February 25, 2013

Making Sense: The Delicate Science of Platooning

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

With classmate Koltin Fatzinger sidelined with a torn hamstring, junior Jack Regan (above) played every minute of Colorado State's semifinal and championship game victories. Despite the success, Rams' head coach Alex Smith is committed to the goalie platoon that got CSU so far last year.
© Cecil Copeland

When the final whistle sounded on Colorado State's victory in the national championship game last May, the team piled on goalie Jack Regan. The then-sophomore deserved the adulation after making 12 saves in the Rams' 7-5 triumph over Cal Poly, including a couple that you wouldn't expect from a wiry, 6-foot-4 netminder.

A player from the CSU bench also limped out to offer his congratulations to Regan. Koltin Fatzinger, a classmate, had been involved in a goalie platoon for nearly the entire season with Regan, but tore his hamstring in a quarterfinal win against UC Santa Barbara. Fatzinger was relegated to the bench for the final two games of the season.

It was a tough spot for a player who had been instrumental in helping the Rams win their MCLA-record fifth title.

"I was just mainly a cheerleader," said Fatzinger. "But he's a great goalie, so he didn't need much help. He was fine."

Regan was happy to embrace his platoon partner, especially knowing the physical, and perhaps a bit of mental, anguish Fatzinger was going through. If Fatzinger had avoided the injury, he would have been the one on the field when CSU clinched.

"He's a tough guy and stayed out there against UCSB, but once he realized he was hurt and not doing the best thing for the team, he took himself out," Regan said. "From there on, he was very supportive of me. He had a great mental attitude about it."

But was that the end of the platoon? One goalie turned away 67 percent of the shots he saw in the two biggest contests of the season. Another suffered an injury that prevented him from running the entire summer. Were the Rams going back to being a traditional one-man goaltending show?

* * *

While they both eventually landed in Fort Collins, Regan and Fatzinger have disparate backstories.

"What's interesting about them is they are very different in terms of how they got to CSU, who they are as goalies and who they are as people," said Colorado State head coach Alex Smith. "But at the same time, they are both very good goalies."

It didn't take long for Smith to realize he wanted to make recruiting Regan a priority. After receiving a highlight film of Regan's career at Sunset High School in Portland, Ore., Smith was intrigued by how well the youngster handled big shooters, especially a kid out of Lincoln High School named Peter Baum. "He had a good shot," Regan deadpanned.

Fatzinger, a Thornton, Colo., product started his college experience at Chestnut Hill, a Division II school located outside Philadelphia. He participated in fall ball his freshman year, but found the experience not to his liking, transferring back home. "We knew he was a good goalie because he had gone through all the training with Trevor Tierney," said Smith. "I knew he was going to be a solid kid in that respect."

Personality-wise, Regan and Fatzinger are different, but the contrast isn't overwhelming.

"I'm always kind of on the move, he's kind of laid-back," Regan said of the disparity, a description that Fatzinger concurs with.

"Neither one of them are going to be the center of attention, but at the same time, neither of them are completely introverted," Smith said. "They are just both part of the team. We don't have guys who have bombastic personalities and we don't have guys who are entirely off in the shadows. The goalies completely embody that."

The biggest gap between the two netminders — even more than their backgrounds or personalities — is their approach to the craft. At 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds, Regan makes use of his size at every turn. Fatzinger, who is 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, uses his size, as well, but for different purposes.

"Jack is a tall, lanky, rangy kid, and he scores in the top five in all of our testing stuff except for push-ups because he has so far to go," Smith said. "He's pretty athletic, and I don't think people realize that about him. He is just a pure ball-stopper and catches everything. He's great in the clear because he can throw it over attackmen. He's a real weapon that way.

"Koltin is more explosive. Koltin doesn't score so well on those tests, but he is more of the Brett Queener-type of goalie who gets out, gets the ground balls and is more effective in the clearing game with his feet. They both bring something different to the table."

Regan is probably the more technical goalie, using the standard positioning and arc. Fatzinger has no arc, playing more of a cat-and-mouse game with the opposing attackmen.

