One of the greatest nights in the lacrosse life of Mike Thompson will come with a catch.
The Buffalo Bandits' veteran will be the starting goalie for the East squad in the annual National Lacrosse League All-Star Game, which will take place tonight at First Niagara Center (7 p.m., espn3.com). Yet as of this moment, he probably couldn't be considered the clear No. 1 goaltender on his own team.
Only eight days ago, the Bandits completed a major trade for help at Thompson's position, as goalie Anthony Cosmo was acquired from Minnesota for two future first-round draft choices. No matter which goalie is labeled "No. 1" for now, Cosmo figures to cut significantly into Thompson's playing time.
What can Thompson do about it? Nothing, except to give it his best effort.
"I have to play much better to keep my job," he said. "We'll go back and forth a bit, and see who is playing better. I have to keep doing what I've been doing, and keep working hard."
A couple of factors probably influenced the pick of Thompson to be a starter. It's been a tough season for all of the goaltenders in the East. The top seven names in save percentage are from the West.
Meanwhile, voting was done by a combination of fans, front office members and the media. Certainly some of those voters -- especially the Bandits' fans -- remembered that Thompson had a 10-3 record last season with his best-ever goals-against average of 9.67.
Thompson got off to a strong start in an opening-night win over Toronto, and won again in Rochester. Since then, though, the Bandits have lost four straight. The goalie's goals-against average is up to 12.07. He realizes that while he hasn't been sharp, the attitude around the team might be different if it had won its last two games; it lost each by a goal.
"We might be 3-3 or 4-2, and we'd be at a different point," Thompson said. "We're starting over, trying to stay positive. We're definitely not in a comfort zone. We have to fight through it."
Bandits coach Darris Kilgour is known for being something less than a good loser. You can bet he's not happy about the way the games have been going lately.
"The attitude in practice has been to go back to basics," Thompson said. "It's hard to explain. We're choking down on the sticks, having trouble catching passes and making saves. I've over-committed at times. The little things add up, and we've come up on the losing end.
"Sometimes it comes down to the team who makes the fewest mistakes. We have to start working for each other again."
A goalie who is in search of a groove could do better than to play in an All-Star Game. Last year's game in Verona finished with a final score of 30-26, as the two sides traded fancy moves on breakaways for much of the day.
"I see it as a chance to keep working on my game," Thompson said. "I get to put it on my resume that I was an All-Star, playing against the best."
Thompson at least will have some familiar faces in front of him on defense tonight. Billy Dee Smith was picked as a starter, Chris White was named as a reserve, and Scott Self was added to the team earlier this week.
That defense will try to stop some of the best players in the game. Veteran John Grant Jr. of Colorado leads the league in scoring, and teammates such as Lewis Ratcliffe of Washington and Ryan Benesch of Minnesota are capable of putting up goals in a hurry.
Still, Thompson is looking forward to the night -- especially in front of his home fans.
"Big time," he said. "It's the first one that they've had in Buffalo. It's an honor to play in the game, and to be voted in as the starter is like the cherry on top of the sundae."