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ROLLER HOCKEY : Battered Bullfrogs Set for Playoffs


INGLEWOOD — Brian Frank was looking for a good second job, a respite from his position as a certified athletic trainer at Anaheim Memorial Hospital, when he came upon the Bullfrogs last spring.

It turned out to be a good thing for Frank that he was hired to be the roller hockey team's trainer. Shortly after he started, he was terminated at the hospital because of corporate cutbacks.

Frank has become the focal point of the Bullfrogs' season. Just how successful he is in healing the banged-up, battered and badly bruised Bullfrogs will more than likely decide the outcome of their first-round Roller Hockey International series against the Blades, which begins at 6 tonight at the Forum.

The home-and-home series concludes with a 7:30 p.m. game Wednesday at The Pond of Anaheim.

The heavily-favored Bullfrogs, winners of the Pacific Division, secured the top seeding throughout the playoffs by winning a league-record 19 games. They won all four regular-season games against the Blades. But the Bullfrogs limp into tonight's contest with a two-game losing streak; the resurgent Blades have lost only twice in their last six games. The Blades even defeated Northwest Division champion Vancouver, 7-4, Friday night. Vancouver defeated the Bullfrogs, 10-5, at home July 18.

The sudden misfortunes of the Bullfrogs can be blamed on a lengthy injury list. It reads something like a medical journal from Frank's old job in the hospital.

"I think most of the guys are coming around and will be able to play soon," Frank said. "But for a while last week I was stressing out a lot, what with the playoffs coming up."

Some of the most recent ailments are the result of the flu, but many of the injuries can be attributed to the Bullfrogs' fast start. As they ran way from the pack with their 12-0-1 start, some of the Bullfrogs' opponents took it upon themselves to slow down the team anyway they could. On any given night the Bullfrogs were checked harder and more often than usual.

Bullfrog Coach Grant Sonier, himself a believer in physical hockey, has become increasingly critical of the overabundance of checking that the Bullfrogs are receiving, particularly because his lineup has been thinned to the bone. Before the start of the Bullfrogs' 6-4 victory over the Blades on Aug. 5 at the Forum, Sonier spoke for more than 20 minutes about the difficulties he has had putting together lineups.

Among the most serious injuries Sonier is relying on Frank to cure are those to:

* Jared Bednar: Broken ankle suffered June 30 in a shootout loss at Oakland. Status: He's rehabilitating. Sonier would like to have him back for at least some of the playoffs, but more than likely Bednar will be unavailable.

* Brad Tiley: Injured his back lifting weights two weeks ago, missed three games. Status: Will probably play.

* Darren Perkins: Ranked fourth on the team in scoring, he has played the last two weeks despite neck and shoulder problems. Status: Day to day.

* Daniel Shank: Plagued by sore knees all season, he still ranks second in scoring. Status: OK.

* Rick Judson: Has 52 points to go along with a severe contusion on his right knee. Status: OK.

* Joe Cook: Suffered his first concussion July 31 in 10-6 victory over the Blades. Sustained another concussion on Wednesday in 7-6 loss at Phoenix. Status: Questionable tonight.

* Darren Banks: The burly forward who has drawn interest from several NHL clubs has a severely pulled groin muscle. Status: Doubtful tonight and might see only limited action the rest of the year.

* Chris Gordon: The goaltender, with a record of 10-1, has back spasms. He has missed three consecutive games, one because of a wedding he attended in Michigan. Status: Questionable for series.

* Brad McCaughey: Plagued with bad back all season, he has missed nine games. He cannot bend over properly for slap shots. Status: Will play tonight.

* Fredrik Jax: Missed the last four games because of a deep thigh bruise. Status: Not available tonight and might not be available for the series.

* Steve Cadieux: Pinched nerve in his back. Status: Not likely tonight.

* Mark Ouimet: Flu. Status: Will play.

* Savo Mitrovic: Flu. Status: Can play.

Perkins, Cook, Bednar and Tiley are defensemen. Sonier was able to compensate for the loss of Bednar earlier in the season, but with the other three gone, McCaughey has been forced to move from right wing into the defensive lineup. He has played well in that role. However, it's not his favorite spot, especially with the additional pressure it puts on his sore back.

"I don't mind it," McCaughey said. "Every time I catch myself rushing forward, though, I have to remind myself to drop back a bit. Our entire game plan is man-on-man coverage, so playing offense or defense with only four skaters on the floor doesn't really matter."

Perkins complicated things by being ejected with a game misconduct penalty in Friday's 10-9 loss at San Diego. Pending a last-second appeal to the league by the Bullfrogs, he'll sit out tonight's game.

Blades Coach Bobby Hull Jr. pins his team's hopes on consistency, now that he has had three weeks in which he has used virtually the same lineup.

"We've had a problem with intensity all summer and we need to build on that," Hull said. "Once the playoffs come around, anything can happen. Usually the hottest team does best."

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