"Jack can just stand there and take up the entire net, so when he's in, shooters don't see much," said Fatzinger. "When I go in, I like to bait people. I get low, show them a lot of net up high and just hope they go there."

"Koltin is pretty explosive and I lay back a little bit," Regan said. "He's really good around the crease. You can tell when you look at it. He's a lot shorter and I'm tall and skinny, so we definitely have different strengths and weaknesses."

* * *

Smith is probably one of the most accomplished goalies in Colorado State history. He has MCLA national titles to his name and playing experience in Major League Lacrosse. How would he have reacted to a platoon situation during his collegiate playing days?

"I probably wouldn't have been able to handle it," he said.

It's an honest, if somewhat startling, admission. Especially since Smith is married to the concept of running the same platoon — Regan for the first 30 minutes, Fatzinger for the second half hour — this spring as Colorado State prepares to defend its championship.

Both goalies admit that it took a little while for them to become accustomed to being a half-timer.

"It was definitely not something I was used to," Regan said. "I played full games in high school and I was pretty much the main guy. But you come to Colorado State and it has the nickname 'Goalie U.' We've traditionally had a ton of goalies; my freshman year we started out with six. You have to get used to it. Last year was when we really started with the two-man system. You just kind of roll right into it. It doesn't really faze me anymore."

"If it was my freshman year, I think it would be hard," admitted Fatzinger. "But I got to know Jack my freshman year and then it was kind of an easy thing. He's one of my best friends on the team and it's easy to cheer for him."

Even as a coach, it isn't always easy for Smith to remain dedicated to the platoon concept. Anyone who knows Smith, or has seen him stalking a sideline, understands that he is prone to compulsive behavior. It's a demon he fought all last year, and likely will again.

"It happens all the time," Smith said. "When a kid makes a great save, I'll say, 'We've got to leave him in!' Or someone lets in a softy and we're saying, 'We've got to get him out of there!' That's the knee-jerk reaction, but that's what we learned from last year: the knee-jerk decision is not the positive one for us in the long run.

"What we discovered, through trial and error, is it makes it even tougher if they don't know what the expectations are. If they think the ax could fall at any moment or they think that if one of them got hot, they'll stay in, it won't work. We got into a nice rhythm once we said, 'This is what we're going to do, and we're going to stick with it. We're going to trust our instincts.'"

As good as both Regan and Fatzinger are, the success of the goalie platoon has been helped by the best close defense in the association. Seniors Patrick Sullivan, Tyler Zabor and Hayden Porter have been playing together for several seasons, and combine to provide a nice security blanket for whoever is minding the cage. Having the team leaders — Sullivan and Zabor are captains — who don't care who is playing behind them has been critical, as well.

"It helps that there isn't a controversy," Smith said. "We don't have anyone whispering in the corner that, 'Oh, this guy should be the one playing or this guy is not good enough.' It's just like this unspoken thing, and that's one of things I like about the team. This stuff comes about organically, and it's not something we are planning here. We're just kind of going with the flow with this stuff and the team takes it for what it is, and I'm appreciative of that."

The last piece of the puzzle for the goalies was getting their warmup routine down. It wasn't much of a factor for Regan, who starts games, but it took Fatzinger a while to set everything up. He only takes a couple of shots in the pregame and doesn't start stretching until midway through the second quarter. When halftime comes, the rest of the team is huddled up and he's getting his shots. It's an important protocol for a team that plays one of the toughest schedules in the country and is favored to win the championship again.

"It's going to be easier," Fatzinger said of this season. "We know what's going on and I've got my pregame stuff down now. I think the whole rest of the team is used to now, as well."

"Mentally, the only thing you have to overcome is the fact that you're losing time and you could be getting it, but he's your teammate and you trust him," Regan said. "It's OK."

Barring a devastating injury like Fatzinger suffered at the end of last year, or perhaps Smith getting cold feet, the platoon is in full effect in Fort Collins. It's worked once, and there's no reason to believe it won't again.

Only this time, both goalies will have the opportunity to share the championship spotlight.

Players of the Week

NCAA Division II
Luke Miller, A, Soph., NYIT
After an injury-plagued freshman campaign, Miller showed that he's ready to roll this spring. He scored four goals, including the game-winner, and set up two others as the No. 8 Bears upset No. 6 Seton Hill, 12-11. He also chipped in with three ground balls, which was tied for second on the team.

