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The Weekend in Stick: Haze of Love (Part I)

"The Weekend in Stick": It's exactly what it sounds like -- a recapitulation of this weekend's most notable. No doink.

Jim McIsaac

It's three o'clock in the morning,
or maybe it's four.
I am thinking of you,
wondering what I should do,
but I'm finally cutting through this haze.
-CAKE, "Haze Of Love"

Let's get to the big stories from the weekend.

I've Made a Huge Mistake
Fairfield 12, Yale 11 (OT)
Bryant 12, Drexel 6

These are upsets in the sense that hubris exists in pregame expectations and the final results. When the 2014 season meets its sunset, there's a high likelihood that these games -- isolated incidents -- will not look awkward relative the full body of work that each team creates. It's early March: Teams are still developing an identity and purpose, and deviations between assumptions and realities are consistent and frequent at this time of the season. There's still a long way to go in the year, and as edges smooth out, perspective is possible.

There are, however, some important aspects to each of these games:

  • Yale at Fairfield: The Stags entered their date with the Elis in a bit of a slide: After consecutive losses to Hofstra and Providence, Fairfield appeared ripe for a loss against an opponent that it had never beaten in its history. Yale had opened its campaign with wins against St. John's and Bryant, and had the look of a top-10 team poised to move through its early season schedule with a series of wins before entering Ivy League play in mid-March. The Stags, however, were every bit the competitive equal to the Bulldogs in the team's overtime win:

    Offensive Opportunities 33 33
    Raw Offensive Efficiency 33.33 36.36
    Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 26.83% 33.33%
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.24 1.09
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 45.45 42.42
    Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Possessions 18.18 22.73
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 15.15 27.27
    Team Save Percentage 29.41% 45.00%
    Pythagorean Win Expectation 43.30% 56.70%
    log5 36.83% 63.17%
    Some strong goalie play, a heightened focus on groundballs, a slightly stronger valuation of the ball, and a small advantage at shooting acumen tilted the game in favor of the Stags. This is as evenly-played a game as you'll see, and Fairfield -- despite its struggles entering the game -- were *thismuch* better than Yale, a difference that ultimately gave Fairfield a value win and put the Elis in a position where they need to rebound against a dangerous Lehigh team on Tuesday.
  • Drexel at Bryant: There are two reasons that Bryant was able to drop Drexel in Rhode Island: (1) Gunnar Waldt continued his ambitious play, registering 17 saves against a potent Dragons offense; and (2) The Bulldogs dominated the third period. Waldt has yet to register fewer than double-digit saves this season and only once -- against Colgate -- stopped fewer than 15 balls in his time between the pipes. Waldt has replicated the heroic efforts of Jameson Love, a major factor to Bryant's rise in the national hierarchy. With Waldt exhibiting strong play in the crease for the Bulldogs, Bryant remains a dangerous out, a team with a backstop that can erase mistakes and keep the Bulldogs in games until the team's offense can unload a measure of pain on the opposition. And that's exactly what happened against Drexel: 11 of Waldt's 17 saves came in the first half allowing Bryant's offense to uncork a beating in the third period in order to take control of the game:

    Offensive Opportunities 7 12
    Raw Offensive Efficiency 14.29 41.67
    Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 12.50% 41.67%
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.14 1.00
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 42.86 33.33
    Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Possessions 26.32 31.58
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 41.67 42.86
    Team Save Percentage 50.00% 75.00%
    It was the wrong time for a Drexel offensive drought and the right time for Bryant's offense to take advantage of a large possession margin in order build an insurmountable 10-6 lead. The Bulldogs survived early and extended late, circumstances conducive to bagging a big kill.

No Mas
Albany 25, Massachusetts 10

Albany's complete and total annihilation of Massachusetts wasn't even 15-goal close. The Thompson Trio's 23-point performance is the headline (and more will appear this week on College Crosse about the Thompson Trio's completely bonkers effort against the Minutemen), but the undervalued but eminently important story is how well Albany's defense played against Massachusetts. The Great Danes have been searching for balance, the key to toppling strong competition and the fuel to create overall combustion. Scoreboard races are fun, but they are less reliable -- in the long haul -- as a function to create victories. Through three quarters against Massachusetts -- the Great Danes exhibited some mercy in the fourth quarter -- Albany realized its defensive potential:

Offensive Opportunities 30 30
Raw Offensive Efficiency 70.00 23.33
Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 65.63% 33.33%
Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.07 0.70
Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 23.33 30.00
Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Possessions 15.00 1.67
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 53.33 23.33
Team Save Percentage 69.57% 25.00%

Blaze Riorden played spectacularly, the field defense limited good looks and pounced on run-of-play groundballs, and Albany shut down an offense that had the necessary components to make the Great Danes' day difficult. The Thompsons were unbelievable at Garber Field, but it's Albany's defense -- it actually exists! -- that deserves mega credit for allowing the Danes to build their stupidly large cushion.

ACC Goes 2-3 in Ranked-Ranked Matchups
Denver 10, Notre Dame 7
North Carolina 13, Princeton 11
Syracuse 14, St. John's 8
Cornell 12, Virginia 9

Entering the weekend the ACC had three teams -- Maryland, Virginia, and Duke -- ranked in the top four of both major polls. Three other teams -- North Carolina, Notre Dame, and Syracuse -- were ranked in the top 10 in at least one of the two major polls. After Saturday and Sunday's play, the conference is licking its wounds a little bit after five of the league's six members faced ranked competition with just two earning victories.

