Philadelphia Waterdogs faceoff specialist Alec Stathakis

How Alec Stathakis can change Waterdogs’ faceoff fortunes

By Wyatt Miller | Jun 25, 2024

The Philadelphia Waterdogs have won just eight faceoffs through three games. Then again, they weren’t trying to win them – until now. 

On Tuesday morning, head coach and general manager Bill Tierney brought back undrafted rookie Alec Stathakis on a one-year deal. The Waterdogs finally have a faceoff specialist.

Stathakis was one of the top players in the nation coming out of high school, and he was recruited to Denver by Tierney, who coached him there for four seasons. He’s one of the firecest competitors Tierney has ever coached.

“I’ve always said Jack Hannah is the most competitive guy I’ve ever coached, and that’s a truism,” Tierney said. “But I’ll tell you what, Stathakis isn’t much further behind.”

Tierney’s decision to forgo a faceoff specialist has been the most talked-about storyline of the 2024 PLL season. While that allowed the Waterdogs to dress an extra skill player for games, it also cost them precious possessions in all three of their one-point losses en route to an 0-3 start. 

If there’s one thing Stathakis will bring, it's a drive to win every draw, especially the important ones late in games. Tierney confirmed that Stathakis will be active this Saturday against the Carolina Chaos, facing off against second-year specialist Nick Rowlett. It will be the first time the Dogs have dressed a faceoff specialist since the third game of 2023. 

What Stathakis brings

The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Stathakis is an athletic anomaly. Tierney said he runs a five-and-a-half-minute mile and was the strongest person in the Denver weight room. He’s a relentless tactician who will fit in well with the Waterdogs’ win-at-all-costs culture. Stathakis displayed that competitive fire during his short stint at training camp, but the pro game will still require an adjustment period.

“He did really well in the scrimmage," Tierney said, "but I think he was a little perplexed by the 32-second rule. So when he was winning them, it was very different than college."

Stathakis prefers to play with a moto grip, something that’s banned in the college game. That makes his ceiling in the pros even higher, as he can use his strength more advantageously than he was able to for the past five years. Plus, his post-clamp speed will certainly be a plus with the short clock.

There’s a middle ground the Waterdogs can find with a faceoff specialist on the roster. They won’t need a specialist in every game, especially against the top guys like Trevor Baptiste and TD Ierlan. But having one available forces the opposing team to prepare for both strategies, adding an element of surprise to each matchup. 

Stathakis being on the 19-man doesn’t mean Philadelphia will use him for every draw. Nothing is set in stone, and that could work in the Waterdogs’ favor.

Why they made the change

Last season, Eli Gobrecht was able to cause chaos off faceoffs with a long pole. But that’s not allowed this season, so Zach Currier has taken the majority of draws. As a result, the Waterdogs own a 9.9% faceoff percentage this year, compared to 26.8% last season. In the first two games of the season, that zapped Currier’s offensive impact, as he accumulated just 27 touches and two points. 

Then, against the Maryland Whipsnakes, Currier only took one faceoff and was the team’s leading scorer, securing his first hat trick since 2021. A slew of defensive midfielders took draws in his place, but that still didn’t solve the problem. The Dogs fell in another overtime thriller and couldn’t capitalize on their only overtime possession, with Maryland’s Joe Nardella winning all 31 faceoffs in the game.

Philadelphia has 116 possessions this season compared to its opponents’ 143. In one-goal games, that makes a massive impact.

This is the obvious downside to playing without a faceoff specialist. When the Waterdogs really need the ball, it’s infinitely harder to get it. And in the PLL, where nailbiters are almost a weekly guarantee, that situation arises a lot. Stathakis will provide a clear path to winning those vital faceoffs while also preserving the energy of Currier and the Dogs’ SSDMs.

The Waterdogs will have a significant increase in 32-second offensive possessions with Stathakis on the field, and that’s a context where they’ve actually thrived in limited opportunities.

Success with the 32

In Philly’s eight possessions off a faceoff win this season, three of them have resulted in goals. That’s a 37.5% success rate, which is higher than the team’s current efficiency on the 52-second clock. 

After the rule change this offseason that banned long poles from facing off, there’s been a league-wide increase in offensive success with the short clock. The 22.1% success rate in post-faceoff possessions last season has jumped to 26.4% through three weeks in 2024.

Obviously, this is a small sample size, but it’s consistent for the Waterdogs. Even last year, when they won 16.9% more faceoffs, their 32-second offensive efficiency was 27.5%, ranking second in the league. In fact, Currier scored the Waterdogs’ first goal of the 2023 season 19 seconds after the opening faceoff win. They are more than capable of being productive in 32-second sets.

That said, Tierney still believes in the strategy they employed through three weeks, and for good reason. The Waterdogs’ opponents only scored 11 times out of 71 first possessions (15.5%), Tieney said, which made this decision that much more difficult. 

Activating Stathakis ahead of this weekend is not a final determination by any means. Deciding whether to dress a faceoff specialist will be a weekly discussion, one that Tierney has already lost sleep over. With a roster as packed with talent as this one, it’s always difficult to cut down from 25 to 19 each week.

“I’m still up in the air on this faceoff thing,” Tierney said. “But it’s a good time to give it a shot.”