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News - Thrashing it out

Coach Curt Fraser is skating around in a frenzy and swearing up a storm, assistant coach George Kingston is banging his stick against the boards and, somewhere, Norm Maracle is eating. The start of the NHL season is three weeks away and the Thrashers are working hard to be unrecognizable as the team that scraped only 14 wins out of an injury- and mediocrity-marred inaugural season. This year, things will be different no matter the record because, of the players who were introduced to the city as Thrashers a year ago, you can expect to see only 12 make the opening-night roster in 2000.

Patience? Out the window. In the front office and on the ice, it's no more Mr. Nice Guy for Fraser or general manager Don Waddell.

Exhibit A: Maracle, the gobbling goaltender. Waddell chose him in the expansion draft with high expectations. Maracle was a back-up in Detroit, where Waddell had been an assistant GM. So it isn't as though Waddell was taking a flying leap on this one.

But Maracle had a bad season, for several reasons. As a Red Wings reserve, he was a spot contributor, which suited him; not much was expected of a youngster on a Stanley Cup team. But when Damian Rhodes, the Thrashers' No. 1 goalie, missed most of the season with a badly sprained ankle, Maracle was forced to play more than anyone expected. And more than he was capable of playing, as poorly conditioned as he was.

That lack of conditioning is the why Maracle finds himself reassigned to Orlando, and why he will not be protected in the waiver draft Sept. 27.

It was something of a joke last season when strength and conditioning coach Chris Reichart paid a visit to Maracle's place to check out the contents of his refrigerator, then attempted to introduce the doughy goaltender to the produce section of the supermarket. But no one was laughing when Maracle came to training camp this year 12 pounds overweight.

Lack of experience is one thing. Lack of skill can be augmented by heart and resolve. But lack of motivation and commitment will not do. This year, players will perform or they will be gone.

The Thrashers will be shuttling players in and out with a vengeance, trying to find not only the best available, but also those who fit together best. They want a group to grow collectively, like the Braves of the '90s. To get it, they're going to be ruthless.

So don't buy anybody's replica sweater just yet; your favorite player may not be with the team come December. Or even next week.




font face="arial, helvetica, sans-serif" size="+1">Hot shots
"I was a little more Indiana-ish." — Tech coach George O'Leary on how his press-conference tone of voice differed from the one he used to address the team after its loss to Florida State.

"I want to coach in the worst way." — And he did. Which is why Bob Knight is Indiana's former basketball coach.

Three — Number of Falcons it takes to replace Tim Dwight, out following an emergency appendectomy: Darrick Vaughn to return kicks, Winslow Oliver to return punts, Eugene Baker to play receiver.

"I don't know what's going on, man." — Andres Galarraga, after striking out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth last week. Again.

The Dawgs didn't lose. — They didn't play.

Fantasy league — Who would you rather have coaching your team: Bob Knight or Woody Hayes? (In other words, would you rather be choked or punched?) u





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