When the Major Indoor Lacrosse League awarded Gary and Paul Gait to the Philadelphia Wings in September, Baltimore Thunder general manager Darrell Russell did not take the decision lying down.
The high-scoring Gaits, who live in Baltimore, had played for the Detroit Turbos in their first two seasons in the league. Last season, Paul Gait had 33 goals and 20 assists during the regular season, and Gary Gait had 27 goals and 22 assists.
During the off-season, the brothers were moved to an East Coast team in keeping with league policy that requires players to be on teams close to their homes.
"[After the Gait decision], I was angry, and I wasn't going to stand still," said Russell, who felt that Baltimore should have been given at least one of the Gaits. "I just tried to go out and get offensive firepower."
Russell, along with coach John Stewart, immediately began to search for players who would help the Thunder compete with the Wings in the MILL's American Division. The Thunder will open its 1993 season against the Boston Blazers Jan. 9 at the Baltimore Arena.
Russell's first move was to bring John Tucker, the MILL's all-time
leading scorer, out of retirement.
Tucker, who coaches lacrosse and soccer and teaches history at Gilman, was a standout midfielder at Johns Hopkins before he joined the Wings in 1987 for the MILL's inaugural season. He retired after last season as the league's career scoring leader with 174 points (78 goals, 96 assists).
"I had every intention of retiring, but I always wanted to stay involved with the league," said Tucker, who will be a player/coach for the Thunder this season. "I think [the league] is going in the right direction, and I want to be a part of it."
Russell agreed to give the Wings a conditional draft pick for the rights to Tucker.
"[Philadelphia general manager] Mike French and I are good friends," Russell said. "If Tucker helps us as much as I think he will, then I'll give him our first pick next year."
Tucker should give Baltimore a much-needed offensive boost. The Thunder lost to Tucker and the Wings, 14-12, in the first round of last year's playoffs. The Wings lost to the Buffalo Bandits in the championship game.
"Tucker is a smart, mature player," Russell said. "There's a lot of ways he can help us. He will add discipline to our offense."
Tucker is familiar with many of his new teammates through playing for the Maryland Lacrosse Club and the five years he spent as an assistant coach at Loyola College.
He said he is looking forward to teaching some of the Thunder's
"I think I can help the young guys with the nuances of the indoor game," Tucker said. "The league has changed since I first came into it. Now, it's to a point where a rookie has to almost learn a new game."
Russell also gave Philadelphia a third-round pick for former UMBC player Ricky Fried. In four MILL seasons, Fried has 30 goals and 37 assists.
For more offensive punch, Russell traded five-year veteran Jim Huelskamp to Pittsburgh for Butch Marino. Marino, who has 103 career points, played for the Thunder in 1988 and 1989.
The Thunder's first-round pick in September's draft, Jim Blanding, also should improve the offense. Blanding, an attackman from Loyola College, was a third-team All-American his junior year and an honorable mention All-America selection last year. He finished his college career with 182 points, third on Loyola's all-time scoring list.
"Blanding has been excellent in practice," Russell said. "I think he's going to score a lot of goals this season."
Russell also tried to improve the Thunder's defense by giving tryouts to two Canadian goalies who grew up playing indoor lacrosse.
"We were going to look at some more Canadian players, but stuck with just the goalies," said Russell, who auditioned David Lee, from British Columbia, and Jim Bell, from Ontario. "Having a Canadian goalie is always better."