Team USA Needs Overtime to Get Past Denver
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The ball rebounded off Denver goaltender Jamie Faus and hung in the air helplessly near the crease, waiting to be redirected. Kevin Leveille obliged. He snatched the opportunity and threw down the game-winner 2:49 into overtime to give Team USA a hard-fought 16-15 victory over the Pioneers on Sunday afternoon at Champion Challenge.
"A tennis shot," Leveille said, alluding to the high-volley it looked like.
For Faus, the sophomore who made 14 saves and faced 64 shots, it was a deflating way to end a sunny afternoon. He held his stick over his helmet in disbelief. After all, he had just stopped a wide-open Steven Brooks from the right wing but couldn't quite make a clean save. All day, he faced a barrage of shots from the country's best offensive players, and he appeared locked-in from the start.
|Kevin Leveille had five goals,
including the overtime winner to give Team USA a hard-fought 16-15
victory over Denver Sunday afternoon at Champion Challenge, a US
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
Moreover, a uniquely inexperienced defensive unit played in front of Faus. Between its six starters, none have started a regular season game in their Pioneer careers. Faus is now the unit's veteran, having only started one full season as a freshman during Denver's run to their first final four.
"It's funny. Last year we told Jamie, 'We could play defense around you. Just make the saves you have to.' This year we're telling him, 'You're going to have to make a few more,'" Denver coach Bill Tierney said after the game capped the seventh annual US Lacrosse event, held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. "He was fabulous today."
With Faus serving as a steady backstop and a dazzling Canadian-flavored offense picking up where it left off last spring, Denver overcame a three-goal third-quarter deficit and a two-goal U.S. lead with 10 minutes left.
Preseason Player of the Year candidate Mark Matthews flashed his scoring and passing talent and finished with eight points on four goals and four assists. Attackman Pat Rogers scored four of his five goals in the second half and tied the game at 15 with unassisted score with 2:22 left in the fourth. Matthews and Law (three goals) combined for the Pioneers' first three goals, and the offense ran efficiently throughout, even against veterans such as Lee Zink, Michael Evans and Greg Bice.
Pinpoint crease passes and spot feeds were typical. Alex Demopoulos added a goal and three assists, and returning starting midfielder Cam Flint had two scores. After the game, Tierney said if the group stays unselfish, "They're going to be pretty good," in what could be an understatement.
Said Team USA goaltender Drew Adams, who made 11 saves in the second half: "They have a lot of guys coming in and out off of the crease. They have some strong attackmen, and obviously Matthews is a strong player. The ball runs through him. They play a very quick, sharp game, looking for that pass in the crease. It's not something you see every day, and it took us a little bit to adjust to, and we were still even at the end struggling with some of the stuff."
"Our offense was clicking," said Matthews, the lefty attackman who scored 46 goals a season ago. "If we can keep doing what we're doing, we should be all right this year."
Chris Eck was able to give the USA just enough possessions -- he won 22 of 35 faceoffs, including one that gave the U.S. a chance to win in regulation. Denver's defense held strong there. On the field for the final two-minute stretch were freshmen long poles Nick Gorman and Mike Riis, sophomore short-stick defenseman Harley Brown, senior Henry Miketa, junior Kyle Hercher and freshman Kyle Cannon. Cannon, Hercher and Drew Babb, listed as a freshman after sitting out two seasons while battling Hodgkin's Lymphoma, started the game on defense.
"We wanted to stick to our rules that we have on defense," Faus said. "We did that. We did the little things really well on defense. Not letting guys top-step you, keeping guys in the alley so that we can get a slide. We're a sliding defense. We want to get guys to areas of the field where they have a lower percentage angle and shot that we can get our slides to. We don't want the offense to [dictate] how we play defense. We want to [dictate] how they play offense. We made our mistakes, but it's our first time out after two weeks of practice, with guys who haven't started a game before. We've worked so hard. We have great chemistry back there."
Eck also won the opening draw of overtime against Chase Carraro (12 of 28), but the U.S. didn't convert, nor did it on a 30-second man-up chance in OT. Leveille scored shortly after the teams returned to even strength, and was happy to get the final one past Faus.
|Denver sophomore goaltender Jamie
Faus played strong, making 14 saves against Team USA. "He
definitely played a great game," Kevin Leveille said.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
"He was definitely stopping the high shots early," Leveille said, "so we were trying to tune it down low, and then after a while he was starting to stop all those. So after a while, we kind of had to bear down and look for some net and hit that. We hit a couple pipes too, down the stretch, but he definitely played a great game."
Tierney gave credit to Faus and praised Denver's determination.
"Overall we're thrilled with the experience," Tierney said. "You play a bunch of veterans, a bunch of pros like we did today. It's tough to lose once you get to overtime, but I'm proud of our effort. They came out here and didn't really know what to expect. You see the ball flying around from these guys' sticks like it did, I'm really proud of them for this effort."
News & Notes
Casey Powell, who sustained a fractured right knee cap in the Major League Lacrosse title game last August, said the knee is feeling good. He scored twice. "I haven't been able to work out. I was just cleared last week, but it feels like it's 100 percent," the 35-year-old Powell said. ... Denver freshman midfielder Wes Berg, a member of the Canadian U19 team who Tierney has called "as good a freshman as I've ever had," saw a good chunk of playing time on the second midfield for the Pioneers. ... Adams on Denver's potential during the college season: "We didn't underestimate them, we knew they would be a strong team, but they really showed us that they're going to be a force to be reckoned with in college lacrosse and it was great to play them and come away with a win in the end." ... U.S. coach Kevin Cassese on Matthews: "Mark Matthews is just a special talent. He really is. He's incredible. That was really my first time seeing him up-close and personal, and I walk away very impressed. He's going to have a long career in lacrosse, and certainly a great one at Denver, but beyond that he can be one of the dominant players in this game if he wants to."
Champion Challenge, a US Lacrosse event
Team USA Men 16, Denver 15
USA: 3 6 3 3 1 - 16
Denver: 3 4 5 3 0 - 15
Goals - USA - K. Leveille 5, Woodson 3, Berger 2, Powell 2, M.
Leveille 1, Striebel 1, Seibald 1, Farrell 1; Denver: Rogers 5,
Matthews 4, Law 3, Flint 2, Demopoulos 1
Assists - USA - M. Leveille 3, K. Leveille 1, Striebel 1, Berger 1, Woodson 1; Denver: Matthews 4, Demopoulos 3, Law 1, Berg 1, Miketa 1
Saves - USA: Adams 11, Rodgers 6; Denver: Faus 14