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Pittsburgh Crossefire Preview
By Rich Emert

There is a team coming to Pittsburgh for those who think the Penguins do not shoot the puck enough and the Steelers were not aggressive enough.

The Pittsburgh Crossefire of the National Lacrosse League opens its season 7:30 p.m. Saturday against the New York Saints at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y. Formerly the Baltimore Thunder, the Crossefire will play six games at the Mellon (formerly Civic) Arena in their initial season here. The first home game is 7:30 p.m. Jan. 22 against Philadelphia.

For those not familiar with indoor lacrosse, the rules are simple. Each team has a goalie and five field players. There is four 15-minute quarters and each team gets two 45-second timeouts a half. There is a 30-second shot clock, so the action is fast paced. The field is a hockey rink covered with an artificial turf-playing surface. The boards around the field are a minimum of height of 3 feet.

There are personal foul and major personal foul penalties. Players called for fouls spend time in the penalty box just like in hockey, and can be ejected from a game for a number of reasons such as being the third man in on a fight. Regular lacrosse sticks are used and crosschecking is allowed. That means there is plenty of contact.

"The indoor game is rougher than the outdoor game," Crossefire forward Jesse Hubbard, last year's NLL Rookie if the Year, said. "There are a lot more bone-crushing blows where guys are leveling each other. It's kind of like hockey used to be before they cleaned it up.

"There are usually a couple of fights where gloves get dropped. It's just part of the sport. I've been at hockey games in Detroit and I'm waiting for fights. My friends said, `They don't fight anymore. They cleaned the league up.' I'm not promising any fight, but they're going to happen."

What the Crossefire players promise is entertainment. The sport is exciting because of the shot clock. In outdoor lacrosse, a team can possess the ball for long periods of time by playing keep away on the large field. Indoors, that can't happen because of the size of the field and the clock.

"You can't run away and you can't stall," forward Kip Fulks said. "The product we bring is excitement. You'll know when we step out on the floor that we like what we are doing. We're going to be bouncing off the boards. We're going to be hitting people. We're going to be fighting. We're going to be scoring goals. It's fun to watch.

"I have a grandmother who had never, ever seen lacrosse in her life. She came to one game and the next thing she's there all the time, wearing a jersey and pompon."

Scoring goals should not be a problem. Last year, the Baltimore Thunder was the highest scoring team in the NLL. That was due, in part, to the play of forward Gary Gait. He was the league MVP for the fifth consecutive year in 1999 with 50 goals and 32 assists.

Gait is one of the premier lacrosse players in the world. A native of Victoria, British Columbia, he and his twin brother Paul were three-time first-team NCAA All-America selections at Syracuse University. They led Syracuse to three NCAA titles from 1988-90.

"If you're a fan of football and hockey, we're a nice mix," Gait said. "The game is really up and down. We're taking shots all the time, and we have a lot of guys who are very skilled. There will be a lot of trick shots and passes."

"The way we push the ball and force the issue, two things happen," Hubbard said. "Either we score, or we miss and the other team is going the other way with a man advantage. It a sport where is you're up four or five goals it doesn't mean anything. The goalies wear a lot of pads for a reason. They get peppered."

Gait hopes the addition of the Crossefire will spark interest in lacrosse in western Pennsylvania. He plans to be involved in the community and conduct clinics during the season.

"We're a young league and what's nice is the players are still regular guys. They have other jobs. It's like pro football or pro hockey used to be," he said. "Hopefully, future players will get a chance to be big-time pros. But we're just guys who love the sport and want to see it grow."