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'I love just being the backbone': First-year starting goalies emerging in men's lacrosse

Tyler Canto, a junior goalkeeper for the No. 1 Towson men's lacrosse team, is one of four first-year starters among the Division I programs in the state.
Tyler Canto, a junior goalkeeper for the No. 1 Towson men's lacrosse team, is one of four first-year starters among the Division I programs in the state. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Standing – almost looming – at one end of the goalie spectrum in men’s lacrosse is Towson’s 6-foot-6, 245-pound junior Tyler Canto. Opposite him are all 5 feet, 9 inches and 175 pounds of Johns Hopkins sophomore Ryan Darby.

Then there is Maryland’s Danny Dolan, a fifth-year senior who is close to earning his bachelor’s degree in American studies. And he is counterbalanced by UMBC’s Jack Morton, a baby-faced freshman.

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Despite their differences, however, all four share one similarity. They are first-year starters for their respective programs and therefore carry a certain weight that could determine the fate of their teams.

And they would not have it any other way.

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“I love just being the backbone of the D and being able to make a big play in the game,” Canto said. “I just like being an X factor in the game. I live for it, for sure. It’s a really fun spot to play in.”

Said Morton: “That’s just something that comes with the position, and that’s something I understand. So I’m OK with that.”

Notre Dame attackman Brendan Gleason and Stanford attacker Ali Baiocco are The Sun’s National Players of the Week in men’s and women’s lacrosse, respectively.

For every Jacob Stover of Loyola Maryland and Ryan Kern of Navy, there are rookies and veterans making their debuts as starters in one of the most scrutinized positions in the sport.

Goalkeepers are often referred to as the last line of their team defenses and are expected to stand in the path of shots that can reach triple digits in miles per hour. And fairly or unfairly, the goalies are recognized as the linchpins or scapegoats for their teams’ success – or lack thereof.

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Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala said the physical evolution of shooters and the advances in stick technology that they use have placed a premium on finding quality goalkeepers.

“I think when you look back and you look at championship teams, it’s not often that you look and go, ‘Wow, they didn’t get good goaltending,’ ” he said. “If you look at the sport of hockey in the playoffs, the thing you want more than anything else is a hot goalie. So there is a premium on finding a young man that fits the way you want to play and has the capability of helping you win games and a young man that is going to continue to grow.”

For the four first-year goalies, their roads to start-dom can be split into two categories. Dolan and Darby had the unenviable task of replacing multi-year starters Dan Morris and Brock Turnbaugh, respectively. Both players credited their predecessors with fostering their learning curve.

Dolan said he especially valued some words of wisdom from Bernlohr before making his debut against Bucknell on Feb. 2, which marked his first start since March 19, 2016

“Just looking back, there’s been Niko [Amato], Kyle [Bernlohr], [Brian] Phipps, Dan and the list goes on and on,” said Dolan, who transferred from Massachusetts during the 2017 season. “But Kyle was like, ‘No, play your game. This is your year. Just play your game. Don’t even think about trying to replace all of us because everyone is a different goalie, and it’s a different, unique team. So just be you.’ ”

Tigers attackman Brendan Sunday fires a shot on Johns Hopkins goalkeeper Ryan Darby during the season opener for both teams.
Tigers attackman Brendan Sunday fires a shot on Johns Hopkins goalkeeper Ryan Darby during the season opener for both teams. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Darby still meets Turnbaugh regularly for breakfast, which has been part of the basis for his physical transformation. Faced with the proposition of battling junior Jacob Giacalone and freshman Alex Gainey for the job, Darby shed nearly 15 pounds in the offseason to ready himself physically.

“I kind of realized last year that my mentality wasn’t where it should be just thinking about the game as a whole and what Hopkins lacrosse is and knowing that it’s bigger than yourself,” he said. “That really helped me buy into thinking, ‘OK, I need to fix my body, and I need to do everything that I can to help my teammates and help us get wins every week and just not be part-time.’”

Meanwhile, injuries have opened the door for Canto and Morton to emerge as starters. Redshirt sophomore Shane Brennan, who made 14 starts last spring for the Tigers, and sophomore Tommy Lingner, who started 10 games last season for the Retrievers, are battling unspecified ailments.

The absence of Brennan, who has returned to the team but has yet to make an appearance, has been offset by Canto, a UMass Lowell transfer who ranks third in Division I in save percentage (.629) and fifth in goals-against average (8.25).

But if observers are surprised by his sudden success, he is not.

“I know what I can do in the net,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been playing up to what I feel like would be my standard, and my defense has really been helping me out with that. They’ve been playing great all year, limiting the quality shots for other teams and making my job a lot easier.”

Lingner started in UMBC’s first three games, but gave way to Morton for Saturday’s 14-13 overtime loss to Brown in which he made 13 saves. The Ellicott City native, who made one start in his final two seasons at Boys’ Latin, said he welcomed the chance to fill in for Lingner.

“I don’t really think about it as pressure on me,” he said. “I put pressure on myself to play to my best ability. I don’t really compare myself to other goalies. I just want to be the best version of me.”

Retrievers coach Ryan Moran said he did not see many gaffes from his rookie goalie.

“At the end of the day, I think it’s a position that he’s used to being in,” he said. “He’s played goalie his whole life, and being between the pipes for those guys is a lot more of a natural habitat than for most lacrosse players. So I’d like to think that he approached it the same way that he’s done his whole career. I think after that first or second shot, he got settled in a little bit, he saw the ball, and everything kind of went from there.”

Canto and Darby have already crossed paths with Canto and Towson cruising to a 17-8 rout on Feb. 9, and Darby and Dolan will meet when Johns Hopkins and Maryland meet on April 27. Although the four first-year starters do not know each other personally, they agreed that there is a consistent level of support among the members that make up the small fraternity of goalkeepers.

“It is cool to see,” Dolan said. “When you see goalies have an awesome day, you’re just really happy for them and excited them. I know what they go through, and to see them be successful like that is awesome to see. I definitely feel for them in that way.”

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