Stankovic is trying to distill young brew into vintage Spirit Inexperience, close games are part of growing pains

December 13, 1997|By Phil Jackman | Phil Jackman,SUN STAFF

In some jobs, a new coach or manager merely has to show up, fill out a lineup card and make sure everyone's on the bus, train or plane before it takes off.

Some assignments are a little tougher. Like assessing talent, putting the parts together correctly and otherwise making sure things run smoothly.

A couple of seasons ago, when he moved behind the Spirit

bench, Mike Stankovic knew exactly what had to be done. "We had a lot of veteran players, guys who could pick up a system quickly," he recalled.

The result was a 12-4 turnaround from an 11-13 record and the team's best showing in the playoffs, reaching the division final.

Then there is the toughest coaching job, the one facing Stankovic and, indirectly, the Spirit's front office now.

After two games last weekend and heading into a home game against Cincinnati tonight, the Spirit is riding a four-game losing streak. It's the second time the team has lost four in a row, and the season's just 12 games old. The club is 2-4 at home -- where it has always won -- and 0-6 on the road.

Included among the 10 setbacks are three overtime losses, a couple of blown leads in the late going and at least two other games that were winnable. So the situation isn't as bad as it might appear.

"To expect us to win half our games in our present state might be stretching it a bit," Stankovic said.

The Spirit has dropped four players from its opening-game roster. Additions Alek Milenovic and Renato Sampaio are already helping the offense, but the defense, somewhat improved, has been inconsistent, as has the goaltending.

"All the new guys [Sampaio, Milenovic and defender Wendell Regis] have done well. That was to be expected because they have some experience," Stankovic said.

"I have no complaint with the guys. The attitude and the effort has been there all along. If someone doesn't do well, though, you can't wait; you have to look at new people and see if they can do better.

"I don't think anyone's surprised we're struggling, not if they're aware of the situation. It's still a case of too many young guys with too little experience."

Spirit tonight

Opponent: Cincinnati Silverbacks

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 7:35

Radio: WCBM (680 AM)

Outlook: The Spirit will be without leading scorer Bo Vuckovic (sprained ankle), who could be lost for as long as 10 days. One of the two Spirit victories to date was against the Silverbacks, 17-14, here a month ago. Cincinnati (4-6) is winless in five road games and is coming off losses to Wichita (19-10) and St. Louis (16-8) last weekend.

Pub Date: 12/13/97

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