How the Waterdogs Blew a 6-0 Lead to the Redwoods
That’s the question that needs asking after blowing a massive lead, and this one qualifies.
Starting just 16 seconds after the opening faceoff, Waterdogs LC scored six goals on six shots in just over eight minutes, all unanswered. But the six-goal run was matched by Redwoods LC, which scored the next six goals from the end of the first quarter through the beginning of the third. From then on, it was 4-3 Redwoods as two stale offenses forced shots on athletic goalies, yielding poor results.
But the big shift came at the end of the first, when Redwoods head coach Nat St. Laurent switched Garrett Epple onto Michael Sowers after the Waterdogs attacker scored three points during the initial surge. That decision flipped the momentum like a switch.
“We knew going all the way back to last year when we beat them, we put Garrett on Michael,” said St. Laurent. “Michael’s a tough cover… But we had that in our back pocket so we knew we could make that change.”
Postgame, Copelan said that “we go as he [Sowers] goes,” and both went downhill after the defensive switch. The tide turned as soon as Epple marked Sowers, starting a 25-minute scoreless streak.
The Redwoods clicked on both ends, halting the Waterdogs attack in its tracks and keeping them below double-digit points for the second-straight game. That didn’t happen once last season. So, although the stat sheet was much more balanced than last week, the Waterdogs were on the losing side of the adjustments, which led to their first loss.
“[Epple] plays his angles well and I think, overall, it was just solid team defense… We don’t really change what we do based on individual matchups,” Michael Sowers said postgame.
But Epple didn’t do it alone, crediting his help slides for shutting down the Waterdogs’ top attacker and executing St. Laurent’s backup plan for Sowers to perfection.
“If you got to make an adjustment to win, we have a culture in our locker room that guys don’t take that personally,” Epple explained. “As a team, we were more successful. I can’t sit here and say that I locked up Sowers, that’s pretty hard to do.”
Sowers’ struggles against Epple eliminated the focal point of the offense and led to poor shot selection for most of the game. And those shots were even worse considering the dominance of Redwoods’ goalkeeper Jack Kelly.
Apart from Epple, it was Kelly who led the ‘Woods over the ‘Dogs with his 68% save rate, including 19 stops. He saw the ball well out of the pocket at all levels, Copelan said, even after the Waterdogs tried adjusting to a low attack in the later stages.
And as the third quarter ticked down, Kelly showed that his feet were just as good as his eyes by making another acrobatic save. With the game tied at seven and just over a minute remaining in the quarter, Sowers waited calmly at X. When Zach Currier got open on the left side and tapped the feed toward an open net, Jack Kelly leapt in front to save the point-blank attempt.
“We got blanked in the second quarter – it felt like that was more of a Jack Kelly thing than an us thing,” Copelan said about the offensive struggles. “He was seeing the ball great.”
The Waterdogs offense settled for outside shots consistently throughout the last three quarters. And while Matt DeLuca saved 58% of his shots to keep it close once the offense went dormant, it wasn’t enough. The ‘Dogs just couldn’t adjust, and part of it was due to lack of trying.
After the game, Copelan said his message to the team was to “stay the course,” with their offensive packages, adding that the team got opportunities, but couldn’t capitalize past Kelly.
On the other sideline, however, Redwoods LC changed a great deal in the second quarter, mostly on the defensive end.
“To play defense knowing that the guy behind you is most likely gonna stop the ball, it gives you the ability to play with more freedom,” Epple said. “We’re trying to give up looks to Jack that he can save and I think we made that adjustment in the second quarter.”
Kelly saved 84% of shots after the first quarter to ensure the win, which marks two-straight weeks that goalies have gone over 80% on the Waterdogs after the first quarter. The defending champions clearly have growing to do on offense, even after bringing back most of last year’s squad.