Lacrosse, for the Gait twins, has come full circle.
When they first picked up lacrosse sticks in their native British Columbia, Gary and Paul Gait were all of 4 years old. Canada's national game was, and still is, box lacrosse, the six-a-side version played in hockey rinks.
It was in box lacrosse that Syracuse coach Roy Simmons found the Gaits, and the rest, as they say, is history. The twins led Syracuse to three straight NCAA championships and were acclaimed by many as the best ever to play the field game.
Now they are returning to the game they played as youths. Their college careers behind them, the Gaits will make their professional debuts as rookie members of the Detroit Turbos tomorrow (8 p.m.) at the Baltimore Arena. The Turbos will play the Baltimore Thunder in the Major Indoor Lacrosse League opener.
It borders on the ludicrous to ask if the Gaits will be as good indoors as they were outdoors. Of course they will be.
"Since they grew up in box lacrosse, I imagine they'll be very good," said Don Zimmerman, former Johns Hopkins coach and current Loyola assistant. "I believe they continued indoor lacrosse even while they were at Syracuse. I read where Paul Gait received an MVP award. They should be fun to watch, such great athletes back in a familiar setting."
If any readjustment from the field game to box is necessary, the Gaits apparently have already made it. A few weeks ago, in the Turbos' only exhibition game, they combined for 12 points. Gary had five goals and one assist and Paul had two goals and four assists. Detroit beat the Pittsburgh Bulls, 16-14.
"They'll be every bit as good as they were outdoors," said Thunder general manager Darrell Russell. "They're the heart of the Turbos' offense. Just having those two guys on the floor makes Detroit a significantly stronger team."
Russell is quick to point out that the Thunder has its own brothers combination, Tim and Pat Welsh of Ellicott City. Pat had three goals and three assists as the Thunder romped past the two-time MILL champion Philadelphia Wings in an exhibition this month.
"It was Pat's best game ever for the Thunder," Russell said. "He and Tim combined for 12 points. They're the second best brother act in the league."
No one is better qualified to talk about the Gait brothers than Simmons, Syracuse's long-time coach. He attended the Turbos-Bulls exhibition in Rochester, and says the brothers dominated the game.
"They're better at box lacrosse because they were weaned on it," Simmons said. "Shooting at the smaller goal is no big deal for them. They'll be every bit as exciting as they were in the field game."
MILL crowds are bound to see Air Gait, a move that has become part of the outdoor game's mythology. Gary circles the goal, then suddenly charges the back of the net and leaps. In mid-air, he reaches his stick around the goal and whips the ball in. Although he lands in the crease, it is not a violation because the play ends when the ball breaks the plane of the goal.
"Air Gait is not uncommon in the box game," Simmons said, noting that Gary and Paul both did it at Syracuse. "If the goalie isn't paying attention, you'll see the Canadians do it."
The MILL made two rules changes this year to quicken the pace of the game, both of which should help the Gaits. The shot clock was reduced from 45 to 40 seconds and the width of the goal was increased 6 inches to 4 1/2 feet.
"The average combined score of a game has decreased from 30 to 20 goals," said league president Chris Fritz. "We feel by widening the goal by 6 inches, scoring will increase."
That figures to be an open invitation to the Gait twins.
As first-year players, Gary and Paul will earn a pittance of $125 a game. Players earn $150 in their second year, $200 in their third, $250 in their fourth and $300 in their fifth. Nobody gets rich.
The Gaits, however, have other lacrosse income. In June, they signed endorsement contracts with STX Inc., a Maryland-based lacrosse equipment manufacturer. They star in an instructional video and make appearances.