New York Atlas faceoff specialist Trevor Baptiste

Are Cannons’ faceoff struggles vs. Atlas cause for concern for Boston?

By Sarah Griffin | Jun 7, 2024

Short answer: No. Not yet.

If you’re an optimist, you probably thought to yourself, “It’s the first game!” when you read the headline. And if you’re a pessimist -- take a step back and understand just how hard it is to capitalize at the stripe when up against Trevor Baptiste.

Certainly, there weren’t many highlights for the Boston Cannons last Saturday at the faceoff. Connor Kirst, Zach Goodrich, Bubba Fairman and Pat Aslanian all stepped up to the plate to go toe-to-toe with the four-time Paul Cantabene Faceoff Athlete of the Year, and all found little success. 

In terms of sample size, do-it-all midfielder Kirst fared the best with three faceoff wins. The Cannons altogether went 7-for-32 on faceoffs, allowing for the Atlas to really maximize the 32-second shot clock. Boston knew it wasn’t going to win many, if any, clamps against Baptiste. The role of Kirst, Goodrich, Fairman and Aslanian was more to battle it out with him after the clamp and play defense as needed when the Atlas began to push in transition. 

Had this been last season, losing 75.8% of the faceoffs would not have been as big of a deal. The Bulls struggled big-time adjusting to the 32-second shot clock in 2023, even with Baptiste. Now it looks to be a night-and-day difference for New York.

For Boston, on the other hand, on the few opportunities it had with the 32-second shot clock, it struggled to move the ball and kickstart its offense down low. 

“The only thing I’ll say about the faceoff is chucking the ball down, I think we’ve got to work on that a little bit,” head coach and general manager Brian Holman said. 

In the postgame press conference, Holman said he and his staff would break down every faceoff from last Saturday by time and possession to gain a better understanding of what went wrong, especially in their limited opportunities off the 32-second shot clock. 

But ultimately, there’s very little reason to worry just yet about the Cannons’ faceoff woes through one game. Holman reiterated multiple times during the lead-up to training camp that their plan was to try out both faceoff by committee and a more traditional approach with a faceoff specialist. They knew all along these first few games would be a trial-and-error period at the stripe. Faceoff by committee didn’t work against Baptiste. Now, they’ll try out utilizing specialist Zac Tucci against the Maryland Whipsnakes’ Joe Nardella this Saturday in Charlotte.

“For me, it was always going to be that idea of, ‘OK, let’s put him [Tucci] in there and see what we look like,’” Holman explained. “He looked good in the scrimmage against the Whipsnakes.”

Holman said before training camp that he had a “really good feeling” about Tucci, whom the Cannons signed during the offseason. 

“I don’t see him going down without a fight to be that guy for us,” the coach said. 

Tucci had limited opportunities to prove himself in the pros over the last couple seasons with the Philadelphia Waterdogs, and Boston made him inactive for last Saturday’s season opener. Now, as the only faceoff specialist on the Cannons roster, this weekend could be make or break for the 24-year-old. 

If Tucci works out, great. If not? I still wouldn’t worry just yet.

“We could be totally off base with our method, and you know, that’s happened before,” Holman said. “But we’ve got two or three backup plans in order if that doesn’t work the way we think it’s going to work.”