Skip Lichtfuss watched along with the 7,879 fans at the Baltimore Arena as his Baltimore Thunder was muffled by the Detroit Turbos in its Major Indoor Lacrosse League opener Jan. 8.
The first-year coach witnessed it again, as many more did, when the 15-8 drubbing was aired nationally on a delayed telecast last week on ESPN2.
And he has reviewed the game film with his coaching staff more times than he probably cares to remember.
His conclusion: "We're out of shape."
That's got to be it.
The Baltimore Thunder is the most experienced team in the league. Dave Pietramala is acknowledged as "the best defensive player in the game" and eight-year MILL veteran John Tucker was once named "the best midfielder in the world."
The Thunder is loaded. And it's 0-1.
"My number one priority when I came in here was to make sure that we were conditioned and we looked tired in the second half," said Lichtfuss, who succeeded six-year coach John Stewart. "We just weren't in it physically in the second half. [Tonight], we have to be ready physically and we have to sustain our intensity for four quarters."
Fatigue isn't the only obstacle the Thunder will have to overcome if its to have any success tonight against the Buffalo Bandits. The Bandits are the two-time defending league champs and they'll be performing in front of another sellout crowd of 16,325 at Memorial Auditorium.
On paper, this game looks like a perfect mismatch. The Thunder is coming off a 2-6 season in which it yielded a league-high 18.3 goals per game. The Bandits, meanwhile, went 10-0 and led the league in scoring with 17.9 goals per game.
Despite the odds being stacked in favor of the Bandits, Thunder defender Ron Klausner, a two-time All American at Towson State, maintains that he and his teammates aren't flying to Buffalo with the hopes of avoiding a loss but with the goal of picking up their first win. The 6-foot-4, 219-pounder still believes his team is one of the better conditioned in the league and attributed its initial loss to a lack of intensity rather than lack of endurance.
"We have enough talent and ability on this team to be the best team in the league, but we have to keep up the intensity. The intensity just wasn't there in the second half against Detroit," said Klausner, who spent 10 minutes of the opener in the penalty box. "When you have the intensity, you force teams to do things they don't want to do, and when the intensity is not there, you end up letting them do whatever they want.
"There's no reason why we should lose to a team like Detroit, but then again, when you play the way we did, there's no reason why we should win. We have to find a little more heart and we have to dig down in the fourth quarter."
For the Thunder's sake, he better be right.
Opponent: Buffalo Bandits
Site: Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, N.Y.
Outlook: The Thunder will try to avert an 0-2 start against a Buffalo team that it has never beaten. Baltimore is 0-3 against the two-time defending league-champion Bandits and lost by a combined 17 goals in their first two meetings. Last season, the Thunder took its nemesis to overtime before losing, 19-18. Baltimore's defense, which fell apart in the second half of its 15-8 season-opening loss to the Detroit Turbos, will try and regroup against last season's MILL scoring leader John Tavares. Tavares, a first-team MILL all-pro, averaged 7.3 goals last season with 35 goals and 23 assists. Second-year goalie David Lee, who had 21 saves in the Thunder's opener, must improve. The Bandits went 10-0 last season and led the league in five offensive categories, including goals per game (17.9) and assists (19.1 a game). Buffalo is 1-0 after defeating the Turbos, 17-16, Friday night in Detroit. Baltimore has the most experienced team in the league, with 15 of its players having four or more years of MILL experience. Lindsay Dixon (Towson State), who had two goals and an assist against Detroit, will have to step up offensively for the Thunder.