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Traveling may stay tough as Spirit faces Blizzard


It's all so different on the road. The food. The hotel. The arena size. The hostile crowd. The general surroundings.

"You wake up in your own bed at home and fix your own meals," Spirit captain Rusty Troy said. "The sights and the arena are familiar. On the road, the drain on you is more mental than physical."

After playing 14 of its first 20 games at Baltimore Arena, the Spirit plays 14 of its last 20 on the road. The second half began with three away games; the third is tonight against the Buffalo Blizzard, where the Spirit is winless in four tries.

Most NPSL teams have had difficulty on the road. The Spirit's 5-3 road record is the best in the league. No other team is above .500.

"We've always been a good road team," Troy said, noting that the team's 9-11 road record last season was third best in the 12-team league.

TH The Spirit took advantage of its first-half schedule, posting a 17-3

record, including 13-1 at home. As a result, it has a four-game lead over the second-place Cleveland Crunch in the American Division.

"We're in great position for the second half," Troy said. "We still look strong, and we're relatively healthy."

Troy has continued to play despite spraining a knee in mid-November. He has aggravated the injury several times since, but hasn't missed a game.

In traveling from Canton, where it lost, 17-16, Wednesday to the Invaders, to Buffalo, the Spirit goes from one of the league's smallest arenas to one of the largest. Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium is also home of the NHL's Sabres.

"It's like playing outdoor soccer indoors," Spirit coach Kenny Cooper said by phone before the four-hour Canton-to-Buffalo bus ride yesterday. "The angles are different. There's more time and space than you think. It becomes a matter of adjustments."

Accordingly, the Spirit will shorten its shifts tonight from two minutes to one. More use will be made of the bench.

"We want to prove we can win in Buffalo's building because we could wind up in the playoffs there." Cooper said.

Cris Vaccaro will be back in goal after Wednesday's respite. Brian Hartlove filled in for him in Canton.


Opponent: Buffalo Blizzard

Site: Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, N.Y.

Time: 7:30


Radio: WWLG (1360 AM), WAMD (970 AM)

Outlook: This game completes the Spirit's four-games-in-eight- nights stretch, including three on the road. The Spirit, coming off its first loss at Canton, on Wednesday, is 0-4 at Buffalo, including 0-2 this season. Baltimore leads the all-time series, 5-4. At 5-3, the Spirit is the only NPSL team above .500 on the road. Second-leading scorer Goran Hunjak missed the Canton game with the flu, but will play tonight. Assistant coach Mike Stankovic has 11 points in three games since being activated. Buffalo's Rudy Pikuzinski is No. 15 in the league with 73 points.

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