No. 17 Navy has won 28 of 30 contests in this series between Patriot League foes, but No. 8 Lehigh did win last year’s meeting. The Mountain Hawks (9-1 overall and 2-0 in the conference) are riding an eight-game winning streak. The Midshipmen (5-3, 3-1) are seeking their first five-game run since 2008. Here are a few factors that could influence the outcome at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis on Friday night.
1) Faceoffs. Lehigh is led by junior Ryan Snyder, who has won 54.3 percent of his faceoffs (82-of-151). That does not bode well for Midshipmen senior Logan West, who is winning just 43.5 percent of his draws (73-of-168). CBS Sports Network analyst Steve Panarelli said Navy’s prowess on faceoffs will be a critical key. “I think they need to do a better job at the faceoff X,” the former Syracuse All-American defenseman said. “Ryan Snyder is a really good faceoff guy. He’s strong, has got quick hands, can clear it a bit off transition. I think Navy has struggled there. I think that was the reason why they lost that North Carolina game. In the fourth quarter, they just couldn’t get that faceoff to possess the ball and take a little air out of it. So I think they need to do a good job at the faceoff X.
2) Offensive opportunities. The Midshipmen boast one of the most efficient offenses in Division I, scoring 85 goals on 257 shots to rank eighth in the country with a 33.1 shot percentage. But they meet a Mountain Hawks defense that ranks first in the nation, surrendering just 5.6 goals per game. “[T]hey need to finish their opportunities because against a team like Lehigh, you’re not going to get too many good looks because they play such good team defense,” Panarelli said. “So when you do get those looks, you’ve got to bury them. You can’t be sending balls high, you can’t be throwing it to the goalie’s stick or hitting pipes. You really have to take advantage of every little opportunity they give you.”
3) Tempo. There are few statistics to record a team’s ability to take advantage of transition chances, but Navy will run if the numbers favor it. Sophomore long-stick midfielder Pat Kiernan has scored six goals, and West has scored twice. Panarelli thinks Lehigh must limit the Midshipmen’s opportunities in unsettled situations and control the pace of the game. “They need to find a way to slow Navy’s transition down,” he said. “[Navy] coach [Rick] Sowell is not a run-and-gun type of coach, but they’ve got a couple of long-stick middies that can create transition. For Lehigh to be successful, they want to play Navy’s offense six-on-six. That’s where they feel comfortable. They want to slow it down and play you six-on-six, and that’s a huge benefit for them because they play such good defense.”