If Blast goalkeeper Scott Manning seemed less than himself of late, he had reason.
About a month ago, Manning learned his wife, Kathy, would have to have surgery to remove a possibly cancerous tumor.
It was about that time the Blast's veteran keeper was removed at halftime from a Feb. 28 game against Dallas. Before last night's start against St. Louis, he had played in only two of the six games since.
"We were fortunate, in a way, because it didn't turn out to be a full-blown cancerous situation," Manning said yesterday afternoon. "If she had waited, it would have turned into cancer. Thursday she had an operation to remove the tumor and it went well. The thing is, you can never tell. The doctor said he thinks he got most of what it is, but he also said we have to be watchful, that it can come back."
Yesterday, coach Kenny Cooper asked Manning if he felt he could play. Manning told him he'd like to try.
"I told him I didn't know if I could go in and concentrate and give 100 percent," Manning said. "It's not like a light switch you turn on and it burns bright. It's something you try to build up to. I think I took a decent step toward concentrating.
"But the bottom line is we've got to win games, and we didn't do that."
Manning took the 6-5 loss. But he made 15 saves on 30 shots. He made one of those saves taking a shot full in the face, but he got back up and played on.
When St. Louis forward Thompson Usiyan scored the game-winner with 32 seconds to play, Manning had the ball in his sights, only to see it deflected slightly just beyond his outstretched arms.
"I feel bad about the Blast, because I haven't been helping," Manning said. "But the Blast hasn't been the most important thing in my life lately. We're not talking about peripheral things. We're talking about Kathy, about where I get my strength, my desire, my will to play. You're talking about a combination of me. When that gets shaken, there is nothing you can do. I hope no one goes through this, but it's life."
* CRUNCH, CRUNCH, CRUNCH: Cleveland did the Blast a favor yesterday, when Michael King scored four goals and Hector Marinaro added three goals and two assists to lead the Crunch to a 10-8 victory over the Wichita Wings.
The game was played before a season-high 10,012 at the Richfield Coliseum.
The Eastern Division-leading Crunch continued its hot pace, extending its winning streak to five with its 15th win in 16 games.
The Wings' loss also allowed the Blast to maintain its 1 1/2 -game lead over Wichita for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Division.
Cleveland's Zoran Karic scored his team-leading 68th goal. He and Marinaro each have more than 100 points this season, marking only the second time in league history one team has had two 100-point scorers.
San Diego's Branko Segota and Steve Zungul were the first two players to accomplish the feat in the 1984-85 season.
* DALLAS FIRST: But the Sidekicks are anything but happy about it. When Dallas lost back-to-back games to the San Diego Sockers this weekend, it because the first MSL team to finish out of the playoffs the year after winning a division title.
Playoff teams in the West: San Diego, St. Louis and Tacoma. Playoff dates are expected to be released late today or tomorrow.
* COMETS SOAR: Jan Goossens had two goals and three assists, leading Kansas City to a 6-3 victory over the Tacoma Stars yesterday.
The game was tied at 1, until the Comets scored five goals in the third period, as Tacoma set an MSL record for most penalties and minutes in one quarter with five penalties and 10 minutes.
* TATU NO. 1: It's all but official, Dallas' Tatu should wind up as the MSL's regular-season point scoring champion. Cleveland's Karic scored five goals in a 10-2 victory over Tacoma Friday, and added another yesterday to bring his point total to 110, but that's still 19 points behind Tatu's 129.
Tatu also has the inside track for the pass-master award that goes to the No. 1 assist maker. He has 57 to Kansas City's Goossens' 49.
* MSL WINS: The U.S. National Indoor team took on MSL teams in St. Louis and Cleveland last week, and lost both games. The Steamers beat the U.S. team, 4-1, and Kai's All-Stars held on, 9-8.