In contrast to how Cohen played him in the first quarter, Epple is more content with letting Sowers come to him, electing to meet him closer to goal line extended (GLE) versus starting the engagement below it.
“You learn to play angles a little bit more as a defenseman and try to really contain him more than anything,” Epple said after the game. “He’s just too good, too fast, and I’m not going to go out there and try and match feet with him at the end line he’s just going to burn me every time.”
Second and more important, Epple is showing Sowers a slight shade. Doing this makes Sower’s path to the X more difficult. Cutting off X limits his optionality, specifically getting to his right hand.
Throughout his career, Sowers has shot 22.9% with his left hand (8-for-35) compared to 38.8% with his right (26-for-67).
Epple likely isn’t computing those numbers to the decimal point in real time, but he is making a decision about what he’s willing to give up. As a veteran in this league, he knew enough to get Sowers going to his left as much as possible. So even though Sowers gets a hands-free shot, it’s a significantly lower quality shot – over 15% lower.
“If I can get him going one way, maybe to his weak hand, at least that limits his potential, and that’s at least my mentality when I’m guarding him out there,” Epple said.
Like the second play, in the play below, Epple determines more aspects of the engagement than Sowers does.
By this point in the game, the Redwoods had taken a 10-9 lead, and Jack Kelly was on fire in goal (he finished with 19 saves and a 68.8% save percentage). So the Woods were playing with a little more confidence.