Skip Lichtfuss, the Thunder's new coach, was aghast when he studied last season's Major Indoor Lacrosse League statistics sheet.
It showed that the Thunder was by far the worst defensive team. In finishing last in the MILL's American Division with a 2-6 record, the Thunder allowed an average of 18.3 goals. Next-to-last, with a 15.25 yield, were the Detroit Turbos.
"That's our first line of business," Lichtfuss said at a news conference yesterday. "We've got to cut down on the goals."
Lichtfuss, who succeeded John Stewart, who resigned after six seasons, has at least a partial answer in Dave Pietramala. A former NCAA Division I Player of the Year at Johns Hopkins and a two-time first-team All-MILL selection, Pietramala came to the Thunder via the dispersal draft after the Pittsburgh Bulls folded. That left the league with six teams.
"Dave is the best defensive player in the world," Lichtfuss said, noting that Vince Angotti and Ron Klausner will team with Pietramala. "All three are 6-3, 6-4, over 200 pounds and rugged."
Lichtfuss said he would get his first look at the Thunder against outside competition in a closed-to-the-public scrimmage with the Philadelphia Wings today at the Baltimore Arena.
After that, there are four practices before the opener Jan. 8 here against Detroit. That game is the league opener as well and will be televised by ESPN2 on a delayed basis, to be shown Jan. 17.
The Thunder, which had an average attendance last season of 8,893, has sold more than 1,000 season tickets for a four-game home schedule that also includes visits by the Boston Blazers on Jan. 29, the Wings on Feb. 19 and the New York Saints on March 12. The defending champion Buffalo Bandits have sold more than 11,000 season tickets.
Lichtfuss has what might be the MILL's most experienced team.
There are eight returning players and 15 new ones, but only two are rookies: Paul Cantabene of Loyola and Brian Kelly of Johns Hopkins.
Nine play field lacrosse for Mount Washington, which, under Lichtfuss, has won three of the past four U.S. Club Lacrosse Association championships.
Four Thunder members -- Todd Curry, Lindsay Dixon, Butch Marino and Pietramala -- are on the U.S. team that will defend its title in the quadrennial World Championships next July in Manchester, England.
"We have more players with MILL experience than anyone," Lichtfuss said. "We should not get rattled. They've all been in tough situations before."
Because the eight-game, 10-week season is over so quickly, the key is for a team to mesh early. That, Lichtfuss says, is the Thunder's challenge in the weeks before the opener.
Date .. ..Opponent .. ..Time
Jan. 8 .. Detroit .. .. 8 p.m
Jan. 23 ..at Buffalo .. 7:30 p.m
Jan. 29 ..Boston .. ... 8 p.m
Feb. 13 ..at Phila. .. .8 p.m
Feb. 19 ..Phila. .. .. .8 p.m
March 5 . at .. ... .. .Detroit 8 p.m
March 12 .New York .. ..8 p.m
March 26 .at New York . 8 p.m