March 8, 2013

MD1 Notebook: Ohio State Looking to Buck Trend, Continue Streak

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Unbeaten and 11th-ranked Ohio State hosts No. 7 Denver on Saturday. The Buckeyes have started strong in recent seasons, but faltered down the stretch. Can this year be different?
© Gray Quetti

Ohio State coach Nick Myers knows all too well that the Buckeyes have been here before. A year ago, they edged a top-10 opponent in Notre Dame to get out to a 3-0 start. In 2011, Ohio State punctuated a 3-0 start with a similar win over North Carolina.

In both cases, the Buckeyes could not sustain their early-season momentum. They went into midseason slides, failed to win the ECAC tournament and missed the NCAAs, finishing at or just above .500.

Here come the Buckeyes again — maybe. With Saturday's improbable overtime victory over Penn State, No. 11 Ohio State has bolted to its first 4-0 start since 1966. A huge confrontation with ECAC rival and No. 7 Denver awaits OSU on Saturday in Columbus.

"Last year was a frustrating one for us. We felt like we were right there with three real good teams in our league," said Myers, alluding to the Buckeyes' 8-7 finish, which included a 5-1 league record that featured wins over Denver and Fairfield and only an 8-7 loss at Loyola.

But Ohio State also lost regular-season decisions to UMass, Penn State, Virginia and Notre Dame, before its season-ending 8-7 loss to Fairfield in the ECAC tournament semifinals.

"Our conference is a real challenge — a lot of travel, a lot of great coaches and great goalies," Myers said. "We're still a team that can get a lot better. Our message this week is we're not 4-0. We're a team that's looking for its first win in the ECAC."

Even though the Buckeyes — who also have beaten lower-tier opponents in Detroit, Jacksonville and Marquette — have a rebuilt defense in front of senior goalie Greg Dutton, this could be the year they click when it counts the most.

The Ohio State offense, which features three Canadians in senior attackman Logan Schuss and midfielders Jesse King and Turner Evans, could be built for the long haul.

Schuss is a Tewaaraton Award candidate who had 57 points a year ago and already has 12 goals and six assists in 2013. King (11 goals, five assists) finished Ohio State's dramatic win at Penn State with a goal in the final second of OT — a game in which the Buckeyes trailed 8-2 at halftime, before dropping six unanswered third-quarter goals on Austin Kaut, the Nittany Lions' superb goalie.

"Logan is getting more support now. Teams just can't load up on stopping him [to solve the Buckeyes]," Myers said.

Ward a beast for Bellarmine

One of those great ECAC goalies Myers was referring to is Bellarmine senior and Canadian Dillon Ward, who has been clearly the best player for the Knights (4-1). Bellarmine is in its seventh Division I season.

Ward, who stands 6-feet-5 and is from Orangeville, Ontario, is averaging 15.5 saves per game. He entered this week leading the nation in save percentage (.747) and ranked second in goals-against average (5.71).

The 2010 Canadian Junior Player and Goalie of the Year according to NLL Insider, Ward made things very uncomfortable for defending national champion and ECAC rival Loyola in Saturday's 8-6 victory by the host Greyhounds.

Ward singlehandedly kept the Knights within striking distance with a 16-save gem. He had Loyola altering shots and double-clutching in uncharacteristic ways.

"You don't want to change what you're doing too much [as a shooter] and get out of your game, but you try to place it a little better when you face [Ward]," said Loyola senior attackman Mike Sawyer, who needed 12 shots to produce three goals. "You maybe shoot toward the outside of the cage more and try not to let him get the easy save. You try to get him moving."

"You should see some of the saves [Ward] makes in practice," Bellarmine coach Kevin Burns said.

O'Connor big in goal too

Princeton freshman Matt O'Connor is another goalie to watch. The Tigers are 3-0, in part because opponents are shooting just 22.8 percent against them. O'Connor (8.35 GAA, .528) is doing his job on the back end of a young, promising defense. The Tigers have beaten Hofstra, Johns Hopkins and Villanova each by three goals.

O'Connor, who followed the graduated Tyler Fiorito, is only the third freshman to start a season opener in the past 25 years at Princeton. The others are Fiorito and Hall of Famer Scott Bacigalupo.

"We recruited [O'Connor] to play in big games," Princeton coach Chris Bates said. "He's got a commanding presence. Listen to him bark at the defense and he sounds like an upperclassman. He's made of the right stuff."

O'Connor played that way last Friday night at Homewood Field, where the Tigers held off a more experienced Hopkins team with an 11-8 win. O'Connor had 10 saves. He then had a great second half and stopped 12 shots overall to help Princeton come from behind on Tuesday to beat visiting Villanova, 14-11.


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