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Johns Hopkins trying to solve Maryland's Niko Amato

In three career meetings against Maryland redshirt junior Niko Amato, Zach Palmer has scored three goals on nine shots and added just one assist. So the Johns Hopkins senior attackman is well-versed in the difficulty of getting the ball past the Terps goalkeeper.

“He doesn’t make any mistakes,” Palmer said Wednesday. “You have to put it in good spots against him. But I think he’s done that his whole career.”

Amato, who will lead No. 4 Maryland (8-1) in welcoming the No. 15 Blue Jays (6-4) to Byrd Stadium in College Park this Saturday, has anchored a defense that entered the week ranked fourth in Division I after surrendering 7.3 goals per game this season.

He ranks fifth in the country in goals-against average (7.20) and eighth in saver percentage (.583). Five other goalies rank in the top 10 in both goals-against average and save percentage.

As effective as Amato has been at preventing the ball from going into the net, Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said Amato – who registered his third career assist this spring – is just as dangerous in turning saves into offensive opportunities for his teammates.

“I think Niko Amato isn’t just a guy who stops the ball. He saves it,” Pietramala said. “I think he’s done a  very good job of creating some transition opportunities for them when he gobbles them up and gets it quickly to [senior long-stick midfielder Jesse] Bernhardt or to [senior short-stick defensive midfielder] Landon Carr, who is a fabulous athlete. So I think he’s had a very, very good year. I don’t think you can afford to just come up and take the first available shot. I think you’ve got to work to take the best available one, and I think you have to shoot the ball well.”

Amato and the rest of the Terps are the biggest obstacle for the Blue Jays snapping a slide in which they have lost three of their last four contests. That’s why Palmer said Johns Hopkins is placing a great deal of significance on Saturday’s tilt.

“We’re playing it as if it’s a must-win game,” Palmer said. “We’re 6-4, and we need to have that big top 20 win. Obviously Maryland is the No. 1 team right now. So we’re playing it as a must-win.”

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