More than one sage snickered over Wichita coach Roy Turner's decision to stand pat with a team that went 21-31 a year ago, "because I can't believe we're that bad."
Turner kept a dirty dozen, prepared to make them prove their worth. Nearly halfway through the season, no one is laughing.
The Wings are 11-5 and a game ahead of everyone in the MSL. They also possess the best road record, 4-2, as they begin a string that sees them traveling for eight of their next 10 games.
"We're a franchise that has never lived up to the billing of its players," said Wichita forward Dale Ervine, whose 26 goals ties him with Tatu for the league lead. "We've always had name players, but we've never made it to the championship series."
L For the first time in Wings memory, Wichita has a contender.
"Two of the guys we've added, Kim Roentved and Dan Donigan, have made a difference," said Ervine. "They brought us a work ethic that might have been missing . . . We've discovered if we don't work hard, we're very average."
Ervine, obviously, is one of his team's hardest workers. "My only goal has been to be as consistent as I can," said the six-year veteran, who is the only player on any team this season to score in every game. "Everyone finally understands that individuals will get their own recognition if the team comes first and the team wins."
And that's no laughing matter.
* HARMONY LOST: The chemistry so prevalent in Wichita is missing in St. Louis, according to Storm coach Don Popovic.
"Blame me as much as anyone else," said Popovic, after his 6-10 team slipped into last place. "You don't know until you get everyone together whether it will work and right now, we've definitely got a problem."
Popovic said part of his problem is motivation.
"How do you motivate when everyone knows he is going to play?" he said.
* BLAST BUSINESS: Blast owner Ed Hale said he is pleased with the response last night at "The Blast means Business" reception for the corporate community. A number of businesses signed up for season tickets prior to the gathering, while others promised to discuss the matter further.
Some 107 season tickets were sold, with Gov. William Donald Schaefer buying the first two.
* THE ZUNGUL QUESTION: MSL commissioner Earl Foreman said he agrees the league needs to do something to honor the achievements of the MSL's all-time greatest player Steve Zungul, who has been retired for the past two seasons.
"We should have done something before now," said Foreman. "But just what, I'm not sure. I haven't thought about it for a while, but I will give it some thought. Whatever we do, I want it to be right and worthwhile. I don't want it to be a throw-away."
San Diego coach Ron Newman suggested the league should name its goal scoring award for Zungul, who notched 652 goals and 1,123 points.
* STAT CHANGE: After a review of Saturday's Blast vs. St. Louis game film, an official scoring change has been made. The Blast's sixth goal, originally credited to Billy Ronson, off a fine assist from Jean Harbor, is now credited to Blast defender Mark Mettrick, whose foot touched the ball on its way to the net. Result: Mettrick goal, Ronson assist, Harbor a pat on the back for setting up the play.
* A MITCHELL MOMENT: Tacoma forward Dale Mitchell earned MSL Offensive Player of the Week with seven goals and one assist in two games. Five of those goals came Saturday in the Stars' 10-8 victory over Dallas. Mitchell now has 24 goals, 13 assists for 37 points, fifth-best in the league.
* THE MIGHTY QUINN: Nearly everyone who follows the MSL knows San Diego midfielder Brian Quinn to be the best in the game. But glory doesn't often fall on midfielders, who do a lot of leg work and a lot of dirty work.
Through his eight years with the Sockers, Quinn has his share of trips to the All-Star Game, but only one Offensive Player of the Week award. Yesterday, he earned his first Defender of the Week award, making he and his current teammate, former Blast star Tim Wittman, the only two MSL players ever to win the weekly award as both offensive and defensive players.
Quinn got the nod this week after being named both the offensive and defensive star of the game in Friday's 6-5 victory over Dallas. Saturday, he quarterbacked San Diego's penalty-killing squad, which stymied four power-play attempts in 9-4 Tacoma loss.
* LOYOLA COLLEGE POWER: A survey of players reveals 42 colleges and/or universities are represented in the MSL and that Baltimore's Loyola is tied with North Carolina State and St. Louis University for the most players. Each has three. From Loyola: Joe Koziol and Doug Miller with the Blast and Scott Geraghty, a developmental player with San Diego.
* MSL-LANIA: Cleveland's Zoran Karic (21 goals, 22 assists) has been named the MSL's Player of the Month of December. Dallas goalkeeper Joe Papaleo (10-5, 5.28 GAA) is the defensive player of the month, having won four straight to wrap up a 5-1 December . . . . The Blast's Rod Castro has eight goals, 14 assists in the last 13 games.
San Diego, which plays 13 of its last 23 games at home, is 21-1 lifetime against Dallas in the San Diego Arena, but 11-10 at Reunion Arena in Dallas.