It didn't take the Baltimore Thunder long to form a favorable first impression of its newest player.
After only three practices, general manager Darrell Russell and coach John Stewart saw enough of goalie Steve Dietrick to feel secure in using him tonight when the Thunder opens its sixth Major Indoor Lacrosse League season at 8:05 against the Boston Blazers at the Baltimore Arena.
Dietrick, a 21-year-old from Toronto who played for Canada's junior-league championship team, joins the Thunder's other goalies, four-year veteran Tom Manos and fellow rookie Charlie Toomey. Dietrick replaces Jeff Gombar, who decided not to return from British Columbia for another year after helping the Thunder reach the MILL championship game last season.
The Thunder wanted a goalie experienced in the indoor game, which meant focusing on Canada. Dietrick will watch from the bench while Manos plays the first half tonight, then relieve him.
"We could tell in those few practices that Dietrick has been a goalie in indoor lacrosse all his life," Russell said. "But he isn't that sharp, because he hasn't played since last summer, so we didn't want him in there right off the bat."
Stewart said: "One goalie can't carry us anyway, not with the rule change from a 40- to a 30-second shot clock designed to speed up the game more. We want Dietrick to watch and see how the game develops. Whether he's another Gombar remains to be seen."
Of the half-dozen rookies, the Thunder expects the most production from Dietrick and Tony Millon, a former Towson State midfielder. In the final exhibition game, a 21-20 loss in overtime to the defending MILL champion Detroit Turbos, Millon scored six goals.
"Millon will be one of the best rookies in the league," Russell said. "I haven't seen a more tenacious player. We're not expecting six goals every game, of course, but it's worth noting he had those six while working with the defensive line."
Stewart has three five-man lines, dubbed Larry, Moe and Curly after the Three Stooges. Six players -- Jim Huelskamp, Todd Canby, Vince Angotti, Dan Britton, Tom Johnson and Millon -- share time on the Curly Line, which specializes in defense.
Stewart acknowledges that the name of the indoor game is run-and-shoot, but he was less than thrilled that the Thunder was next to last in the league in goals allowed last season. In scoring, the Thunder was second only to Detroit.
"We simply have to be more consistent in stopping shots," Stewart said.