Denver goalkeepers Ryan LaPlante and Jamie Faus are polar opposites.
LaPlante is a native of Fort Collins, Colo. He's a junior communications major known for his happy-go-lucky personality, and he's left-handed.
Faus, a senior, is from Lakeville, Conn. He majors in history, which reflects his more serious demeanor, and he's right-handed.
Though so much divides them off the field, come game time none of it matters. They're equals.
LaPlante starts each game and plays the entire first half. Faus then comes in at the beginning of the second half, serving a role that LaPlante likened to that of a closer in baseball.
Barring overtime, each goalie plays 30 minutes every game, together forming the backbone of the nation's sixth-ranked defense.
"It's definitely a unique situation," said Pioneers defensive coordinator Dylan Sheridan. "They're so different and from such different backgrounds, but when they get on the field, they bring similar qualities. They're both leaders and they both stop the ball."
Even their statistics nearly mirror each other. LaPlante has given up 69 goals with 95 saves this season. Faus has let 68 shots past him while saving 82.
With the two-goalie system, Denver's defense allows just 8.11 goals per game. The Pioneers have surrendered only 11 goals in two NCAA tournament games heading into Saturday's semifinal against defending national champion and No. 1 Duke, which boasts the second-best offense in the country (15.06 goals per game).
Duke's scorching attack led to a 20-9 rout of Air Force and 19-11 win against Johns Hopkins in the first two rounds of the tournament, while fifth-seeded Denver has suffocated teams defensively, defeating North Carolina, 9-5, and Drexel, 15-6.
"I didn't even realize, just 11 goals in two games," Faus said. "We've always had an unbelievable offense, but I don't think anyone has really done stories on how stout of a defense we've had."
The statistic then popped back into the goalie's head.
"We've only let up 11 goals in the past two games," repeated Faus with a laugh of appreciative disbelief.
Both goalkeepers attribute the defense's success to the coaching staff, starting with head coach Bill Tierney, whose "mind runs around defense," LaPlante said.
But it was actually Tierney's son Trevor — a former volunteer assistant coach — who concocted the two-goalie formula last season.
"He was just like, 'Let's try splitting games,'" LaPlante recalled.
And immediately the scheme clicked, helping propel Denver to the 2013 Final Four, where the Pioneers limited top-seeded Syracuse's offense despite falling, 9-8, in their semifinal game.
Syracuse's nine goals came on 40 shots, and Sheridan has continued to see the benefit of playing two goalies this year.
"What it does is it forces the opposition to think more, and anytime you're thinking out there on the field and not playing instinctively, you tend to slow down," the defensive coordinator said. "And obviously that plays into our hands defensively."
At the beginning of this season, the Denver coaching staff gave the more seasoned Faus a chance to lock up the starting job.
He started the first two games of the season, but he knew it wasn't the best move for the team.
"Coach Tierney gave me a shot, being a senior you know, which I appreciate," said Faus, who rooms with LaPlante on road trips. "But at the same time, the two-goalie system — it works well and is something that we're comfortable with."
Denver went back to splitting time between goalies after Faus' second start — a 14-10 loss to Duke on Feb. 15.
Faus knows he didn't play his best in that game. He knows the defense wasn't yet ready for the Blue Devils.
But he's seen a change since.
"We didn't know exactly who we were quite yet," Faus said. "But now, we do."
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