If the Baltimore Thunder is going to reach the Major Indoor Lacrosse League championship game again, it will have to be without star goalie Jeff Gombar.
Only a few weeks before its opener against the Boston Blazers Dec. 27 at the Baltimore Arena, the Thunder learned that Gombar will not return from British Columbia for another season.
Gombar wanted to enroll in a master's degree program in business at an area college and obtain what he called a "meaningful" job here for the indoor lacrosse season, but was unable to do either.
Scrambling, Thunder general manager Darrell Russell and coach John Stewart have recruited another goalie from Canada, Steve Dietrick of Toronto. Dietrick, 21, who played for Canada's junior league championship team, joins four-year veteran Tom Manos (Towson State) and rookie Charlie Toomey (Loyola) on the Thunder roster.
"We wanted to get a goalie with a lot of indoor experience," Russell said, acknowledging that Canada is the only place to find such a player.
Aside from Gombar, the Thunder's key losses are John Nostrant, who moved to Philadelphia and is now playing there with the Wings; John Heil, who moved to New York, and onto the Saints' roster; and faceoff specialist Bart Aldridge, who retired. The Thunder got Todd Curry from the Wings as compensation for the loss of Nostrant.
In addition to Toomey, the Thunder rookies are Tom Johnson and Sean Smith, also formerly of Loyola; Tony Millon (Towson State) and Tony Morgan (Cornell).
The MILL has grown from six to seven teams with the addition of the Buffalo Bandits. However, the Thunder's schedule has been trimmed from 10 to eight games.
"That's because of arena availability," Russell said. "The league wants to play only on prime dates, and there are a limited number of those. If games were played on a Tuesday or Thursday, they probably wouldn't draw and the league would lose money."
The Thunder won the MILL's American Division last season and bowed to the Detroit Turbos, 14-12, in the championship game.
"Five more minutes and two more goals," Russell mused. "That's what we're about this season -- trying to make up for that."
The Thunder will play the Turbos, still featuring Gary and Paul Gait, in an exhibition game Saturday in Chicago. The MILL regards the game as a test market for possible future expansion.