May 9, 2013

MD2 Quarterfinal Breakdown: Three Questions

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter


Matt Delmonico and Seton Hill will see a very familiar style of play on Saturday when they square off against Limestone. "I look at them, and I see us," said Limestone head coach J.B. Clarke.
© Dave Miller

I'll admit it. In the back of mind, I wasn't sure if Division II would be able to deliver four compelling games in the quarterfinals of its new expanded bracket. The possibility of the South delivering a weak fourth entrant and one conference dominating the North proceedings had the potential to derail the drama of this first eight-team go around.

Fortunately, I was wrong. Dead wrong.

All four games should deliver anything a fan of the division could hope for. In preparation for Saturday's games, I spoke to all eight coaches, asking each three stock questions. Here's what they had to say, along with my predicted outcomes.

Lake Erie (12-4) at Mercyhurst (16-0), 1 p.m.

Mercyhurst head coach Chris Ryan

Who's the player that jumps out at you for Lake Erie?
"[Josh] Becker in the midfield is vastly, vastly underrated. He's lefthanded and plays Canadian-box style. He had two and two against us last weekend. When we ran into Lake Erie earlier in the year, he did an unbelievable job just creating offense for them. Sometimes more of the attention goes to a couple of the other guys out there for them, but he's a great catalyst on the offensive side."

How would you describe Lake Erie's approach?
"Offensively, they play real fast and then love to get into the open field. They are terrific in broken situations offensively. Their defense does a good job of getting the ball off the ground and getting it up to the middies. When they get a head of steam going between the boxes, it creates a lot of problems. They are just a very aggressive team with their offensive mindset. You've got a bunch of guys on the field who can shoot the ball and stretch the field. You have to be able to lock down your defensive side of the field if you're going to be successful against Lake Erie."

What will you be stressing to your team heading into Saturday's game?
"It's not going to change from anything we've done for the entire year. You have to win faceoffs and pick up ground balls and you have to clear the ball. You've got to make sure that the statistics covered by the mental side of the game are won. They are the most elementary building blocks of the team, but we've been harping on them all season long and that won't change. You've got to be able to play some defense. You've got to be able to play fast on the offensive side of the ball. It's not really delving in and creating new things to concentrate on. It's going back to make sure that our points of interest are taken care of effectively."

Lake Erie head coach Greg Stocks

Who's the player that jumps out at you for Mercyhurst?
"The guy who impresses me the most on Mercyhurst is Brian Scheetz. He's the one who orchestrates their offense. They're an offense that doesn't turn the ball over too much, they know what they are looking to do and they do it very well. When stuff starts to get crazy, he's the guy who acts as a calming factor. He's the one we're looking to hopefully slow down when we play them on Saturday."

How would you describe Mercyhurst's approach?
"What they are best at is they limit their turnovers and capitalize on their opponent's [turnovers]. For us to do very well, we have to limit our mistakes, because they are good at jumping all over anything you do wrong, and then put the ball in the back of the net. What we're trying to do is limit the mistakes and not give them any freebies."

What will you be stressing to your team heading into Saturday's game?
"The message is to win your individual matchups. Do individually what the coaching staff asks you. We don't ask anyone to do anything too crazy, but what we do ask is they execute to their fullest potential. If that gets done, I think we'll be successful."

***

What's it like playing a team for the third time? Who has the advantage? Are there any secrets left? "When it's an unbeaten No. 1 team in the nation, it doesn't get any easier," laughed Stocks. Stocks' Lake Erie team will try to not only shock the D-II bracket with a win over Mercyhurst, but also solve the same Lakers team that beat them twice already, including 13-7 last weekend in the ECAC-II tournament finals.

As would be expected, Ryan won't be tinkering too much with the formula that won the first two meetings. "Just go out there and play," he said. "Both teams know what they have to do to be successful. You've got to get out there and execute your game plan and be fundamentally more sound than the other team."

Lake Erie gave 'Hurst everything it could handle when it hosted the first encounter on April 16. The game was tied with under 10 minutes remaining in the contest, thanks to six goals and an assist from ECAC Player of the Year Keegan Bal, before the Storm finally fell, 13-12. However, just like last weekend, Saturday's game will be in Erie. For an NCAA tourney neophyte to go back into the lion's den and beat an experienced postseason squad is implausible at this point.

Prediction: Mercyhurst, 11-7.

Seton Hill (12-3) at Limestone (15-1), 3 p.m.

