No place to hide From boyhood to Thunder, Gombar can't shake Gaits

February 21, 1991|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Evening Sun Staff

When he was growing up in British Columbia, Jeff Gombar was an hour and a half by ferry from Vancouver Island, where Paul and Gary Gait lived. In his teens, he played lacrosse against the twins all the time.

"Everybody knew the Gaits," said Gombar, the Baltimore Thunder's rookie goalie. "They were the ones who looked alike and scored alike."

Nothing has changed. The Gaits still look alike and score alike, which is to say, in abundance.

After leading Syracuse to three straight NCAA championships, the Gaits have joined the Detroit Turbos of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League. Barely halfway through the season, Paul already has set a league single-season record of 30 goals and Gary is No. 2 in the scoring race with 19. No other player has more than 15.

And the Turbos, last a year ago, have the best record in the MILL at 5-1. Talk about franchise players.

For Gombar, 24, another confrontation with his old rivals is at hand. The Thunder will visit the Gaits and the rest of the Turbos Saturday in search of Baltimore's fifth straight victory.

Gombar and the Thunder opened the season against the Gaits, with predictable results. Paul had seven goals and two assists, Gary four and two, as Detroit won, 20-16. Gombar played the first three quarters.

"I knew in the back of my mind what we were getting into, because the Gaits are exceptional players," Gombar said. "I tried to relay that to the team, but I don't think we had a full grasp of what was coming at us, all that firepower.

"We'll be better this time. We have a better defense now and work as a unit. And we've won four straight."

Gombar is coming off a dazzling performance in which he established a league record of 60 saves in the Thunder's 14-10 victory over the New York Saints.

Noting that the Saints took 90 shots, 70 of them on goal, Gombar said, "Late in the game, when we were leading, 13-10, I thought, 'Keep shooting the ball.' I felt so good, so positive, that I didn't think they'd get another goal. I had such trust in our defense."

A student of the game, Gombar had on three or four occasions watched the videotape of the Thunder's win over the Saints the previous week.

Gombar began playing indoor lacrosse in his native Canada at the age of 5 and didn't play much outdoors until he was 17. The coach of the Whittier College team that was touring Vancouver saw Gombar play and urged him to enroll at the Division III California school.

After graduating in 1989, Gombar was in the Canadian work force as a sales rep for a food company within two days, and wasn't particularly happy about it. Some of his friends were traveling to Australia and playing lacrosse.

Last year, Thunder coach John Stewart received a call from a friend, George Kennedy, who told him about a goalie who was the "best in the West" and wanted to play in the MILL. Gombar arrived in November for a tryout with six other candidates and impressed Stewart immediately as "a quality goalie."

Gombar took a leave of absence from his job and started what he calls "a big road trip." He brought his savings, for he couldn't survive on an MILL rookie's pittance of $125 a game.

He also brought his goaltending mask, only to have Brian Kroneberger's screaming practice shot break the welding of the metal face bars early in the season. It also broke Gombar's nose in 10 places -- or was it 20? The doctor wasn't sure.

"I got new bars sent from home that I've had since I was 8 years old," Gombar said.

His eyes black and his nose swollen, Gombar missed only one practice and no games.

More and more, Gombar thinks Baltimore is the place for him. Indeed, he may pursue a master's degree in business at Loyola and "stay here a few years."

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