To Rick Sowell, the Thunder vs. the Detroit Turbos is much like Duke against Nevada-Las Vegas.
Everyone within sound of Billy Packer's voice knows what happened to mighty UNLV when it ran into Duke. Sowell is hoping for a similar result when the Thunder meets the Turbos for the Major Indoor Lacrosse League championship tomorrow (8 p.m.) at the Baltimore Arena.
The Thunder has lost twice to Detroit this year, 20-16 and 22-14, but by no means are the Turbos invincible. The New York Saints beat them twice this winter.
"That lessened the awe," said Sowell, who's in his third year with the Thunder. "So the Turbos are beatable, just like UNLV. New York beat them to the ground balls and didn't allow them to run the floor.
"That's how it starts -- once they get a ground ball, their fastbreak is in full gear. We've got to slow that. They killed us in both games with it."
To be precise, Paul and Gary Gait killed the Thunder with it. In the process of finishing one-two in the MILL goals race, they scored 19 goals in two games against Baltimore.
"What sets them apart is their combination of size, speed and stick skills," said Sowell, alluding to the 6-foot-2, 200-pound twins who came to the Turbos after performing wondrous feats for Syracuse. "We have guys that fast, but not as big. If guys are as big, like Pat Welsh and Vince Angotti, their sticks may not be as good."
Sowell points out that the Thunder can't depend solely on goalie Jeff Gombar, simply because he played against them when he was a teen-ager in Canada and knows their tendencies.
"Let's hope it's not just Gombar against the Gaits," Sowell said. "If so, Jeff is going to lose. The way to stop the Gaits is with everybody on the floor. We can't allow that fastbreak, or it's over."
The Turbos' approach to the game is similar to the Thunder's as expressed by Sowell.
"We've got to go out and do it -- hustle, get the ground balls and faceoffs, have a lot of movement," Gary Gait said. "That's been our basic plan all year."
It's a plan almost without flaw. The Turbos have pumped in a league-record 184 goals (79 by the Gaits), 28 more than the Thunder, the MILL's second-highest scoring team.
Some of the Thunder's players are held together with tape and baling wire. Pat Welsh has a hernia, but the doctor says he can't further injure himself, so he'll play with a truss.
He'll have surgery after the season, as will John Nostrant (thumb), Jim Huelskamp (torn knee ligaments) and Tim Welsh (fragments in left elbow). All are souvenirs from playing lacrosse indoors.
Gary Gait, for one, has no complaints about the rougher indoor game: "I grew up in it, so I'm used to the hitting. I like it the way it is. I enjoy lacrosse outdoors. It's more a gentlemen's sport, although we did have some fights at Syracuse."
* After they get their degrees from Syracuse later this year, the Gaits may settle in Baltimore. They have an endorsement contract with STX Inc., a Maryland-based lacrosse equipment manufacturer. Gary: "We're leaning toward Baltimore. We have a lot of friends there. New York and Detroit also are possibilities, but Baltimore is a nice area and we like the climate."
* Players on the winning team tomorrow night will receive $300 in addition to their regular per-game pay ($125 to $300, depending on years in the league); each losing player will get $100.
* The MILL will stage not one all-star game but two. The first is April 20 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. The second is May 4 at New York's Madison Square Garden, the first indoor lacrosse game ever held in that arena.