteran.
Now the entire country is getting a taste of these players through Prime Network’s coverage of the MILL. Featuring a “Game of the Week”, a potential audience of thirty million homes received MILL broadcasts in 1993. With the sport’s popularity growing every year, this medium’s coverage will be even more extensive in the years to come.
And what about the stories? How about nine Native Americans playing together for Buffalo, prompting numerous reservation populations to attend the games. “l can’t look up in the stands without seeing someone I recognize,” says the Bandits’ Darris Kilgour. Or how about Mikko Red Arrow of the New York Saints, scoring goals by night, assistant district attorney in the Bronx by day. Moving down to Baltimore, General Manager Darrell Russell also presides as a district county judge. It goes on and on. But to view a complete picture of it what the MILL is growing to be, we have to assemble the season week-by-week.
January 9, 1993—The defending world champion Buffalo Bandits (1-0) open the season with a 17-10 road victory against the Pittsburgh Bulls (0-1) at the Civic Arena. “Total” John Tavares begins his scoring onslaught with a seven- point night (four goals, three assists). In the other opening season matchup that evening, Butch Marino’s five goals with one assist helped the Baltimore Thunder (1-0) hang on to an 18-17 victory over the Boston Blazers (0-1) at Baltimore Arena.
January 15-16—After an offseason switch from Detroit, 16,274 fans show up at the Spectrum to witness the beginning of the Gait Brothers era in Philadelphia. Paul Gait lived up to billing, tallying a league-high seven goals, to lead the Wings (1-0) over Baltimore (1- 1), 17-14. It took an overtime quarter for the New York Saints (1-0) to get by Pittsburgh (0-2), 11-10, but that didn’t matter to the 12,301 Saints fans who piled into Nassau Coliseum. Tavares does it again, scoring five goals with four assists for an amazing nine-point night, leading Buffalo (2-0) over the Detroit Turbos (0-1), 18-14, at Joe Louis Arena.
January 22-23—The Wings win two games this weekend to stake themselves atop the American Division. First in Boston on Friday night, goaltender Dallas Eliuk is the star for Philly with a 44-save performance to secure the Wings (12-9) victory. Paul Gait then rocks the Spectrum on Saturday, netting 11 points (six goals, five assists) before 16,068 ecstatic fans in a 22-15 Philadelphia (3-0) win vs. the Turbos (0-2). The weekend also belongs to the 16,325 fans who jammed in for Buffalo’s home- opener. They were not disappointed as the Bandits (3-0) crunched the Thunder (1-2), 23-13.
January 29-30—Four games are staged in two nights with Baltimore unhappily involved in two of them. The Saints (2-0) are the first to “rain on the” Thunders (1-3) “parade” with an 18-15 win at Nassau Coliseum. But that didn’t dampen the spirits of the 11,408 who traveled to Baltimore Arena tse following day only to witness Baltimore’s (1-4) 23-9 setback to Philadelphia (4-0), courtesy of Rob Shek’s six goals. Tavares enjoyed another five goal, four assist-show- ing at Boston Garden in a 17-13 Bandit’s (4-0) victory over the Blazers (0-3). Detroit (1-2) gets on track with Native American Duane Jacobs’ five goals, enough for the Turbos to sneak out of Bulls (0-3) country with a 17-16 win.
February 6—Buffalo and Philadelphia both extend their records to 5-0 with home victories before packed houses. A MILL- season high 16,731 in the Spectrum, along with a national television audience on Prime Network, see Paul Gait score his milestone 100th MILL career goal. All part of his six-goal performance which helped the Wings trim the arch- rival Saints (2-1), 13-8. The Bandits stave off a fierce Boston (0-4) comeback for a 16-14 victory before a sellout of 16,325. In the second of a home-and-home series, Detroit (2-2) is again victorious over Pittsburgh (0-4), this time in front of the home folks, 16-13.
February 13—The only scheduled game of the week exhibits a spectacular display of goaltending by New York’s Sal LoCascio, who stops 56 shots against the Bulls (0- 5) to preserve a 12-10 Saints’ (3-1) road win.
February 20—A record-crowd of 13,796 turns up in New York’s Nassau Coliseum for the rival rematch against the mighty Wings. But Philadelphia’s (6-0) tough 13- 10 win keeps the Saints (3-2) at bay and the Wings among the ranks of the unbeaten. A scare runs through Buffalo fans as the Thunder almost pulls off the upset in Baltimore (1-5). Instead, John Tavares gets the game-winner in overtime for a Bandits’ (6-0) 19-18 victory, extending Buffalo’s MILL- record winning streak to 14 games. The Turbos (3-2) win their second home game in a row, 10-9, over the visiting Blazers (0-5).
February 27—11 The Battle of the Unbeatens,” Buffalo vs. Philadelphia. Sold out in Buffalo, the game intensifies with hard-hitting as well as excellent goaltending. In the end, however, the Bandits (7-0) prove to be one goal better than the Wings (6-1) in 13-12 decision. A record crowd in Boston (1-5) gets treated to two overtime quarters before the Blazers win their first of the year, 13-12, against Detroit (3-3). Butch Marino’s four goals, two assists spell doom for Pittsburgh (0-6) in their last 1993 home game as Baltimore (2-5) leaves town with a 16-14 final.
March 6—New York improves record to 4-2 with another one-goal win, this time at Detroit (3-4), 11- 10. Bob Cummings scores a pair in the win.
March 12—Needing to win to stay alive in playoff hunt, the Bulls (1-6) dismantle the Thunder (2-6), 16-9, in Baltimore. Rookie Lindsay Dixon leads the way with the “hat- trick” and Coors Light Most Valuable Player honors. The Saints (5- 2) are again one-goal victors (11- 10) before 12,120 at Nassau Coliseum versus Boston (1-6) in overtime with a goal by Mike Cummings.
March 13-14—The “Blizzard of the Century” nails the East Coast with tempest, forcing the postponement of the final three MILL regular season games (Detroit at Buffalo, New York at Boston, and Pittsburgh at Philadelphia) until the following weekend.
March 20-21—The Boston Blazers (2-6) earn the final playoff berth with an 8-7 victory over the New York Saints (5-3) at Boston Garden in the final game of the MILL regular season Sunday evening. Because Pittsburgh had the advantage in the tie-breaker with Boston, the Bulls (1-7) forced the Blazers to need a win with a tight 8-7 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Wings (7-1) before 16,182 at the Spectrum in Philly, Sunday afternoon. In Saturday night’s action, the Bandits won their 16th consecutive game and became the first MILL team to finish the regular season undefeated by dismantling Detroit (3-5), 20-14, in front of another sellout of 16,325 in Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium. In addition, the victory gave the Bandits the honor of holding the longest current consecutive winning streak in professional sports.