Tufts at Stevenson: Three things to watch

Tufts has taken two of the last three meetings, including a 7-6 decision at Stevenson on March 19, 2013. In those three games, the Mustangs have scored 28 goals, while the Jumbos have scored 26 times.

No. 4 Tufts (4-0) won the 2011 NCAA crown and advanced to the 2012 title game before losing to Salisbury. Aside from a scare against Keene State that resulted in a 17-16 win March 8, the team has outscored its opponents 67-26 in the other three contests. Senior goalkeeper Patton Watkins won’t stun you with his numbers (a 9.91 goals-against average and a .549 save percentage), but he did make 16 saves in last year’s win against Stevenson.

No. 5 Stevenson (5-1) is riding a four-game winning streak and is beginning to look like a team intent on retaining the national championship it earned last May. Since a 15-14 overtime loss to the Rochester Institute of Technology on Feb. 22, the team has outscored its opponents 57-32. Five players have accumulated at least 10 points – a group led by senior midfielder Glen Tompkins’ 19 points on 15 goals and four assists.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

1) Tufts’ offense. The Jumbos’ reputation as a high-flying outfit has not changed. Their average of 21.0 goals ranks second in Division III, as does their 33.0 points per game. Three players have posted more than 20 points, and junior attackman Chris Schoenhut is just one point shy with 19 goals. The Mustangs have a defensive unit headed by senior defenseman Kyle Holechek (12 caused turnovers and nine ground balls) and sophomore defenseman Callum Robinson (9 CT, 23 GB) and anchored by sophomore goalie Dimitri Pecunes (9.09 goals-against average, .495 save percentage).

“They’re a good team,” Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene said. “They’ve gotten a lot of easy goals, and you can’t let them score easy goals. They’ve got two great attackmen in [junior Cole] Bailey and [senior] Beau Wood, and we’ve got to be aware of them. They’ve got a couple of really good middies. … But we play good teams with a lot of great offensive players. We played RIT very well. We know we can play with them. We’ve just got to make sure that we don’t give them a lot of easy goals. We have to limit their opportunities as best as we can.”

2) Stevenson’s man-up offense. The Mustangs can help their defense by taking a lead and maintaining one, and they can do that by taking advantage of their extra-man opportunities. The man-up offense has converted 50.0 percent (19-of-38) of its chances, which is tied for the 12th-best rate in the country. That unit could get a lot of action if the Jumbos live up to their average of 7.5 penalties.

“We’ve had some good opportunities. So hopefully, they foul us,” Cantabene said. “But I think both teams play very aggressively getting up and down and that leads to more fouls. When you play really aggressive, that leads to more fouls, which can put you in some tough situations. That’s happened to us, and I think that’s happened to them because they want to push tempo and get teams to go up and down and play their way – as do we.”

3) Stevenson’s faceoffs. Another unit that could assist is the faceoff group. Senior Brent Hiken has won 75.5 percent (80-of-106) of his draws and collected 52 ground balls, and sophomore Justin Buonomo has won 64.3 percent (27-of-42) and picked up 21 ground balls. The duo would seem to have a statistical edge over Tufts’ duo of sophomore Conor Helfrich (57.0 percent on 61-of-107 and 33 GB) and junior Ryan Le (52.9 percent on 9-of-17 and six GB). Cantabene – considered one of the game’s best faceoff specialists – understands the importance of getting the ball and maintaining possession.

“It keeps giving us the ball back,” he said. “It helps us stop runs. They have a good guy, and I think he’s a little underrated. But I like our guys, too, and if we can keep getting possession of the ball and limit their amount of touches, then that helps us.”

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