Last season: 8-4, Lost to Philadelphia in championship series.
Coach: John Tucker, third year.
Players to watch: Gary Gait, F; Tim Hormes, F; Matt Shearer, F; David Evans, F; John Fay, F; Kip Fulks, F; Joe Hiltz, F; Paul Cantabene, F; Chris Sanderson, G.
Outlook: The Thunder made one of the most remarkable turnarounds in indoor lacrosse history in '98, going from a last-place finish in '97 to league runner-up last season. Gait, the 1998 NLL MVP, headlines last year's highest-scoring team in the league that is aiming for its second league title, but first since the now-defunct Major Indoor Lacrosse League's inaugural season in 1987.
Last season: 6-6, Lost to Philadelphia in semifinals.
Coach: Les Wakeling, second year.
Players to watch: John Tavares, F; Darris Kilgour, F; Chris Panos, F; Marty O'Neill, G.
Outlook: The three-time league-champion Bandits took a step backward last year, but return the reliable combination of Kilgour, the NLL's second-leading scorer, and Tavares, who scored 31 goals in nine games.
Thunder coach John Tucker's comment: "A team with a lot of quickness and style that is fast in transition. They won't have a problem scoring. Their trouble is on the defensive end."
New York Saints
Last season: 5-7, sixth in seven-team NLL.
Coach: Scott Huff, first year.
Players to watch: Mark Millon, F; Sal LoCascio, G; Randy Fraser, F; Darren Lowe, F.
Outlook: The Saints rest their championship hopes on Millon (NLL's second-leading goal scorer with 40) and LoCascio, who combined to lead the United States to this summer's field lacrosse world championship. However, the 1997 league semifinalists didn't make the playoffs last season and haven't advanced to the championship game in nearly a decade.
Tucker's comment: "They're very similar to us: being athletic and pressuring the ball. They really run the floor and have an excellent goalkeeper in LoCascio."
Last season: 9-3, NLL champion.
Coach: Tony Resch, fifth year.
Players to watch: Tom Marechek, F; Kevin Finneran, F; Dallas Eliuk, G; Matt Ogelsby, F.
Outlook: The Wings cruised to their fifth indoor title last year, winning three playoff games by an average of five goals. They lost an experienced group in Scott Gabrielsen, Peter Jacobs, Steve Govett and Bill Miller to retirement, and will try to find similar chemistry with the additions of Jamie Hanford (Loyola College) and local products Dan and Sean Radebaugh.
Tucker's comment: "They've always based their success on defense, and this year probably won't be any different. It all revolves around their goalkeeper, Eliuk."
Last season: 6-6, Lost to Thunder in semifinals.
Coach: Paul Day, second year.
Players to watch: Casey Powell, F; Cory Bomberry, F; Duane Jacobs, F; Tom Carmean, F; Steve Dietrich, G.
Outlook: The Knighthawks can attack in waves with such veterans as Bomberry, Jacobs and Carmean, yet won't be at full strength until they suit up Powell, Syracuse's two-time NCAA Division I Player of the Year who is in a contract dispute.
Tucker's comment: "They're very slick offensively, especially in secondary transitions. They're great around the net."
Last season: 2-10, last in NLL.
Associate coaches: Freeman Bucktooth, Patrick Donahue, Steve Scaramuzzino.
Players to watch: Paul Gait, F; Chris Prat, F; Derek Collins, G.
Outlook: Gait lost more games with the Smash (10) last season than he did in his entire four-year Syracuse University career (5). The expansion Smash had a rough initiation, scoring an NLL-low 8.1 goals per game while allowing a league-high 21.9 goals per game.
Tucker's comment: "I'm sure they're an improved team. Once again, they're going to be as good as Paul Gait is."
Last season: 6-6, fifth in NLL.
Coach: Les Bartley, second year.
Players to watch: Jim Veltman, F; Colin Doyle, F; Chris Gill, F.
Outlook: The transplanted Ontario Raiders just fell short of the playoffs last year in their first season. A club that had 15 rookies on its roster last year continues to gain experience behind All-Pro Veltman.
Tucker's comment: "They were probably the best team at the end of last year. They're solid up and down their roster and play better defense than your average Canadian team."
Pub Date: 1/01/99