The memory of the first game against the New York Saint burns in the minds of the Thunder coaches and players.
It was almost two months ago, and the Thunder had taken a 13-8 lead into the fourth quarter. The Saints then scored six unanswered goals en route to an 18-15 victory.
A chance for redemption is at hand. The Thunder (2-6) will play the Saints (5-3) in the first round of the MILL playoffs today at 2 p.m. at the Nassau Coliseum.
"It will be a battle of goalies," Thunder coach John Stewart said.
The Saints will use Sal LoCascio, a second team All-Pro last year who has missed only a few minutes in eight games this season. New York "lives and dies" with LoCascio, Stewart said.
In the loss to the Saints in January, the Thunder went all the way with Dave Lee, a rookie from British Columbia who clearly lost his focus in the fourth quarter. Stewart probably will use two goalies this time, and therein rests the Thunder's hope for victory.
Lee's only backup in January was Dave Slomkowski, a newcomer to the indoor game. Lee, though only 23, grew up playing indoors in Canada. Stewart didn't want to yank Lee and put Slomkowski in a pressure situation so early in the season.
Now, however, Tom Manos, a six-year veteran out of Towson State, has rejoined the Thunder after missing the first five games with a fractured thumb. He has given several strong performances in relief of Lee.
"Unless Lee is really hot, we may bring in Manos the last 10 minutes of the first half," Stewart said. "Then we could start Lee in the third quarter and bring in Manos again.
"It's so easy for a goalie to lose his focus. With a respite, he can do better in the fourth quarter."
For all his experience in Canada, Lee is young for a pro goalie.
"Most of the good ones in the MILL are older," Thunder general manager Darrell Russell said. "A guy near 30 isn't going to let a few goals rattle him. Lee is the key. If he's not on his game, it's comforting to know we have Manos."
Lee recalls with a wince how the Saints "bombed me" in the last encounter. He vows it won't happen again and that there should be no need to call on Manos.
Opponent: New York Saints
Site: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y.
Outlook: The Saints (5-3) and Thunder (2-6) finished second and third, respectively, in the MILL's American Division and are meeting in the first round of the playoffs for the right to face the Philadelphia Wings for the division title next Saturday. In the teams' only meeting this season, the Saints overcame a five-point fourth-quarter deficit to win, 18-15. New York's leading scorers are Vinny Sombrotto, Matt Panetta and Tim McIntee. Butch Marino and Jeff Jackson pace the Thunder.