Boston Cannons faceoff specialist Zac Tucci

Boston’s faceoff question: How will Cannons approach the stripe?

By Sarah Griffin | May 24, 2024

For every PLL team, training camp is the time to innovate and explore new avenues in search of success. Teams aren’t just looking to answer the usual question of positional battles. They’re also looking to evolve and grow from last season.

In a 7-3 regular season with the best offense in the league, the Boston Cannons positionally seemed to have it all – minus one spot. By July, the Cannons no longer carried a traditional faceoff specialist on their roster. Instead, undrafted rookie and breakout star long-stick midfielder Ethan Rall faced off for them, employing the prevent method in response to the 32-second shot clock off the faceoff. 

Statistically speaking, Rall won just 6% of the faceoffs. But his job was not to win them, but rather push back his opponent and aid his team in running down the 32-second clock. 

Now, with the league no longer allowing players to face off with a defensive pole, it’s back to the drawing board for Boston.

How will the Cannons approach the stripe this season? They're considering two options. 

The traditional approach

In response to the adjusted rule this offseason, Boston signed faceoff specialist Zac Tucci in early March.

A New England native, Tucci spent the last two seasons with the Philadelphia Waterdogs. He played four games for them as a rookie in 2022, going 47-for-109 (43%), and appeared in one game in 2023, as the Waterdogs also utilized the prevent method at the stripe for most of the year. 

Tucci himself said he’s not the average faceoff guy.

“A faceoff guy that’s just always clamping maybe isn’t the best move now," he explained to me. "You need a faster, more agile person." 

Cannons head coach and general manager Brian Holman told me Tucci has a “football player mentality." He’s fast, he’s athletic, and most importantly for Boston, he provides flexibility at the stripe. 

“If he’s winning faceoffs, what’s he doing with the ball?” Holman said. “Zac’s got a great stick and he’s fast, so he can get the ball from Point A to Point B really quick. So if we win a faceoff, the less time we use on the clock and transitioning the ball to our offense is critical. 

“And if we’re losing faceoffs, we want to see Zac getting physical and using his athleticism enough to put pressure on the opposing faceoff guy.”

In our conversations in March, Holman made it clear the Cannons didn’t have a set plan in place for the faceoff yet, even with the signing of Tucci. He said it’d be something they’d sort out in training camp. 

My initial thought was the Cannons would use their fourth-round pick in the 2024 College Draft to pick up another faceoff specialist to compete with Tucci. But Holman didn’t see one worth taking.

“I don’t know if there’s a guy in the draft who can compete with [Mike] Sisselberger, Trevor [Baptiste], TD [Ierlan] and [Joe] Nardella,” the coach remarked the morning of the draft. 

And with that, the Cannons stuck with Tucci as the only faceoff specialist on their roster.

“We know there’s some faceoff guys out there if Zac’s not ‘that guy,’” Holman said. “But I have a really good feeling about him. … I don’t see him going down without a fight to be that guy for us.” 

Faceoff by committee

Even so, Boston will try out a blend of the traditional faceoff specialist and a faceoff-by-committee approach, utilizing a mix of both defensive and offensive midfielders to carry on the prevention method. 

When I asked Holman what he expects their go-to method to be in training camp, he said they were leaning more toward playing three or four guys who can take the faceoff and stay on and play. 

Connor Kirst, Zach Goodrich, Bubba Fairman and Jeff Trainor all are options in that role, according to Holman.

Holman said Kirst, whom the Cannons acquired from the Maryland Whipsnakes in a November trade, is like “having three guys in one.” 

Though the intention is to utilize him mainly as an offensive midfielder, Kirst’s experience taking faceoffs makes him even more of a prime candidate at the stripe. He can be used as a short-stick defensive midfielder, too, if needed, making him exactly what the Cannons are looking for: a player who can take the faceoff and stay on and play – whether that’s defense or offense. 

Goodrich also has some faceoff experience that Boston will test out during training camp. Fellow SSDMs Fairman and Trainor will give it a go, as well.

A learning process

While those four and Tucci are the main candidates Holman mentioned in our conversation, he reiterated that nothing is set in stone.

“That’s the direction we’re headed, but things change so fast in this league,” he said. “We could be totally off base with our method, and you know, that’s happened before. 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.”

Even with hopes of solidifying their approach at the stripe during camp, don’t be surprised if Boston tries out several different faceoff strategies early in the season. What works against one team might not work against another -- it’s a learning process for the Cannons.