A Goalie’s Take on Sixes: It’s about much more than saves
By Josh Schafer | Feb 22, 2023
One of Brian Phipps’ best plays from the Whipsnakes first scrimmage of the Championship Series wasn’t a save.
Instead, the Whipsnakes goalie saw a substitution advantage. A Chrome player had ran for a line change while Whipsnakes runner Matt Abbott stayed on the field. Phipps fired a 50-yard bomb to Abbott for an easy goal.
"I'm not sure how many saves there'll be," Phipps said with a laugh after the scrimmage.
There will be a lot of goals allowed during the Championship Series. Goalies just need to embrace that, according to Phipps.
In a condensed format that features no long-stick defenders and a shortened two-point arc,
the difference for goalkeepers during the Championship Series (which kicks off with Whipsnakes against Atlas on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2) will be what happens when they don’t make a save. Forcing missed shots to create turnovers, or turning substitute miscues into offensive opportunities will be just as crucial to goalies' performances as their save percentage over the next week.
“We get scored on, the first thing I'm doing is looking toward the middle of the field like, ‘Do we have a break or not?’” Phipps said.
The Championship Series features many different rules. A few stand out for goalies in particular. After goals, there won’t be faceoffs. So goalies will be slinging outlet passes whether the shot hits their mesh or the back of the net. They’ll also be in control of how quickly the game restarts, with Phipps noting goalies can either play the ball quickly out of the net to limit substitutions or take their time and allow their some breathing room before moving to offense.
On missed shots, the ball goes to whoever didn’t touch the ball last. So if a player misses the net clean on a shot, the defensive team gets the ball.
This moderation in who earns a possession off a missed shot has Phipps, who’s recorded more than 1,100 saves in professional lacrosse, rethinking his goaltending style before he starts in net on Wednesday.
Phipps likened his approach to how Waterdogs goalie Dillon Ward attacks shooters. Ward plays what’s known as a high-arc technique. The theory is that if the goalie comes further out he can cut down the angle of a shooter, providing less visible net and therefore making it harder to aim a shot on target.
Phipps has been playing the game for about 30 years and has never been one for the high-arc method. He doesn’t teach it when he coaches and has never deployed the tactic himself. But on the eve of the Championship Series, he’s confident that’s one of the best ways to attack the shrunken field in sixes lacrosse.
“They're shooting from 10-yards, I'd rather step out and get hit,” Phipps says. “I'm not quick enough to react to 10-yard shots before it goes in.”
Phipps and fellow Whipsnakes goalie Kyle Bernlohr agree they’ll likely be more scoring in the Championship Series than normal. But Phipps said the pace of Wednesdays scrimmage wasn’t impossibly fast. Forcing pace on the short field can lead to increased turnovers, Phipps said. Let alone the fact that players playing both sides of the ball can wear guys down more than normal.
But once the ball is settled, the shots are undoubtedly closer. Everything is essentially a good shot, with an increased emphasis on close-up shots and dunks near the crease.
“It's brutal to be honest with you, it's essentially box lacrosse but you're still in your outdoor pads,” said Bernlohr who was ruled out for the Championship Series due to a torso injury.
Phipps joked he did look into the PLL rules on increased padding, a nod to the box lacrosse-style goalkeeper that uses extended padding to cover a significant portion of the net like a hockey goalie.
The PLL rules state goalies can’t use “excessive padding.” Phipps isn’t going to stretch those rules this week.
He knows it will be different. There will probably be more shots. They’ll likely come from a closer proximity. There might even be more bruises. But goalies will be goalies. And there’s something about goalies those who never played the position will never understand.
It’s as if part of a goalie likes getting hit by the ball. And there’s an even larger part about them that would never tell you if they don’t.
“Macho-man and goalie mentality, there's no way I'm wearing shin guards or thigh pads,” Phipps said. “My leg got crushed today, twice, but eh I signed up for it. I'll deal with it.”