Waterdogs Faceoff Chrome
Photo courtesy of Nick Ieradi.

How the Waterdogs’ New Faceoff Strategy Dominated Chrome

By Wyatt Miller

Jul 10, 2023

Connor Farrell won 18-of-19 faceoffs (95%) on Saturday, but those wins produced very few points and a slew of turnovers. Between Eli Gobrecht’s pestering presence and a belligerent ground ball unit, the Waterdogs dominated at the stripe… without a faceoff specialist.

The ‘Dogs jumped out to a 7-1 halftime lead, but the Chrome came charging back to make it a one-possession game at the end of the third. After a Chrome score, Farrell won the faceoff and went to his right for the outlet pass, but it was tipped by Ethan Walker and the ground ball battle raged for a few seconds before Walker picked it up himself. 

On the possession, rookie Thomas McConvey dodged as he subbed on from the left sideline, stumbling through contact to find Walker on the doorstep. Walker secured his hat trick over Sean Sconone to make it 9-6, and both teams scored just once in the fourth quarter in the 10-7 Waterdogs victory.

Head coach Andy Copelan used all three of his plans to control the faceoff without a specialist against the Chrome. The primary tactic yielded significant success: Gobrecht forced Farrell backwards on almost every faceoff, while Zach Currier and Ryland Rees were draped on the opposing wings to force loose balls. And the secondary schemes helped combat the second-half comeback.

The Waterdogs have been on the losing side of the clamp more often than not for several years now, so Copelan said that starting a defender at the stripe wouldn’t change the team’s mindset. However, being without a specialist caused the wings’ fervency to spread into every position group, and that was the x-factor. 

“Currier and Rees… they’re elite ground ball guys, great athletes and they just have really good instincts there in the middle of the field,” Copelan said. “The other part of it is… if you can step out and not give Farrell any easy outlets and run the clock that way, by the time they get their personnel on, they’re playing with a short clock and that was part of the strategy.”

The Waterdogs ramped up the intensity on every post-clamp clash, and 12 different players picked up ground balls as a result, including a career-high six for Walker at attack. In his most complete game of the season, Walker was all over the field, hacking at loose balls and making the Chrome uncomfortable. And he wasn’t the only Waterdog to excel in a new assignment. 

For the first time in his career, Jake Carraway played some midfield on the wing, and made his presence felt all over the field. He scooped a ground ball, played transition defense and went tumbling over the sideline gate in the second half. To top it off, he scored four points on three goals, including a two-point missile from the top of the arc. 

“Making that transition is extremely hard, and just him being selfless and taking the middie run so seamlessly and then producing on top of that, it’s pretty special to watch,” Kieran McArdle said of Carraway.

Copelan’s decision not to dress a faceoff specialist allowed the Waterdogs to add another midfielder to the rotation, which he said gave everyone more energy throughout the game. 

Four short sticks and two long sticks along with four standard middies made this week’s roster card. But if you count Carraway in that ground, 11 different players appeared in the midfield and they accounted for 19-of-37 ground balls and 7-of-11 caused turnovers. 

“I think it really did help to have five middies today with offensive guys coming in, so that plus the break coming in gave us a little burst,” Carraway said.

Copelan said his decision was “partially about taking advantage of the rules, but partially it was about losing Connor Kelly in the Worlds and feeling the need to activate another middie.”

Turnovers became almost expected off of faceoffs in the first half, as the Chrome coughed it up 15 times in 24 minutes. Seven were forced and most came directly after a faceoff win. Once the Chrome had adjusted, their deficit was too large to surmount, and the Waterdogs defense held strong behind Dillon Ward’s 13 saves at a 65% rate.

“I was going back a little too much in the first and second quarter,” Farrell said. “Maybe I was winning the possession, but I wasn’t making the smartest plays in the first half. I needed to take my time and… just look for the better opportunity to pass the ball.”

When the comeback mounted, Copelan switched to his secondary plan and moved Currier to attack intermittently to limit the options going backwards. In the end, the Waterdogs only won two faceoffs, and the second came from Currier, which was Copelan’s third and final plan. Currier won his only faceoff of the afternoon, but it was Gobrecht who stole the show despite winning only 5% against Farrell. 

Up 3-0 to start the second quarter, Gobrecht wanted to keep the ‘Dogs’ momentum going, and did so with his speed rather than his stick. 

Farrell won the faceoff backwards and sprinted all the way to the sideline with Gobrecht keeping pace. Unable to turn the corner, Farrell chucked it upfield to Jackson Morrill, who dropped it out of bounds and dove to get it back, but it was too late. 

Gobrecht used everything in his bag to rush Farrell and force a bad decision, while both sides of the ball contributed to a gritty ground ball war throughout the game. Seven Waterdogs, at least one from every position group, secured three or more ground balls. 

Going forward, Copelan is far from “married” to this strategy, he said. He’ll have to go through the film from these past two games, and will make his faceoff decisions on a matchup basis. 

“I think we will keep this as an option,” Copelan said. “I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s just a one-time thing, but I’m not convinced that we’re not gonna dress a faceoff guy moving forward. We have to see what our opponents look like.”

“Are they a power clamper? Can they fast-break you? Do they move the ball back or forward? Ultimately, what does their clearing pattern look like? There’s gonna be a lot of variables and I don’t know that I’ve totally unpacked that quite yet.”

Share This With Friends