View From The Bench

by Linda Lampel Esterson

The great Rudyard Kipling one said, “Fill the unforgiven moments with 60 seconds worth of distance run.”

That’s what Thunder General Manager G. Darrell Russell lives by.

Russell has worn so many hats it’s hard to find him.

He started with the MILL in 1987, the league’s first year, as an assistant coach with the Thunder.  The following year, he became league commissioner, in part to “straighten out the rules.”

One year as commissioner was enough for him.  “It cut into my law practice too much,” he says.

The next year, 1989, he was named GM of the Thunder.

In December, 1990, he was sworn in as a Baltimore County District Court Judge, after 21 years in law practice.

In 1992, Russell may just be settling down.  He is still Thunder GM, still a District Court Judge, a husband and father of three young children.  Not to mention his involvement in civic and business associations, including as editor of the Bar Association’s monthly newsletter.

How does he do it all?

“If you don’t think about it,” he says.  “I just keep moving.  They say if you want to get something done, ask a busy person.”

Russell is so busy, that he uses his “free” time for business.  During his lunch hour on the bench, he can be seen catching up on Thunder business, calling fans, doing paperwork or writing newspaper articles.  All this is in between bites.

As a judge, Russell hears cases five days a week: criminal cases two days, traffic cases two days and civil cases one day.

“It’s a great job,” he says, “and it’s flattering to be chosen.  It is the culmination of my legal career.”

Looking at the cases from a different angle intrigues him.  Yet, he finds hearing testimony and presiding over a large caseload pretty draining.  His solution—being physically fit.

A former long distance runner, Russell takes every opportunity to keep himself in shape.  If it means running at the track while attending Thunder practice, he’ll dive right in.

As general manager, his is responsible for everything from player complaints, to dealing with the public, the Baltimore Arena and the practice facilities, to filing reports on player injuries and medical bills.  “I’m the point man—everybody goes through me,” he chuckles.

The Thunder GM is also instrumental in player moves.  Before each game, he meets with the coaches to determine which 17 players will suit up for the Thunder.

“I used to have to call the players who weren’t playing,” he said.  “Now we tell them at the last practice before a game.”

Russell also manages the public relations duties for the team, although he has learned to delegate responsibility.  Assistant coach Marc Hoffman, for example, enjoys handling the player appearances at local bars.

“I keep (coach) John (Stewart) out of public relations and managing, and into coaching—he’s a great coach.  He has enough to worry about.”

If there’s one thing Russell has yet to accomplish in his career with the Thunder, it’s winning the MILL crown.  And you can be sure, he won’t rest until that happens.

“I would like to win a championship,” he says.  “I’d feel more like relaxing when we win a championship.  We couldn’t have some any closer last year.”

THUNDER NOTES/PREVIEW

The Thunder is looking forward to its first divisional contest this Saturday, January 25, when it hosts the New York Saints at the Arena.

“It’s our most important game of the season to date,” said co-captain Jim Huelskamp.

One thing the Thunder will need to do is outrun the Saints, known for a run-and-gun attack.

“The key is groundballs,” said 1991 All-Pro Rick Sowell.  “Whoever has the groundball and takes care of the groundballs is going to win.”

By dominating the groundballs, the Thunder can take away the Saints seventh man of sorts—the fast break.  And if Baltimore can control the ball, the team can get off more shots and subsequently more scores.

One obstacle the Baltimore squad may have to overcome is the absence of starting goalie Tom Manos.  The five-year veteran many miss Saturday’s game because of out of town business.

Manos’ absence could prove just what the Saints were praying for, with their fast-paced style and veterans accustomed to shooting on the fly.

“We’ll try to pay a little more attention to who’s in the cage,” said Jeff Jackson, who leads the Thunder and the league with eight goals and 11 total points.  “There’s a little more concern of who’s behind you when you put a rookie in the cage.  We’ll have to be conscious of playing harder defense and give him more of a chance to make the save.”

If in fact Manos is away, Stewart will rely on rookies Stephen Dietrich, the Canadian who has seen action in both games this season, and Charlie Toomey, the two-time All-American from Loyola College.

The question, according to Stewart, is whether or not the young goaltenders can maintain their concentration for the entire game.

“They’re both in good physical condition,” the coach said.  “But if there’s a flurry of goals, then you have a tendency to start thinking.”

And Baltimore will be up against two of the league’s toughest goalies in Vinnie Pfeifer and Sal LoCascio.  LoCascio, back for his third season in the net for the Saints, was a second-team All-Pro choice in 1991.

“LoCascio baits a lot—he shows a lot of net and takes it away,” Stewart said.  “You can really get into a guessing game with him.”

(The Indoor Lacrosse Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 4, January 24, 1992)

(Special thanks to Bob Heyes for providing a copy of the paper)

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