  • Virginia at Cornell: What did Cornell's early returns -- a four-goal victory over winless Hobart; a six-goal victory over Binghamton; a one-goal, overtime win against Michigan (!!!); and a 15-goal annihilation against Canisius -- mean for the Red against Virginia? Not much. The Cavaliers entered Saturday with an unblemished record despite erecting a summer cottage in The Edge, Dangerville, U.S.A.; Virginia would leave Saturday calling its insurance company to try and find solace in unexpected damage. The Red's eventual defeat of Virginia wasn't without issue: The 'Hoos built a three-goal lead late in the second quarter, looking like they'd enter the break in a solid position after a Ryan Tucker tally with 2:36 remaining in the half. At that point, however, Cornell snapped like a sociopath trying to find messages hidden in paragraph structures of government pamphlets at the DMV: The Red used a four-goal run over the first half's final 150 seconds to build a 6-5 advantage. The blitz would continue through the bulk of the third quarter, with the Red stringing together five consecutive goals. The run -- nine unanswered goals in 12:38 of play -- was the kind of concentrated offensive thunderpunch that Cornell wasn't supposed to be able to accomplish in the absence of major 2013 contributors. The push, though, was classic Red, an acceleration of play that sunk the Cavaliers and gave Cornell the marquee win that the Red needed early in its season.
  • Syracuse v. St. John's: The Orange didn't win because the team finished the game in only a five face-off deficit to St. John's or that Syracuse was one draw better than the Red Storm in the first half. Syracuse beat the Johnnies because the Orange's defense was a horse in both the first 30 minutes of play and cruised in the final 30 minutes of play (Syracuse had an eight-goal lead at the intermission):

    Offensive Opportunities 20 21 20 17
    Raw Offensive Efficiency 15.00 52.38 25.00 17.65
    Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 16.67% 50.00% 22.73% 23.05%
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 0.90 1.05 1.10 0.76
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 35.00 33.33 50.00 41.18
    Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Possessions 7.32 17.07 13.51 37.84
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 19.05 55.00 17.65 10.00
    Team Save Percentage 26.67% 78.57% 50.00% 28.57%
    Why was Syracuse's defensive performance so important against the Red Storm in the first half? The Orange earned two-thirds of their offensive opportunities in the first half from clearing postures. Five of those offensive opportunities resulted in blown clears, but the remaining opportunities earned from clears -- nine -- were still greater than the number of offensive opportunities that Syracuse generated through face-off wins -- seven -- over the first 30 minutes of play. The need for the Orange to continue to coalesce their defense and create defensive stops is still -- in the overall -- more valuable to the Orange than winning more face-offs.
  • Denver v. Notre Dame: It didn't seem to come together for the Irish in the final period. Trailing 6-5 entering the fourth quarter, Notre Dame had played fairly square with the Pioneers, getting timely offense and promoting the kind of pace that the program courts:

    Offensive Opportunities 18 18
    Raw Offensive Efficiency 33.33 27.78
    Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 25.00% 16.13%
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.33 1.72
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 44.44 50.00
    Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Possessions 25.00 52.78
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 72.22 44.44
    Team Save Percentage 72.22% 57.14%

    The Irish weren't playing great, but Notre Dame was in a position to snatch a victory against an important opponent over the final 15 minutes of regulation. Then everything fell apart: Denver put two on the board over the first four minutes of the final period, building a three-goal lead that Notre Dame could not erode. The Irish seemed to lose their volition as the scoreboard meandered toward 0:00, and an advanced box score shows the Irish's issues in the final quarter:

    Offensive Opportunities 8 8
    Raw Offensive Efficiency 50.00 25.00
    Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 80.00% 13.33%
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 0.63 1.88
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 37.50 37.50
    Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Possessions 31.25 12.50
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 50.00 0.00
    Team Save Percentage 66.67% 0.00%
    Notre Dame's defense has been the team's stalwart in recent seasons under Gerry Byrne and -- surprisingly -- collapsed when it should have clenched its fist and connected on a haymaker. The Irish are now 1-2 against its best competition this season, a hole that Notre Dame can emerge from as early as this coming Sunday when it hosts Virginia at Arlotta Stadium.
  • North Carolina at Princeton: It wasn't quite the classic that Princeton-North Carolina was last season at Fetzer Field but the Tigers and Heels opened the weekend with a solid effort at Class of 1953 Campground. It was 60 minutes of elite players doing elite things, with four cats -- Jimmy Bitter, Joey Sankey, Chad Tutton, and Mike MacDonald -- putting together four-point days. The score was tight throughout -- the largest lead of the night was a three-goal advantage that North Carolina held at the 7:32 mark of the first quarter -- but Carolina's ability to close (the team used a three-goal run over the final 10 minutes of play to earn the win) ultimately gave the Tar Heels a victory in an important spot:

    Offensive Opportunities 7 9
    Raw Offensive Efficiency 42.86 11.11
    Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 50.00% 14.29%
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 0.86 0.78
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 28.57 33.33
    Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Possessions 43.75 25.00
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 22.22 42.86
    Team Save Percentage 66.67% 50.00%
    The Tigers' offense is supposed to be Princeton's strength this year, and that unit disappeared -- despite having a possession advantage -- in the fourth quarter against North Carolina. That's exactly how a tenuous one-goal advantage evaporates into a two-goal defeat. The Tar Heels closed on Princeton's home field while the Tigers wilted when they needed to bloom.
  • Duke at Loyola: This, basically (distributing for all except the psychotically-inclined):