by David Fink
Post-Gazette Sports Writer
Major Indoor Lacrosse League executives made three significant rule changes during the off-season in an attempt to speed up the game and increase scoring.
They drastically reduced the number of situations that could result in faceoffs, dropped the maximum time on the shot-clock from 45 seconds to 40 and widened the goal by 6 inches.
At the same time, Pittsburgh coach Dennis Wey and General Manager Haswell Franklin made three key changes to improve the Bulls’ defense.
They dumped goalies Jim Beardsmore and Bruce Donaldson, abandoned the gambling, over-aggressive style that led to the second-highest total of penalty minutes in the MILL in 1990, and embraced a defensive scheme that places more emphasis on positioning than contact.
If the Bulls’ season-opening, 19-10 victory Saturday night over the Baltimore Thunder (0-2) at the Civic Center was a sign of things to come, their changes will pay off more than the MILL’s.
“I tried to protect our goalies last year,” said Wey after the Bulls began their second season, “but I think everybody finally caught on. You need good goaltending, and now we’ve got it.”
The new goalie is Kevin Bilger, acquired from Philadelphia in a deal that sent highly touted rookie forward Tom Burt to the Wings. Bilger, in his fifth MILL season, had asked to be traded.
“I asked for a trade because I knew I was good enough to be a No. 1 goalie for most teams in this league,” said the 6-foot-2 Bilger, the MILL’s tallest goaltender.
“But it Philly, we always had another one just as good as me, so we always shared the time. Just bad luck for me there, but I got tired of it. Now, I’m in a great spot here because we play terrific defense.”
The anchor of that defense is Dave Pietramala, the Most Valuable Player in the World Games of outdoor lacrosse last summer in Perth, Australia. The 6-foot-4, 210 pound defenseman was at his best Saturday night, helping the Bulls contain Baltimore’s Ricky Sowell, who had four goals against them last season but only one Saturday night.
“We think the way to win consistently in this league is with defense and goaltending,” said Wey, whose team finished fifth in the six-team league with a 3-5 record in 1990.
“Our aim is to hold the other team to 10 or under each game and, if we can do that, we’ll be hard to beat. We were talking a lot on the bench about keeping it under 10, so we were disappointed when we let them score that last goal.”
Even though the Bulls stressed a more disciplined defense, the offense kicked into high gear quickly. Butch Marino scored five goals, Brian Nikula, the leading goal-scorer in the MILL last year with 20, had four, and rookie Brian Keith added three.
“Baltimore didn’t have many good scoring chances until late in the game when things were under control,” said Wey, “but Bilger stopped most of them. That’s what we didn’t have going for us last year.
“Then we got our offense going, and everything fell into place. Even with the rule changes to promote offense, I think we’ll win or lose most games at the defensive end.
“We’re much better back there this year than last year and we have Bilger to bail us out when we make a mistake.”
NOTES—The attendance was 8,901, the smallest crowd to see the Bulls at the Arena. Their average last year was 10,840, with a low of 9,213 for the opener.
The MILL has no package of live television games, but KBL will pick up the 13 delayed cablecasts of the MILL Game of the Week from Prime Network each Monday night, starting with the Philadelphia at Detroit game tonight at 9. The Bulls will make four appearances, the first on Jan. 21 when their Jan. 19 game at Detroit will be shown.
(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 7, 1991)