By Matt Toll, INQUIRER CORRESPONDENT
Just after the conclusion of the Philadelphia Wings’ 17-9 victory over the New York Saints in the Major Indoor Lacrosse League’s American Division title game last night at the Spectrum, the Wings’ Gary Gait was announced as the game MVP.
But the real MVP, however, never stepped on the floor. It was . . . Jeff Waibel of Newtown.
An hour before game time, Gait discovered that his game jersey, No. 22, was missing. The Wings staff scoured the Spectrum stands, searching the 13,380 fans in attendance for someone, anyone, wearing a jersey with Gait’s number.
Eventually, Waibel was located. He had won the shirt – an actual game jersey worn earlier in the season by Gait – in a Wings promotion, and offered it back to its original owner. For the length of the game, anyway.
And Gait – who scored four goals and added four assists – acknowledged what everyone in the victorious locker room already knew. “It had to be the jersey, right?” he said with a wide grin. “I don’t know what happened to mine – I’m not in charge of that stuff. But I’m glad they found something.”
The Wings (8-1) have also found the league championship game for the fourth time in the MILL’s seven-year history. Saturday, Philadelphia will face the defending champion Buffalo Bandits for the title game at 8 p.m. at The Aud in Buffalo.
The Bandits – who beat the Wings here for the MILL championship last year, 11-10, in overtime – are the only team to defeat the Wings this season, a 13-12 win Feb. 27 in Buffalo.
In last night’s game, the Wings put together their best first half of the season, leaping out to a 10-1 lead over New York by halftime. Gait’s twin brother, Paul, who finished with three goals and three assists, had his hat trick early in the second quarter to spur the initial Philadelphia drive.
But as spectacular as any offensive play was the performance of Wings goaltender Dallas Eliuk – like both Gaits, a member of the league’s first-team All-Pro squad.
Eliuk was a wall, stopping 18 of the Saints’ 19 shots and stoning three attempts from point-blank range. He was injured on New York’s very first shot of the second half – struck on the collar bone – and was removed from the game, and backup Dwight Maetche, though initially shaky, held up to maintain the win.
Wings coach Dave Evans – who recently announced his retirement, effective at the end of this season – coached his final home game for Philadelphia, but said any farewell addresses would be held off for one more week.
“I told them, ‘No farewell speeches until next Saturday,’ ” he said. ”We’ve just got to put two halves together next week like we played in the first half tonight.”
The Wings will be going for their third MILL championship, having won consecutive titles in 1989 and 1990.
Reversing the last two outcomes with the Bandits will require more elbow grease, Gary Gait said.
“We’ve just got to go after ground balls, keep hustling, and get physical when we can,” he said. “They’re a bigger team than us, so we’ve just got to work harder.”
That, and make sure Gary Gait has a jersey. Who knows whether Waibel will make the trip to Buffalo.
(Philadelphia Inquirer, April 4, 1993)