Limestone head coach J.B. Clarke

Who's the player that jumps out at you for Seton Hill?
"That's a heck of a question because they have so many dangerous guys. Obviously, James Delaney, the returning midfielder of the year, stands out because you go into it knowing about him. But I also feel like [Matt] Delmonico and [Taylor] Mansfield are as dangerous as any guys we've played. They've got something like 73 goals between them."

How would you describe Seton Hill's approach?
"Fast, early offense. Their restarts are fast, and their goalie made a ton of saves this year. He catches a lot of the shots; he's not just a stopper. He catches the ball and they break out and he just throws missiles to them. It's really impressive seeing their restarts and how they get out of their defensive end."

What will you be stressing to your team heading into Saturday's game?
"Taking care of the ball and winning the ground ball war. Everybody probably says that, but when you're playing a team like Seton Hill, the number of possessions you have versus the number of possessions they have is critical. They have a shooting percentage that I think is over 40 percent, and when a team is shooting 40 percent, and they get a lot of possessions, you are going to have some problems."

Seton Hill head coach Brian Novotny

Who's the player that jumps out at you for Limestone?
"When you are looking at Limestone, the guy who seems to be the most productive is Riley Loewen. He has an amazing ability to affect the game. When you're watching him, he is literally impacting every part of the game on the offensive side of the field. The [Zach] Cummings kid looks really good and the older Reinholdt, Tor, he really jumps off the film as well. Defensively, their goalie [Chris Dzwilewksi] is someone who is impressive. He looks like he could be the best goalie we've seen all year."

How would you describe Limestone's approach?
"Up-tempo. They want to play a fast game. Offensively, they are helter-skelter and very opportunistic."

What will you be stressing to your team heading into Saturday's game?
"Making sure that we have a solid game plan in place both offensively and defensively. That's where we start and then go out with possessions from there. We need to make sure that we're winning ground balls and make sure we're winning some faceoff battles with [Jake] Ternosky, which can be a challenge. Making sure that we're trying to deny transition opportunities and value the ball on offense. Taking good shots and making sure we're not giving them too many breaks. Defensively, we've got to be prepared to defend against an unorthodox kind of game. You don't really get a good feel for what Limestone's doing or how they're doing it, so it's just a matter of making sure that we're communicating through all the situations. If we do that, we should have a good handle."

***

As noted at the start, every one of these quarterfinals matchups is a gem, but this one has the potential to be the marquee tilt on Saturday. When you've got two teams trying to do many of the same things, it typically produces quality results.

Adelphi's Ikerson Hopper had five goals and an assist when the Panthers last faced NYIT on March 9. You can bet that the Bears will be doing everything in their power to make sure that doesn't happen again on Saturday.
© Lee Weissman

"There are a lot of similarities," said Novotny of the two teams. "There is obviously a heavy Canadian influence on the offensive end. We're both good in transition. It's an unsettled or up-tempo offensive philosophy. We've got a strong goalie, they've got strong goalie. We both have a defense that is underrated or undervalued in their conferences and around the nation, but they are both tough. It's a similar match-up."

"I think we're frighteningly similar," added Clarke. "When I look at them, I see us. I think they are a little better in the transition game than we are, but that's who we want to be. If you are at the game, I think you'd say, 'Wow, they play just like each other."

So who will come out on top after these two teams face the man in the mirror for 60 minutes? It'll be close — and exciting — but I'm going to stick with experience and home field. Seton Hill is making its first foray into the postseason, but this is just business as usual. While a younger team than last year, a huge part of the Saints team has been through the crucible of a near-championship season. That matters. Although the turf could be a little soggy on Saturday – something that doesn't really help either team — it's still in Gaffney, S.C., and that can't be understated.

Prediction: Limestone, 14-11.

Le Moyne (15-2) at LIU Post (11-2), 3 p.m.

LIU Post head coach John Jez

Who's the player that jumps out at you for Le Moyne?
Kam Bumpus. "He's just a strong guy. He wins a lot of faceoffs with power and he runs really hard to the goal. You have to have two guys to defend that guy because he's so big and strong."

How would you describe Le Moyne's approach?
"Very disciplined and very organized. They are all on the same page and they control the ball on offense. They also have a very stingy defense."

What will you be stressing to your team heading into Saturday's game?
"We have to limit our turnovers, and when have the ball we have to make the most of our opportunities, because we may never see the ball again."

