The two programs met for the first time last year with Johns Hopkins blasting Michigan, 17-8, on Feb. 23. The rivalry should only grow more intense when both teams form the Big Ten conference next season with Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers.
The Wolverines (2-1) opened the season with a 15-goal loss to then-No. 12 Penn State, but have bounced back with victories over Mercer (20-7 on Feb. 14) and Detroit (14-13 in overtime on Wednesday). The offense has been spearheaded by the attack duo of freshman Ian King (eight goals and one assist) and junior David McCormack (5, 2).
The No. 12 Blue Jays (2-0) edged then-No. 13 Ohio State, 10-9, in three overtimes on Feb. 9 before walloping No. 18 Towson, 15-8, on Saturday. A defense anchored by senior defenseman Jack Reilly and senior goalkeeper Eric Schneider has already shut out the opposition for 15 minutes or longer twice thus far.
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Homewood Field in Baltimore on Saturday at noon.
1) Keep the turnovers low. A week after committing 20 turnovers in the win against the Buckeyes, Johns Hopkins gave the ball away just 13 times in the rout of the Tigers. Fewer turnovers usually mean longer possessions, and the offense took advantage with its highest output since April 20 when the team pasted Navy, 15-4. Michigan has done a fairly decent job of pouncing on opponents’ mistakes, forcing 15 turnovers per game. Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala is fully aware of the importance of ball security, as evidenced by the way the team played against Towson. “I just thought we cleaned it up a little bit more in all areas,” he said. “We cleared the ball over 90 percent (18 of 19), which was better. We didn’t turn the ball over offensively as much. I don’t think there was a time when we didn’t back up the cage. That’s a turnover in my book. I thought the whole team was better at caring for the ball and taking care of the ball.”
2) Penalty killing. The Wolverines have converted 40 percent (6 of 15) of their extra-man opportunities. Although they went 0-of-4 in the overtime decision over Detroit, King leads the offense with three man-up goals and McCormack has scored two. But opposing man-up offenses have found no success against Johns Hopkins. Ohio State went 0-for-4 on extra-man opportunities, and Towson went 0-for-2. Pietramala said the key to the man-down defense is that the unit is playing to its strengths. “[W]hat I will say is that to our group’s credit, we’ve tried to give up shots from the areas that we think are our best, and I think they’ve done a better job of understanding where the shots need to come from,” he said. “I think in the past, we’ve given up some shots that while they may not be a great shot, they’re from an area that is extremely challenging for our goalie to make a save. So I think we’ve done a better job of giving our goalie a chance to make the save. And I think we’ve done a better job with deflections – knocking a ball down, getting a piece of a glove when the guy shoots it.”
3) Michigan’s midfield. The Wolverines attack consists of three of the team’s top four scorers, but the midfield is nothing to sneeze at. Sophomore Kyle Jackson is tied for second in goals (five) and tied for third in points (six), while sophomore David Joseph ranks fifth in goals (four) and points (five). Senior Thomas Paras is tied with junior attackman Mike Francia for the team lead in assists (three), and Michigan has several other midfielders who worry Pietramala. “They are very athletic at the midfield,” he said. “They get up and down the field. They’ve got some kids that are explosive. They’ve got two kids that are small and very, very quick. When you look at those guys, you kind of go, ‘Holy cow.’ The kids, Jackson and Joseph, are both extraordinarily quick. You look at [6-2, 203-pound] Paras and [6-4, 206-pound sophomore Mike] Hernandez and [6-2, 172-pound freshman Mikie] Schlosser, and they’re big, athletic, hard-running kids. So their athleticism at the midfield is something that concerns you.”