Denver and Syracuse will play the second of the two semi-finals on Saturday. This game features two teams that each won their respective quarterfinal game with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter. This game also features a battle of two coaches whose duels go way back.
Coaches Desko and Coach Tierney have faced each other in NCAA tournament battles of the 90s and 00s. Coach Tierney said of their history, that when he arrived at Denver, one of the first calls he made was to Desko to set up the first game for Denver with Coach Tierney at the helm against Syracuse…in the Carrier Dome. Tierney told Desko that he wanted his guys to know what it took to be a championship team, and there was nothing more daunting than playing Syracuse in the Dome.
It was a nod of respect to coach Desko, but also could it have been a forewarning of what was yet to come.
Denver enters this game at 14-4 with wins over Duke, Lehigh, Penn, OSU, Albany, UNC. Their losses were to Penn State, Notre Dame, Fairfield, and OSU. OSU, Fairfield, and NotreDame were all 1 goal losses.
Their most recent win came in a thriller against UNC.
Denver came out struggling shooting (6 pipes in first half, and MANY shots sailed high), had trouble switching to defense in the transition game, and Ryan LaPlante faced his own difficulties making only 1 save, and letting in 6 in under 10 minutes. Faus came in and kept Denver in it posting 11 saves with only 5 goals against (69%). It was uncharacteristic play by the whole team in that first quarter as they were trailing 6-1 before the second quarter started. The second and third quarters, Denver made adjustments and started to claw back, before really taking it to UNC in Face Offs (5 of 6), Shots (16 to 5), ground balls (9 to 3), and most importantly goals (5 to 1).
For the year, Denver’s offense is led by Eric Law with 40Goals, 35Assists; Wes Berg with 56G, 16A; and Cameron Flint with 36G,14A.
Law and Berg have really upped the ante in the last two games combining for 25 points (7G/4A, and 12G/2A respectively).
The same can be said about Chase Carraro taking the face-off. During the year he averaged 57.8%, and during the last two games, 63.9%.
In goal, Coach Tierney uses a two goalie system. Ryan LaPlante starts the game (10.1 Goals Against Average, Save percentage 55.7%), and Jamie Faus finishes it (9.1GAA, Save percentage 56.7%). It is a system that can come under fire especially when one of the goalies has an off day like LaPlante did against UNC, but the fact is it has worked so far this year. In the Denver coaching staff’s collective mind, there is no question. When asked if Faus might start, Coach Tierney answered with an authoritative “Absolutely not.” He added that immediately after the game they went over to LaPlante and told him he was starting next week.
Syracuse enters this game at 15-3 with wins over Hopkins, Princeton, Cornell, Notre Dame (twice), and Yale. They lost to Albany, Villanova, and Hobart
Syracuse is coming off of a tough win against Yale. Tough in the fact they almost beat themselves right out of the tournament. Syracuse started off hot like they usually do, leading 4 to 1 at the end of the first quarter. That’s when the foot lets off the gas a little and by the third quarter, they are just playing sloppy. Add to the slop, the fact that the Syracuse offense this year is more deliberate. Not to say they can’t run and gun, but on offense, but this year, they settle down more and look for that perfect look. Many times this year, they are looking to make one too many passes or trying to force the ball in for a close shot. Syracuse needs to realize they have guys that can shoot and not be overly deliberate in shot selection. They finally found their rhythm (or desperation) in the fourth quarter after a scoring drought of over 40 minutes…Syracuse…no goals in 40 minutes…let that simmer.
For the year, Syracuse is led in scoring by JoJo Marasco with 20G, 38A; Kevin Rice with 22G, 29A; and Luke Cometti with 30G, 9A.
In net is Dominic Lamolinara, who for the year has an 8.12 GAA, and a save percentage of 54.2. In his last game against Yale, while his save percentage was 60%, it was everything else he did that kept them in the game. Lamolinara was active in the crease, disrupting passes (credited with 2 caused turnovers), going after loose balls in the vicinity, keeping his defense together, and Syracuse in the game against a deceivingly good Yale team.
Overall the Syracuse defense from close defense to the middies, they have improved all season. They may have started off looking a little timid, but have since gelled and are holding opponents in check.
Let us not forget about the elephant in the room. Face-Offs. This has been a problem for a number of years for Syracuse. This year is no different. The bigger concern is that entering the tournament, they were at 45.7% which is worrisome, but not panic mode. However IN the tournament Syracuse has won just 6 face offs out of 40. That is 15%. The further you get in the tournament, the more valuable those possessions are. If Syracuse was still in the mid 40% range, it would not be as big of a concern.
Lastly, probably the biggest concern for Syracuse is the injury to Steve Ianzito.
Ianzito has been a tough Short Stick Defensive Middie all year. He has taken on some tough opponents and been a real leader on defense. In the Yale game he badly twisted an ankle and was on crutches on the sideline by the end of the game. Coach Desko is not sure Ianzito will be ready, but if you ask Steve, you’ll get a completely opposite answer. Even if he can play, at what percent will he be at? How many steps will he be behind? The concern here is that Denver’s middies are a huge part of their offense. If Ianzito is out how do you cover all of Denver’s threats?
Syracuse just doesn’t look hungry for it. After the slow start against Bryant, that should have been the wake up call to play lights out against Yale. The offense showed up for the first quarter, but then disappeared.
With Denver hitting their peak, and everyone on the team stepping up their game, while Syracuse continues to stall, I am picking Denver in this one.