Le Moyne head coach Dan Sheehan

Who's the player that jumps out at you for LIU Post?
Matty Beccaris and Ryan Slane. "They have a couple of freshman attackmen who have just played lights out this year. So we're certainly going to have our hands full with both of those guys down there."

How would you describe LIU Post's approach?
"I wouldn't want to sound like I'm coaching the other team, but what we've seen them do all season is be very aggressive at both ends of the field."

What will you be stressing to your team heading into Saturday's game?
"It's important to understand Post, understand their personnel, and understand what they are trying to do. But it's about our execution and us doing the things well that we've done all year long."

***

Jez and Sheehan are probably the two most laconic coaches in Division II, and their no nonsense approach to the media spills over onto the field, where the players have collectively adopted similar focused personalities. That doesn't mean this won't be a contrast in styles, however. They each will be trying to control the tempo, and it will be an intriguing clash, just like it was the last time these two squared off in the 2010 national championship game in Baltimore.

There was so much ebb in flow in that title game that the prospects for a redux are exciting. Post started the game with three goals, only to watch Le Moyne score eight of the next 10 to take an 8-5 lead into halftime. After that, the Pioneers went on a 9-1 stretch in the second half to take the 14-9 victory. In that game, Post had the advantage on faceoffs with Mike Cama, but that has flipped to Bumpus (63.5%) this spring. The Pioneers have the more dynamic offense, but they'll be going against a grizzled defense that just stifled both Adelphi and Merrimack.

Usually I like the home team in these situations, but after snapping Adelphi's two-year home winning streak last weekend, I'm sensing an upset.

Prediction: Le Moyne, 8-6.

NYIT (12-2) at Adelphi (13-2), 4 p.m.

Adelphi head coach Gordon Purdie

Who's the player that jumps out at you for NYIT?
"Their faceoff guy [Nick Pellela] certainly did a number on us in the first game. But the No. 1 guy is Luke Miller. He's their lefty attackman. He's big and he's strong. He's their go-to guy."

How would you describe NYIT's approach?
"They are a tough team that is full of grit. With the number of players that they have, they have done an incredible job this year. They don't really slow it down, but we play maybe five more guys than they do."

What will you be stressing to your team heading into Saturday's game?
"We've just got to limit our turnovers. We have too many, and that's caused by us wanting to play an up and down game. We've got to play smart. I believe the smart will take from the strong."

NYIT head coach Bill Dunn

Who's the player that jumps out at you for Adelphi?
"When we first played them we thought it was [Salvatore] Tuttle, but right now it's the big kid, [Ikerson] Hopper. He hurt us the first time and we have to make sure that doesn't happen again. He's been doing a lot of different things for them now than he did earlier in the season. On Sunday, when they played Le Moyne, he was initiating a lot of their offense, so he's probably the biggest thing that we see in the film."

How would you describe Adelphi's approach?
"They try to play fast. We can't get into a track meet with them. We'll have to slow it down against them and be a little more methodical with our offense while attacking them. They try to use their speed and their depth to their advantage."

What will you be stressing to your team heading into Saturday's game?
"We have to play disciplined without turning the ball over and make sure all of our shots count. They play two goalies with a lefty and a righty, so our shooting is going to change from the first half to the second half. We'll have to be disciplined where we get our shots. And when we do get our shots, we have to finish."

***

It would be easy to take the first clash, which occurred on March 9, and use it as a stepping off point in predicting how the rematch will shake out. Dunn dismisses that notion. "We're a completely different team and, watching them over the weekend, they are completely different, as well," he said. "They have different players playing different spots; guys who were playing earlier aren't playing or playing different positions. It will be a different game."

"Both teams are two very different teams from when we first started," echoed Purdie.

OK, if we can't use that game, what can we use? Since then, NYIT got wrecked by LIU Post, 15-5, before rattling off seven-straight wins, including a comfortable win over Dowling on the last day of the regular season. Adelphi was 9-0 before fumbling away a road game to St. Michael's prior to getting shut down in the NE-10 finals by Le Moyne, 7-5. There's nothing terribly decisive in those results, however.

As Dunn noted above, if this game turns into an end-to-end slugfest, the Bears are fried. They just don't have the depth. I don't think that will be the case, but I do think the Adelphi faceoff duo of Greg Puskuldjian and Rashad Cureton will dominate the proceedings, eventually wearing down NYIT's back line.

Prediction: Adelphi, 11-8.


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