Last year's National Championship game went from a competitive matchup to a nightmare for Syracuse fans. After not giving up a goal to the Blue Devils in the first period, the Orange allowed at least 5 goals in the following three periods. The rematch features a lot of the same faces from last year.
Duke enters the game holding the #4 spot in the country, staying steady for the second week in a row. The Blue Devils have a 7-2 record with key wins over Denver, Penn, and UNC. Their only two losses have come against the #1 and #2 teams in the country, Maryland and Loyola. While Syracuse holds the all-time series at 6-4, Duke has taken three straight from SU. Following their date with the Cuse, the Blue Devils still must face Notre Dame and UVA, and with a 1-1 ACC record and an incredibly competitive ACC conference, they need this win to ensure their post-season future.
Saturday's contest will be played at 12:30 pm in Durham.
Duke's attack loves to work from behind the net. Over and over they curl up the crease from behind. If they are covered tight coming up around the crease they go to an off foot, jump shot. If the shot is not there they will look for the cutter down the middle or the cross-crease pass. The Orange long sticks have to be physical with them at the goal line and push the attack away from the crease, otherwise Duke is deadly. Syracuse did a decent job of this in the national championship game last year.
Jordan Wolf is the offensive leader for the Blue Devils and has been an All-American in each of his last three seasons. He is incredibly athletic and has a nasty spin that can leave his defenders stunned in place. He can fake his long pole out on the crease or hit the deep shots. Most importantly Wolf is fast; he has quick feet and he uses his steps to beat his defenders coming up from the X. The senior attackman has 26 goals and 13 assists so far this season and is widely considered one of the top contenders for player of the year. Against UNC he led all Duke players with 4 goals and picked up his third game winner of the year.
Just as deadly is Wolf's line mate, and fellow senior, Josh Dionne. The New Hampshire native has 22 goals and 5 assists. Dionne has a shots on goal percentage of .780. At 5'7" Dionne is one of the smaller guys on the roster. A lot of attention gets paid to Jordan Wolf which allows Dionne to get open. He stands around the net, unafraid to take on contact, and will put away goals in any way possible. He is a scrappy player who will get the trash goals and most importantly he is the perfect compliment to Wolf.
The third starting attack is the nation's former #1 recruit Case Matheis. Sidelined by an upper body injury to start the season, Matheis missed the first game against Jacksonville. In his 8 games played he has tallied 11 goals and 11 assists. As a freshman he had 28 goals and 24 assists.
Deemer Class leads all midfielders with 11 goals and 11 assists. He had a solid freshman season last year finishing off with 20 points. Freshman Jack Bruckner started the first 4 games of the season before being relieved on the first line by sophomore Myles Jones. At 6'4" he is one of the tallest members of the offense. His goals are generally not assisted because he loves to dodge from the top corners of the box and bully his way towards the net. Jones will not outrun his defender but with his size he is not afraid to put a shoulder into his midfield defender, and most of the time he does. The one negative with Jones is that he turns the ball over quite a bit, 15 times this year.
In his first two seasons with the Blue Devils Christian Walsh started 36 games, 34 of which were at attack. This year, Walsh has been a starting midfielder so that Case Matheis could start on attack. His presence on the first line has been felt with 6 goals and 5 assists.
Duke has been strong in the faceoff circle all year and has a very physical faceoff crew. As a team the Blue Devils have a .577 win percentage. Their main FOGO is Brendan Fowler who sports a 115-189 record has been good all season but against UNC he struggled going 7-19. In 2013 Fowler came in at third nationally and had a .655 win percentage while picking up 209 ground balls. placing him second in the country. This year the senior has snagged 71 groundballs and is one of the top faceoff men in the land. After the initial faceoff scrap, Fowler is good at using his body position to block opposing FOGOs from the ball. This will be another tough matchup for Chris Daddio.
Duke's defense is big. Henry Lobb and Chris Hipps are both listed at 6'4" while LSM Luke Duprey stands at 6'5" and goalie Luke Aaron has 6'3" on him. Their size does cause problems for them though. The defense often slouches towards the crease creating a natural screen on their goalie, which has been a problem in several games. Their three long poles are not the fastest in Division I, fast attackmen and middies can find opportunities by moving the ball quickly. Additionally, ball reversals on the outside have exposed defensive weaknesses for the Blue Devils. If a Duke defenseman gets beat, the adjoining slide tends to come fairly slow giving the shooter time to fire on the run. Bottom line, if SU can run and cut on the Duke long poles it will open up shooting opportunities as it is a lot tougher to score on them along the crease. If you want a good example of this, check out the Duke-Maryland game, the Terps were able to expose the Duke defense on this weakness.
After an in-practice injury two weeks prior to the season, Henry Lobb missed the first five games of the season but has still managed 2 caused turnovers and a goal. Texas native Chris Hipps has 19 ground balls and 4 takeaways on the season. Hipps also has 4 penalties so far though. The third defenseman is Casey Carroll, a red shirt senior from Baldwin, NY. Carroll has a ridiculous 17 caused turnovers this year including 3 against UNC and backs that up with 27 GBs.
Early in the Blue Devil's second game, Luke Aaron came off the bench to help his team get past Denver. He had 9 saves in the last three quarters of that contest, and has been at the helm since. The sophomore out of Virginia had 15 saves on 23 shots on goal against a strong North Carolina offense last weekend. While Aaron has shown improvement throughout the season, he has a weakness on high to low shots. His stick is slow and he does not go down on shots well.