February 6, 2008

Feb. 6, 2008

by Tom Borrelli, Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Tony Resch played in the first box lacrosse game he'd ever seen.

That was back in 1988, for his hometown Philadelphia Wings. He didn't realize it at the time, but it was the start of something great. Six championships later, his indoor odyssey will culminate with his induction into the National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame.

"What's that quote from Groucho Marx? `I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members,'" said the 45-year-old Resch. "Well for me, it's truly an honor. To be recognized alongside those types of guys, some of the truly great names in the sport, it's a little bit overwhelming to me.

"I started in that league right after college with no clue of what I was getting into. Then to reach this point is just an incredible feeling."

Resch, former star goaltender Sal LoCascio, San Jose Stealth President and General Manager Johnny Mouradian and Canadian Press reporter Neil Stevens make up the NLL's third class of Hall of Famers. Their induction ceremony is set for Feb. 28 at Union League, in Resch's hometown of Philadelphia.

"That just adds another layer of excitement for me," said Resch, who is the athletic director and an assistant lacrosse coach at LaSalle College High School in the northwest Philadelphia suburb of Wyndmoor.

Resch had just completed an All-American career as a defenseman at Yale when he joined the Wings and began playing in front of raucous crowds at the Spectrum, in what was then known as the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League.

"Any time you tell a long pole he can carry a short stick and run around, it's like play time," said Resch, whose playing career as a defensive specialist spanned six seasons, including three as team captain. He played for the Wings' first two championship squads in 1989 and '90.

After back-to-back losses to the Buffalo Bandits in the championship game in '92 and '93, Resch took over for Dave Evans as head coach and led the Wings to consecutive titles in '94 and '95. Earning the respect of his players, his locker room buddies just months before, never was a problem.

"No doubt the championships as a player were a little bit more special," said Resch, who was also a member of Team USA's gold-medal winning field lacrosse squad in 1990. "You really bond with the guys when you're out there bleeding, sweating and working. It's a different thing and nothing really ever replaces the battling.

"I was a teammate one year and coaching them the next. It could have been a really tough situation for me, but it worked out. We preached hard work and commitment and I hoped that at some level, that's what I'd done as a player. I was also lucky that I had some great guys in the locker room."

Each of the championships the Resch-coached Wings captured was unique.

In 1994, Gary and Paul Gait won a title in their final season as Philadelphia teammates. Paul Gait had eight goals and three assists in a 26-15 championship game victory at Buffalo, as Philly finally exorcised its Buffalo demons.

In 1995, Paul Gait had moved on to the expansion Rochester Knighthawks. But it was Gary Gait who scored the winning goal in overtime, putting the finishing touches on a six-goal, one-assist performance, in a 15-14 win over the Knighthawks at the Spectrum.

The 1998 championship was special, because it was the only time the league staged a best-of-three championship series. The Wings dominated the Baltimore Thunder, winning by scores of 16-12 and 17-12 behind goalie Dallas Eliuk, who was named the series' most valuable player.

Resch's swan song came in 2001, when the Wings entered Toronto's Air Canada Center as decided underdogs and emerged with a 9-8 victory over the Toronto Rock. The face of the team had changed, with young stars like Jake Bergey taking the torch.

"That's probably the one I'm the most proud of," said Resch, who compiled a 59-27 (68.6 percent) regular season record and 10-4 (71.4 percent) postseason mark in eight seasons as head coach. "I really don't think anyone gave us a chance in that game. Like the [Super Bowl XLII champion New York] Giants, a certain set of things had to happen for us to succeed and everything sort of fell into place."

Just two years earlier, the Wings had been embarrassed, 13-2, by the Rock in a semifinal game in Toronto. Philly's output that day remains the lowest for a single game in the league's 22-year history.

"I couldn't go out on that note," Resch said. "I remember coming back from that game and telling people that I liked what we had and that we'd be back. Whatever I had seen proved accurate and after we won it [in 2001], that was the right time to get out."

Resch had just taken over as athletic director at LaSalle following 10 years as a high school classroom teacher. He felt he could no longer give the rigorous demands of an NLL season the proper attention.

"I was a little bit worn out," he admits. "I miss it now. I coach outdoor [Resch has coached the Barrage to back-to-back championships in Major League Lacrosse], but it's kind of a different vibe.

"You don't come across anything like the intensity of the indoor game, the immediacy. I miss the games but I don't miss all the extra preparation time."

This spring, Resch may get a chance to coach his son Patrick, a sophomore midfielder who played junior varsity ball last season.

"He has a good chance to make the team," Resch said. "I coached him in youth ball, but this would be a whole new thing for me."

Kind of like that first game in a new league, some 21 years ago.

That didn't turn out too bad for him or the fans in his beloved Philadelphia.

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