February 14, 2014

#LMRanks: Pecunes Is Stevenson's Calming Influence

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

No. 1 Stevenson Mustangs

2013 Record: 22-2, NCAA Champions

Top Returner: Kyle Holechek (Sr.)
There is a laundry list of guys who could fill this spot, but Holechek (74GBs, 32 CT) is the glue that keeps the Mustangs a cohesive entity.

X-Factors: FO Brett Hiken (Sr.) and FO Sam Wyatt (Jr.)
They get lost in the star-studded Stevenson melange, but the faceoff tandem of Hiken (70.9 percent) and Wyatt (66.5) plays a crucial role. 

There were no nerves when Stevenson goalie Dmitri Pecunes readied for the national championship game against RIT as a rookie. Now that he's a sophomore captain, even more will be expected of the Mustangs' netminder. (Kevin P. Tucker)

To hear Paul Cantabene tell it, Dmitri Pecunes had to take a back seat when he stepped in as the starting goalie for Stevenson last spring as a rookie.

"Sometimes it takes a freshman a little while to tell a senior who has been there what to do," said Cantabene, who led the Mustangs to the national championship last year. "With freshmen, you have to be careful not to do it too much or too little. There's a fine line. You want the other players to respect you and I think he's found that line with how well he played at times."

"The guys in front of him understand and respect him now," continued Cantabene. "When he talks, they listen, whereas last year they might have said, 'Easy there, freshman. We've been doing this for three years. Calm down.'" I think he has earned that respect and it has shown in his play and how our defense has played at times. They understand that when he talks, they have to listen."

It makes sense. There is usually a pecking order in the leadership ranks, and in most cases frosh are to be seen and not heard.


"I didn't mind it all. I didn't really worry about it that they were older than me," said Pecunes, countering his coach's theory. "They wanted to win just as much as I did. It doesn't matter who it's coming from; we have to play together."

Whether the discrepancy between the stories lies on the coach's end or the player's is meaningless at this point since it paid out in national championship currency. And Pecunes' tranquil response to his interaction with the defense provides a topic that both he and Cantabene can agree upon.

"He's just a very calm kid," Cantabene said. "We've had a lot of good goalies at Stevenson and I've played with a lot of good goalies, and I just think he's really calm in the net. He doesn't get rattled. He has a good demeanor so every shot that he sees he's confident that he's going to make a good save. He understands what it takes to be a good goalie and he's taken huge strides in understanding what we want as a coaching staff from him."

"What I'm try doing is to stay as calm as possible. You think clearer. You see the ball better," Pecunes said. "When a team makes a run, you really can't dwell on it or let it get in your head because once it's in your head, you start making mistakes. You have to keep a clear mind and stay calm; you wait for the next play and make that next play."

Levelheadedness hasn't always been Cantabene's biggest strength. Ever since he arrived in Owings Mills, Cantabene's camouflaged sideline outfits may have made him occasionally hard to see, but there has been no masking his antipathy. It's who Cantabene is and, for the most part, it has worked. Pecunes' placidity is a nice counterbalance in that sense.

In the NCAA second round game against Washington College, Stevenson fell behind 5-2 after the first quarter and Cantabene gave Pecunes the hook. It's a move that can be devastating mentally for a netminder, especially when it happens on such a big stage. Like any goalie, Pecunes didn't like it, but he kept his baseline.

"Even when we pulled him against Washington College to relax him, he went back in later in the game and made some great saves for us," Cantabene said. "He wasn't nervous. He was a freshman in the fourth quarter of the national championship game and he wasn't nervous. A lot of freshman would have a tough time with that, but he embraced it."

The national championship game was definitely a little weird. Cantabene admits to being slightly unnerved when his normally taciturn goalie became animated during the break before the fourth quarter when the Mustangs were down 13-10.

"He was more pumped up than we had seen him," Cantabene said.

"When we were down it was starting to get into our team's head and we were falling apart a little bit," Pecunes said. "We had to get back together. I was just trying to keep everyone calm. And then at one point I just said, 'Alright,' and started getting everybody amped up in order to get the momentum back."

It was the perfect remedy. Pecunes teammates scored six of the next seven goals to walk away with the 16-14 triumph and the national championship.

As Stevenson embarks on its quest to repeat, Pecunes will remain a big part of the equation. Much of the defense in front of him, particularly senior Kyle Holechek and junior Callum Robinson, returns as well. As well as the rookie played in between the pipes, it's important to understand who he had protecting him.

"The biggest reason he had success was the guys in front of him sold out for him," Cantabene said. "They really wanted him to be successful. We looked at who the guys were playing the hardest for. Sometimes you have goalies where the defense is saying, 'I'm getting out of the way for this shot.' Dmitri had all the guys in front him diving and trying to block shots and getting pieces of stick and making the extra effort. I think that says a lot: the guys were willing to sacrifice so much for him."

This will ultimately be Stevenson's challenge: staying on the same page. The talent is there, it's simply a matter of directing everyone in the same direction coming off a year when everything turned out perfectly. Part of that task will fall to Pecunes.

"He's a captain this year, which is saying something when you are a sophomore," Cantabene said. "The way he has played and the way he goes about his business off the field, the guys have a lot of respect for that."

"I was very surprised," Pecunes said about earning a captainship. "Honestly, I don't think I need to do anything different than what I did. Just kind of keep our team together and not fall apart. Keep everyone calm and doing the right things. We're a family and everyone has to buy into that."

Lacrosse Magazine will continue its 2014 college lacrosse preview throughout January and into February, with team-by-team breakdowns of the top teams in NCAA Division I, II and III men's and women's lacrosse. Follow the countdown at LaxMagazine.com/LMRanks and on twitter at #LMRanks. 

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