NCAA Division III
Garrett Paglia, M, Soph., Washington & Lee
It was one of the best weeks in the storied history of the W&L program and Paglia was at the center. He scored four goals helping the Generals bounce national championship Salisbury in double overtime on Wednesday and then buried the game-winning goal in an 8-7 triumph over No. 10 Denison on Sunday. Both games were on the road.

MCLA Division I
Trent Dean, A, Sr., Georgia
The Bulldogs posted a 3-0 weekend, including a victory over SELC heavyweight Florida State for the first time since 2008, thanks to Dean. He notched four goals against the Seminoles in the 11-6 triumph and added four more in a 16-15, come-from-behind win against Central Florida.

MCLA Division II
Jake Helmer, A, Jr., St. John's

The Johnnies laid waste to the competition in St. Louis, thanks to Helmer. He racked up 16 goals and 10 assists in wins over No. 13 Washington U. (4g, 4a), Missouri Baptist (5g, 1a), Lindenwood-Beville (3g. 2a) and Missouri State (4g, 3a).

Power Fives

NCAA Division II
1. Limestone (3-0) – The Saints get to snooze through two weeks before back-to-back games with Merrimack and Le Moyne.
2. Le Moyne (1-0) – New rules? No problem. The Dolphins looked frightening in their destruction of No. 9 Chestnut Hill.
3. Merychurst (1-0) – Brian Scheetz's seven-point outing is just a taste of what we're going to get out of him in 2013.
4. NYIT (1-0) – Limestone's win over Dowling was pleasant, but I could make an argument that the Bears' triumph was more impressive.
5. Dowling (0-1) – Discount? You bet. But watching the Limestone game tells me Dowling is going to be just fine this spring.

NCAA Division III
1. Washington & Lee (4-0) – The Generals had two, one-goal, top-10 road games and came out on top in both. What a week.
2. Cortland (1-0) – There were 10 different scorers against Albright. That's nice. Consul and Slavik are still the Big Dogs.
3. Lynchburg (2-0) – F&M is certainly an underrated team, but there's no way there wasn't a Salisbury hangover in that win.
4. Stevenson (2-0) – We kind of have a feel for the Mustangs. RIT and WNE will truly test the offense's mettle.
5. Cabrini (1-0) – Have to like the 18 goals scored, but giving up 12 goals is very un-Cavalier. Dickinson wants this spot.

MCLA Division I
1. Colorado State (2-0) – Lots of goals this weekend for the Rams. Nice work. But they better be ready to grind now.
2. Stanford (5-0) – The Cardinal should be 9-0 heading into the BYU game, which will be for seeding purposes only.
3. Arizona State (3-0) – It was a 2-0 weekend for the Sun Devils, but the trip to Minneapolis raised some questions about ASU.
4. BYU (4-0) – Hopefully the Cougars got the deed and the keys on Friday night because they own Chapman.
5. Oregon (4-1) – The Chapman win is losing a little bit of its shine, but we'll get a better feel after the Ducks play CU.

MCLA Division II
1. St. Thomas (3-0) – Two games in the next five weeks for the Tommies. Any more bowling outings scheduled?
2. Grand Valley State (0-0) – The torch went from Holding to Dumsa. Is Jeremy Pouba ready to be the next great Laker?
3. Westminster (2-3) – The Griffins took their lumps against the RMLC-I big dogs, but that's nothing but a positive for them.
4. St. John's (4-0) – Forget about Winter Storm Q. It was the Johnnies who demolished St. Louis this weekend.
5. North Dakota State (0-0) – Always wondered why NDSU played so many of its games in Minnesota. Then I saw the Bison roster.


NCAA Division II: Florida Tech has already matched its win total from '12 after dedicating its season to a family.
NCAA Division III: Washington College gets Gopher of its back; W&L has a spring break trip to remember.
MCLA Division I: Despite the hot start, Stanford is keeping its understated approach to the season.
MCLA Division II: With the schedule, the coaching staff and his health, it's a season of changes for Dayton's Charlie Mark.

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