Charlie Raffa was the literal embodiment of the phrase “getting into your opponent’s head.”
The junior faceoff specialist won 19-of-26 draws (73.1 percent), collected a game-high 11 ground balls, and scored two goals in No. 3 Maryland’s 16-8 thumping of No. 5 Syracuse in the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. Raffa was so dominating that the Orange (2-1) committed five faceoff violations in the first half, giving the Terps (3-0) three extra-man opportunities that they cashed in to the tune of two goals.
Raffa, who has won 39-of-58 faceoffs (67.2) and scooped up 24 ground balls so far, smiled when asked to describe the feeling of controlling the pace and tempo against Syracuse.
“It’s definitely a good feeling to win a bunch of faceoffs, but it’s a complete team effort,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “I couldn’t be able to do that without my wing guys, [senior short-stick defensive midfielder] Brian Cooper and [senior long-stick midfielder] Mike Ehrhardt. They really help me out. They really give me the confidence I need. [Senior goalkeeper] Niko Amato, the defense, every time we score a goal, they’re running after to me and telling me to keep it up. Their little pep talks – even though it may seem like nothing to them – fire me up and get me going knowing that all of my teammates have my back.”
Raffa’s prowess is just as comforting to his teammates. Winning faceoffs means more possessions for the offense and less pressure on the defense. Having a dependable faceoff specialist is a blessing, according to Maryland coach John Tillman.
“When you’re not winning faceoffs, mistakes are magnified,” he said. “You take a bad shot, you don’t back up the goal, and then the other team gets it and maybe they score. And then they get the faceoff, and all of a sudden, there’s a long lull between possessions, and you’re uber-critical of the mistakes you make. When you’re winning faceoffs, you can miss a shot or mishandle the ball and get it back and maybe something good happens, and then you get another possession back. Sometimes you forget about those things. So it definitely allows your kids to move about faster and it also gets you in rhythm. It gets you another opportunity to get your feet wet. If you get two or three in a row, there is a level of flow and comfort that all teams get.”
Raffa gets another opportunity to further enhance his reputation nationally when No. 1 and reigning national champion Duke visits Byrd Stadium in College Park on Saturday at 12 p.m. Raffa, who currently ranks ninth in Division I at faceoff percentage, will meet Blue Devils senior Brendan Fowler, the Most Outstanding Player at last year’s NCAA tournament Final Four and ranks 16th with a 64.0 success rate (57-of-89) and has accumulated 38 ground balls.
Raffa is quite familiar with Fowler as they were high school rivals when Raffa played for St. Anthony’s and Fowler played for Chaminade in Long Island, N.Y. Both have worked under the tutelage of Matt Schomburg, founder of Fogolax Academy, but Raffa downplayed any notion of having any insider knowledge on Fowler.
“We have both kind of changed the way we face off,” Raffa said. “We both worked with the same guy, Matt Schomburg, back on Long Island who taught us how to face off, and a lot of our success is because of him. But he’s altered how we like to do things facing off. So it’s different year in and year out with him. So it should be different, but it should be relatively familiar at the same time.”
Still, Raffa is looking forward to the challenge of competing against his friend and the player considered to be the top faceoff specialist in the nation.
“Any time you have a chance to face off against one of the best guys in the country, it’s definitely something that you look forward to,” he said. “Brendan had an awesome season last year, and the accolades and everything speak for themselves. He’s a great player, a hard worker. So I figure any time I can go against a kid like him, I will have a lot to look forward to during the game.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun