Loyola has dropped 16 of 26 meetings with Duke. The Blue Devils swept the Greyhounds twice last year, including a 12-11 win in double overtime in the first round of the NCAA tournament en route to the program’s second national championship in four seasons.
No. 6 Duke (4-1) opened the season with four straight victories before falling, 10-6, to now-No. 1 Maryland last Saturday. A defense that has surrendered 8.4 goals per game is headed by redshirt senior defenseman Casey Carroll (20 ground balls and 12 caused turnovers) and senior long pole Luke Duprey (11, 8).
No. 5 Loyola (4-1) has put the memory of a season-opening, 14-13 loss in overtime to No. 2 Virginia in the rearview mirror with four consecutive wins. Junior attackman Nikko Pontrello leads a potent offense with 19 goals and 24 points, both of which rank third in Division I.
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Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore at 6 p.m. Sunday.
1) Solve the Blue Devils’ Luke Aaron. It’s hard to believe that Aaron will take the field for only his fourth start. He overtook incumbent goalkeeper Justin Turri in the second quarter of an eventual 14-10 win against No. 12 Denver on Feb. 15 and hasn’t looked back. He has surrendered just 18 goals and posted a .673 save percentage in three starts. At 6 feet 1 and 190 pounds, Aaron is a sizable target who can take up a significant amount of space in the net, but Loyola coach Charley Toomey said he has been more impressed with Aaron’s ability to fire quick and accurate outlet passes. “He’s a young goaltender that is very fundamental,” Toomey said. “I think he does a terrific job between the pipes. I think he can burn you when he makes a clean save, because Duke wants to try and run and get over the top. So we’ve got to do a really good job of shooting smart shots in the right spots, because he’s not going to let bad goals in.”
2) Handcuff the attack. The Terps seemed to offer Duke opponents a recipe for containing the offense, harassing the starting attack of seniors Jordan Wolf and Josh Dionne and sophomore Case Matheis and forcing the midfield to create chances. The first line of senior Christian Walsh and sophomores Deemer Class (Loyola High) and Myles Jones combined for just one goal on 13 shots, one assist and seven turnovers against Maryland. But Toomey said concentrating solely on the attack could expose the defense. “Defensively, we have to be prepared to defend middies and attackmen and really play a team-style defense,” he said. “I think you get yourself in trouble when you start chasing talented players around and try to push them out and not allow them to have the ball. Our challenge is going to be trying to defend Duke every time down in six-on-six sets, and whoever has the ball, we’ve got to be very organized behind it.”
3) Make it 50-50 on faceoffs. The Terps proved that you don’t have to win 50 percent of the draws to beat the Blue Devils; junior Charlie Raffa was credited with just eight wins in 19 attempts. But that formula won’t work a majority of the time against senior Brendan Fowler, who has won 63.0 percent (68 of 108) and scooped up 43 ground balls. Freshman Graham Savio (59.3 percent on 51 of 86 and 22 ground balls) could get a lot of the work, but junior Blake Burkhart (41.9 percent, 3 GB) and senior Brendan Donovan (46.2 percent, 2 GB), a Loyola High graduate, also could be employed in an effort to tire Fowler and force him to adjust to different styles. “I don’t know that it’s going to be a rotation right off the bat,” Toomey said. “It might be the guy that we think gives us the best chance to win, but it is good to know that we’ve got guys on the sideline ready to come in that have had some success in 2014 on faceoffs.”