Coyne's Picks: The Championship Games
After four months, we've finally reached the day of reckoning in Division II and Division II with the championship games commencing this afternoon and this evening – D-II plays at 4 p.m. and D-III at 7 p.m., with both games webcast live on NCAA.com.
Here are my picks:
Adelphi (16-2) vs. Mercyhurst (13-2), 4 p.m.
This the first time since 1994 when we have two teams in the Division II championship game and at least one of them didn't participate in the previous year's title tilt. Mercyhurst hasn't played for a championships since their only visit in 2007 when they lost to Le Moyne at the last second, 6-5. Adelphi has seven national titles – the most ever in MD2 – and 11 championship game appearances, but the Panthers haven't been in the Big One since 2001, when they beat Limestone for the crown.
Both these teams are on impressive runs heading into the game, and both went on the road and won their semifinal game. Merychurst has won its last six games, and it's only two losses of the season both came by a goal on the road. The Lakers smashed two-time defending champion C.W. Post last weekend, 14-4. Adelphi lost its season-opener, but the Panthers won 16 of their next 17, including the Northeast-10 tournament title and a 14-11 win at Limestone in the national semifinals.
Each squad features a stingy defense, opportunistic offense and capable special teams. They both are extremely confident heading into this game, as well. There's just nothing that stands out as a huge differential.
As a result, this will be an instinct game, and mine is telling me Adelphi will win and that Joe Vitale (37g, 28a) will have a huge impact for the Panthers. He will obviously be a key for the Lakers defense, but Vitale has enough finishers around him in the likes of Tommy Susko (40g, 7a), Shane Wynne (28g, 23a) and Danny Blau (24g, 22a), so Adelphi will find a way to squeak this one out. Panthers, 7-6.
Salisbury (20-1) vs. Tufts (18-2), 7 p.m.
When these two teams met last year, it was supposed to be Salisbury who would thrive under the championship spotlight because of its pedigree and Tufts, the newbies, that would wilt. For the first 15 minutes of the game – the decisive quarter – the roles were flipped. The Jumbos were the calm team were potting goals while the Sea Gulls attempts were flying everywhere but near the net. That storyline is buried now.
Now it's the eight-time champion in the role of hunter and the one-time champ playing the hunted. Will that impact how the teams play, especially in the pivotal opening moments of the game? The answer determines the winner from my perspective.
Tufts coach Mike Daly has been impressed all year with the unflappability of his team. Despite some difficult jams against the toughest schedule in the country, his team has usually found a way to pull out a victory. Most of it is due to the steady play of attackman D.J. Hessler, who has calmly staked his unequivocal claim to player of the year status, while avoiding huge emotional outbursts or flying chest bumps.
Salisbury is a more emotional bunch. With the possible exception of bloodless close defender Collin Tokosch, the Sea Gulls thrive on the adrenaline rush of celebrating big plays. Their goalie, Johnny Rodriguez, is seemingly in constant motion, whether in the crease or outside of it, and is symbolic of the kinetic nature of Salisbury.
Last year, this differing approach definitely helped Tufts, as the Sea Gulls were too geeked up and were not able to overwhelm the Jumbos with pure athleticism. Tufts picked Salisbury apart in the first half and it wasn't until the second half that the Gulls finally settled down and played their game. By then, it was too late. They've got to harness that energy from the get-go if they want to win.
I think they will be able to accomplish that, using it to their benefit. Rodriguez, who will be the tourney MOP, will do the rest, allowing Salisbury to fend off a late Tufts charge. It'll be the Sea Gulls, 9-8.