A mere two games into the Major Indoor Lacrosse League season, Baltimore Thunder coach John Stewart already has unsung hero candidates.
His sentiment is not based so much on this season as the previous three or four. His candidates, Todd Canby and Dan Britton, are veterans.
"Todd was an attackman at UMBC, but he has learned defense as well as anyone in the league," Stewart said. "He's on our defensive line and isn't utilized much on offense, but I do remember one goal he had last year at Philadelphia that stopped a comeback by the Wings."
Britton is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which Stewart, smiling, finds "incongruous for this game." A former Delaware star, Britton is in his third year with the Thunder.
"Britton has the typical attitude of an unselfish player dedicated to the team concept," Stewart said. "He always hustles to the players' box, which gives the guy coming in for him a head start.
"Against New England last year, our goalie saw Britton sprinting to the box. He threw a long pass to [incoming] Pat Welsh, who had a 10-yard head start on his opponent and scored a big goal."
* It will be three weeks between games for the Thunder. Its next one is Jan. 25 (8 p.m.) against the New York Saints at the Baltimore Arena.
Although each team's schedule was trimmed from 10 to eight games this season, the league's total number of games is 33, only one less than last year, because of the addition of a seventh team, the Buffalo Bandits.
* Twins Gary and Paul Gait, the former Syracuse stars who led the Detroit Turbos to the MILL championship last year, are off to a start worthy only of mere mortals.
In Detroit's first game, a victory over the Thunder, they totaled four goals, three by Gary. After two games, the Thunder's Jeff Jackson is the league leader in goals (eight) and total points (11).
* The MILL's new team, the Buffalo Bandits, drew so many people (9,052) for their home opener that the start of the game was delayed five minutes to allow the fans to get in the doors. The walk-up sale was 4,000.
The crowd was knowledgeable, erupting into cheers when two local players, Rich and Darris Kilgour, American Indians from nearby Sanborn, N.Y., raced onto the floor. Darris had four goals and an assist in the 21-17 loss to the New York Saints and Rich had a goal and three assists.
"Buffalo is a strong blue-collar market and isn't oversaturated with pro teams, just the NFL's Bills and the NHL's Sabres," said MILL official Mary Havel.
With indoor lacrosse-crazy Canada and Syracuse and Hobart nearby, Buffalo has a deep talent pool from which to draw.
* Six-year MILL veterans Jim Huelskamp and Rick Sowell are the Thunder's highest paid players at $325 a game. The wage scale (same as last year except for the addition of the sixth rung for the league's sixth year): first year, $125; second, $150; third, $200; fourth, $250; fifth, $300; sixth, $325.
* Thunder goalie Tom Manos has "done a superior job" in the first two games in Stewart's estimation. He has had the bulk of the time in the cage, with rookie from Canada, Steve Dietrich, still feeling his way.
"Steve got rocked when we played Detroit because there were a lot of close-in shots on him," Stewart said. "It's a helluva baptism when you have to face the Gait brothers. In practice, I've seen flashes of what he can do."
Fred Haas, a rookie out of Loyola College, has been effective on faceoffs. "He won 15 of 18 against Detroit, which is tremendous," Stewart said, "That translates into possessions and then shots."