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LITTLE TAKING LARGE ROLE FOR BLIZZARD

His teammates call Matt Little "Tiny." But some timely goals have turned the Buffalo Blizzard's second-youngest player into Mr. Huge.

Little got his first taste of bigness on Nov. 25, when he scored the "golden goal" against Detroit at 12:01 of sudden-death.

Last Sunday, he burned the Rockers again with a hat trick that included the game-winner.

Going into tonight's HSBC Arena game against the Baltimore Blast (7:30, Radio 1520 on tape at 9:30), Little is on fire. Or at least as hot as one can be on a 9-13 team on a two-game win streak, trying to escape last place in the American Conference of the National Professional Soccer League.

Little has scored four goals on seven shots in the last three games and six goals on 14 shots in the last seven games.

When Little scores, the team is 3-2. When he scores at home, they're 2-1. If the Blizzard pulls off a late-season run to the playoffs, he'll probably score a bunch more.

The only Blizzard member with a full beard admits he's a little surprised by it all.

"I'm kind of just adjusting to the indoor game, just trying to get the hang of it," Little said. "I'm just trying to get in there and work hard and hope that things will come."

The St. Louis-area native was a Division II All-American at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. A psychology major (he needs two semesters of credits to graduate) who aims to become a coach, Little turned pro last year with the St. Louis Ambush.

Learning indoors "was really hard. It's like pinball. I'm used to a lot of space. I like to run," he said.

The now-defunct Ambush -- coached for a time by former Blizzard goalkeeper Jamie Swanner -- had a terrible (11-33) season, but it provided Little with enough rookie experience (40 games, including nine starts) to catch the eye of the Buffalo front office. The Blizzard acquired him and three other St. Louis players (Tim Leonard, Matt Caution and Kevin Kalish) in the offseason.

"He was highly recommended (by Swanner)," said Buffalo coach Paul Kitson.

Little, 24, likes to show off his pure speed. The 5-foot-10, 170-pounder is always among the leaders in wind sprints. If there is a faster teammate, it is the much taller Eduardo Sebrango (6-1) or Steve Butcher (6-2), who is about three months younger.

"We never had a race. I'm probably in the upper whatever, but I don't know about being the fastest," he said.

"My strength is my speed and my endurance. I get up and down. I don't think I'm one dimensional as far as just defense or just offense," he said.

Before an epidemic of injuries to more experienced players brought Little more playing time, he gained attention on the penalty-killing unit which ranks as the league's fourth-best, with a 65.2 percent success rate.

"I've been using him as a special-teams player, fully well knowing that he's capable of filling in at whatever role I would ask," Kitson said. "I've used him in the back (as a defender), as a No. 3 (midfielder), as a No. 2 (forward). I think about the only positions I've not asked him to play is in goal and as a No. 1, a target player. And if I was to ask him to play those two positions, I would doubt very much if I would get anything less than 110 percent from him."

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