2024 Champ Series Boston Cannons vs Philly Waterdogs 2.17/24

Matt DeLuca shines in pool play, saving 50.8% in 10 quarters

By Wyatt Miller | Feb 18, 2024

Sixes can be tough on goalies. They see a massive volume of shots in a fraction of the time they would in a field game. More often than not, they come out of it battered and heavily bruised. But in the second pool play game against the California Redwoods, a smile split Matt DeLuca’s face as he came out of the cage to grab a ground ball. He was having a blast.

“I felt comfortable,” DeLuca said postgame. “And that’s all thanks to sweet Lou over there and the defense giving me the looks we wanted. We had a game plan set out, and we executed.”

DeLuca played all four quarters against the ‘Woods for the second time in three days, earning the second-best team save percentage in Champ Series history (51.9%). He registered double-digit saves and stopped at least 46% in both. Afterward, DeLuca said sixes is “easier than you would think,” because the pace helps force a short-term memory. Before he can think about what went right or wrong on the previous save attempt, another shot is already on its way.

“It’s a lot of rubber, it keeps you warm and it keeps those hands going,” DeLuca said.

DeLuca has proved he’s a starting-caliber PLL goalie. On Saturday, he finished the first half with four saves (60%) to help the Dogs to the biggest win of this year’s tournament – 22-12 over the Cannons. His 50.8% save rate ranks second through three games, and would have been first among qualified players last year. 

The Waterdogs’ last two games are, statistically, the best defensive performances in Championship Series history. The lowest score in a game last year was 14 points, and the Waterdogs held the Redwoods and Cannons to 13 and 12, respectively, on back-to-back days. They couldn’t have done it without DeLuca’s quickness between the pipes.

He’s played the most out of any goalie in this tournament, performing at a level that no goalie was expected to reach. Saving over 50% in this format is extremely tough to achieve, and has brutal consequences for goalies’ bodies, but DeLuca has been unphased.

Standing high above the crossbar at six-foot-six, he’s flashed elite athleticism in this tournament. Against the Cannons, DeLuca didn’t bite on a fake from Holman wrapping around the crease, but made an acrobatic drop save on the low shot.

The Waterdogs defense hasn’t missed a beat in sixes. After leading the league in 32-second defensive efficiency in 2023, DeLuca has helped the Dogs defense succeed with an aggressive approach, and having natural short-stick defenders certainly helps. Slides have come fast and tough shots have fallen short, as the Dogs’ scores against average (14.7) is nearly six points less than the next-closest team.

Yet, the biggest impact on DeLuca’s game has come from goalie mate Dillon Ward. The Ontario, Canada, native has a similar frame to DeLuca and has taken the Delaware product under his wing since he entered the PLL in 2020. The 26-year-old had some high praise for his mentor after a career day against the Redwoods.

“It’s night and day from when I got in the league,” DeLuca said of Ward’s impact on his game. “You can see the little tendencies I’ve picked up from the GOAT. That guy has won at every level and I consider him the best goalie of all time and a mentor to me and I hope he’s watching and I hope he’s a little proud.”