July 8, 2011

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Goaltenders Face Shooting Gallery at U19 Men's Tryouts

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com


UMass-bound Zach Oliveri, one of 12 goaltenders trying out for the 2012 U.S. U19 men's team, said he tries to emulate the leadership qualities of former U.S. goalies Brian Dougherty and Sal LoCascio.
©John Strohsacker

CATONSVILLE, Md. -- It's difficult to say who or what group of players has the toughest task at the U.S. Under-19 men's team tryouts this weekend at UMBC. With 123 of the nation's finest players at their age level battling for 23 spots, competition all over the field is stiff. But the goaltenders, in particular, don't have it easy, facing the country's best offensive players on every possession.

When they stand out with a big stop, like Zach Oliveri did at times during Friday's scrimmage tryouts, it's noticeable.

"Has he been scored on yet?" Virginia-bound defenseman Tanner Ottenbreit (Regis Jesuit (Colo.)) said on the sideline after Oliveri, the UMass-bound goalie from Connetquot on Long Island, made a point-blank save on Stephen Kelly (Calvert Hall (Md.)).

The real answer was yes, he had been scored on, but the general point was valid. Oliveri turned in a solid Day 2 performance at the four-day tryouts for the U.S. team that will compete in the 2012 FIL Men's U-19 World Championship in Turku, Finland.

Twenty-four selectors, including the four members of the U19 team coaching staff and some of the most well-respected high school coaches from around the country, are on hand at UMBC this weekend to pick the 23-member squad. US Lacrosse will announce the team Monday.

Twelve goaltenders -- Luke Aaron (Deerfield Academy (Mass.)), Peter DeLuca (Jacksonville University), Conor Fraylick (Pleasantville (N.Y.)), Harvard-bound Jake Gambitsky (Wantagh (N.Y.)), Connor Gordon (Tabor Academy (Mass.)), Virginia-bound Rhody Heller (Regis Jesuit (Colo.)), Notre Dame-bound Conor Kelly (Haverford (Pa.)), Matt O'Connor (Lawrenceville (N.J.)), Oliveri, Chris Selva (St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.)), Kyle Turri (West Islip (N.Y.)) and Tyler White (Corning East (N.Y.)) -- are competing for likely two spots the roster.

"These are the best goalies I've seen play, ever," said one of them, Gordon, one of two rising high school seniors among the goalie group. "I've never played in a competition like this. Obviously I'm here to try to make the team but the experience is unbelievable."

Goaltenders are known to have their quirks, or at least if you get a group together, you'll often find different sizes and styles. This one is no exception. Gordon uses a black stick and strings, which stand out when he's on the field, contrasting with his white helmet and red and blue uniform. "I usually wear black sweatpants, too," he said. "Tradition, I guess."

Gordon likes to play out of the crease at times, although a partially torn right MCL suffered a month ago has been a setback. "I like to play out of the net, but going one-on-one with the attackman is definitely a strength; following the stick."

Oliveri is a vocal leader, often barking instructions to defensemen. He grunts when making saves. He talks to himself. Because he accidentally left his iPod at home this trip, he's been forced to sit in the dorms at UMBC in silence trying to focus before the day's games. (The tryout process is a series of evaluated scrimmages that will continue Saturday and Sunday. For the goalies, each have been given equal playing time.)

Oliveri has been tutored by former Team USA and professional goaltender Brian Dougherty, so this type of show should come as no surprise. The outspoken Dougherty coached Oliveri on a seventh-grade travel team, and Oliveri said he tries to emulate Dougherty and Sal LoCascio, the three-time world champion U.S. goaltender and National Hall of Famer.

"Both are great leaders. I really try to match that," Oliveri said. "If a defense doesn't have a leader behind them, it really doesn't complete the unit. I try to be very vocal and be there for the guys, and the saves will come. If I direct them where I want the ball to be shot from and make it easier for myself, it will help me out."

Turri is a goalie who, while knowing his first job is to stop the ball, doesn't mind leaving the crease. The Duke-bound netminder from the powerhouse West Islip program on Long Island found YouTube fame (1:45 minute mark) this spring when cameras captured his coast-to-coast goal with 56 seconds left in overtime of a regular season game against public school rival Ward Melville in April.

"My ability outside the cage, picking up some ground balls that a lot of goalies might not be able to get to," Turri said of his strengths. "I'm good at clearing."

For this weekend, he said he wants to show the evaluators, "That I know what I'm doing, make the saves I'm supposed to make and hopefully a couple that I'm not. These are great shooters and they're going to score a lot of goals."

Some of the toughest jobs out there at UMBC may be stopping those goals.

"Every time I step on the field I definitely want to give it my all because I'm facing the top shooters in the nation," Oliveri said. "They're phenomenal. I'm just trying to see the ball. ... I think I'm doing pretty well. I'm just trying to keep it going, because there are so many more games and so many more times for improvement and times for mistakes. This is it. I played on the [New York] Empire Team last year. Now it's the next step, playing for the World Team. It would be great."


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