John Tucker selected his words carefully when asked what impact, if any, he can make as the first-year coach of the Thunder.
"I hope this doesn't come off sounding arrogant," said Tucker, a three-time All-American at Johns Hopkins. "But I truly believe that I have the ability to get this team over the hump and win it. 'D Whatever level I've been at, as both a player and coach, I've won and I'm ready to show what I can do at this level.
"This level" is the Major Indoor Lacrosse League and what Tucker is trying to win is a league championship, which has eluded the Thunder since the MILL's inaugural season in 1987. Tucker, a seven-time All-Pro and two-time league MVP, will make his professional coaching debut tonight when the Thunder plays host to the Boston Blazers at Baltimore Arena.
If the Thunder does win more games than it loses during its 10-game regular-season schedule, it will be Baltimore's first winning season since 1991 and only second ever.
For that to happen, the Thunder will need balanced scoring from veterans Paul Cantabene, Brian Kroneberger, Bob Martino, Dan Radebaugh, Rob Shek and Jeff Wills.
Additional offensive input may come from newcomers Ryan Wade, a Severn School graduate who spent his first season in the league playing for the expansion/now-defunct Charlotte Cobras, and John Conley, a Fallston native who played with Tucker in Philadelphia before sitting out the last two indoor seasons.
"Physically, we haven't had a problem in the past, but mentally we've been playing like field players," said Wills. "We have to drop the outdoor mentality, where you run one-on-one and set picks. The indoor league is more opportunistic. Everything happens so quickly, you have to take advantage of the loose balls and unsettled situations, and we haven't."
MILL at a glance
Arena: Baltimore Arena (11,014)
Last season: 4-6; fifth place in league.
Coach: John Tucker; first year, takes over for Skip Lichtfuss, who led the Thunder to an 8-18 record in three seasons.
Key players: Dan Radebaugh, F; J. J. Pearl, GK; Ryan Wade, F; Rob Shek, A; Brian Kroneberger, F; Bob Martino, A.
Outlook: The Thunder has the personnel to score goals but will have to do something about last year's second-to-worst goals-against average of 16.3 if it is to earn one of the four playoff spots. Tucker is a proven winner who will get the most out of his players, but whether that's enough is still in question.
Arena: FleetCenter, Boston (17,265)
Last season: 6-5; tied for third place.
Coach: Ron Fraser; ninth year, 31-43.
Key players: Tom Carmean, A; Charlie Blanchard, F; Tom Ryan, F; Marty O'Neill, GK; Tony Millon, A.
Outlook: Carmean can score goals and O'Neill can deny them. Boston's defense was first in the league last season in goals allowed, yielding just 11.3 a game.
Arena: Marine Midland Arena, Buffalo, N.Y. (18,500)
Last season: 10-2; captured their second MILL championship in four years, beating Philadelphia, 15-10, in league title game.
Coach: Les Bartley; fifth year, 30-11 record, two MILL championships.
Key players: John Tavares, A; Darris Kilgour, F; Troy Cordingley, A; Pat O'Toole, GK.
Outlook: Tavares, the MILL's MVP in 1994, will try to help the Bandits repeat as league champions. The Bandits led the MILL in nearly every statistical category -- good and bad -- last season, including goals (172) assists (233) points (405) and penalty minutes (293).
New York Saints
Arena: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y. (16,259)
Last season: 3-7; sixth place.
Coach: Vinnie Pfeifer; second year, 3-7 record.
Key players: Sal LoCascio, GK; Vinnie Sombrotto, F; Mark Millon, F; Eric Seremet, C; Brian O'Keefe, A.
Outlook: The Saints' lineup was bolstered by the arrival of Millon via the Thunder, and LoCascio's presence in goal gives New York a solid last line of defense.
Arena: CoreStates Center, Philadelphia (19,000)
Last season: 9-3; second place.
Coach: Tony Resch; third year, 18-4 record, one MILL championship.
Key players: Gary Gait, F; Dallas Eliuk, GK; Tom Marechek, F; Kevin Finneran, A; Scott Gabrielsen, C.
Outlook: The Wings not only have one of the most potent attacks in the league with Gary Gait, Marechek and Finneran, but one of the league's top goalkeepers in Eliuk.
Arena: War Memorial, Rochester, N.Y. (9,500)
Last season: 6-5; tied for third place place.
Coach: Barry Powless; third year, 11-10 record.
Key players: Paul Gait, F; Chris Driscoll, A; Duane Jacobs, A; Steve Dietrich, GK.
Outlook: With Paul Gait, the MILL's second-leading all-time scorer (285 points) in their lineup, the Knighthawks are poised to return to the postseason for the third straight year.
Opponent: Boston Blazers
Site: Baltimore Arena
Radio: WJFK (1300 AM)
Outlook: Baltimore has two capable goalies in veteran J. J. Pearl and newcomer Derek Collins, a Canadian who tended goal for Rochester last season. One or both will be tested by Boston attackman Tom Carmean, the MILL's fifth all-time leading scorer.
Note: Tickets for the Thunder's five home games are available at the Baltimore Arena box office and all Ticketmaster locations or by calling (410) 481-SEAT.
Pub Date: 1/04/97