Known for some of the most prolific offenses in NCAA history, Duke is no slouch on defense either. For the seventh time in the past eight years, the defense ended a season by giving up an average of less than 10 goals.
Some of the credit goes to volunteer assistant coach Ben DeLuca. The former Cornell head coach, who was dismissed from the Big Red in November, replaced former Maryland defenseman Joe Cinosky, who became the defensive coordinator at Mount St. Mary’s, and joined the program in February to help defensive coordinator Ron Caputo.
“He picked things up really quickly, and we turned over man-down [defense] to him in the first couple weeks, and then we just worked together, and he was tireless in the office,” coach John Danowski said after the Blue Devils defeated Notre Dame, 11-9, on Monday to capture their third national championship in five years. “His family is still in Ithaca. So he could come in early, he could stay late, he had really nowhere to go home to. He had an apartment with no refrigerator. I’m not kidding. No TV, no refrigerator. So he stayed in the office, and his work ethic and his preparation were phenomenal.”
Senior defenseman Henry Lobb missed the first five games of the season because of a right leg injury, but he said that DeLuca was a constant presence during the defenseman’s recovery.
“He was always there in my ear, kind of giving me confidence and kind of waiting for me to get back, and that was great to hear,” Lobb said. “Just overall, I think, everyone on our team really welcomed him into the family, and now he’s part of the family, and it’s great to see him that excited. He’s a great guy, great coach.”
DeLuca's stay may not be a long one. Count on him to become a heavily pursued candidate for head-coaching vacancies that become available in the near future.
Circling back to “Three Things to Watch” …
1) Duke’s first midfield slows down. Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan had said on Sunday that part of the team’s strategy was to force the Blue Devils’ starting midfield to play defense and tire them when they shifted to offense. The tactic worked. Although the trio of sophomores Deemer Class (Loyola Blakefield) and Myles Jones and senior Christian Walsh (Boys’ Latin) combined for five goals and two assists, that group did not record a point in the final 21 minutes, 40 seconds of regulation.
“It’s two games in three days, and it’s so hot,” Danowski said. “I thought we got caught a bunch of times in that first half. It didn’t really hurt us, but they did a great job. Very sound plan.”
Said Fighting Irish coach Kevin Corrigan: “I think if you watch the last 10 minutes of that game, those guys weren’t out there very much, and when they were out there, they were dragging around the field. We did what we wanted to do in that part of the game.”
2) Duke’s shut-off plan worked on Notre Dame’s Matt Kavanagh. Freshman midfielder Sergio Perkovic scored a game-high five goals, but the Fighting Irish were hoping for more than the two goals and one assist Kavanagh provided. But the Blue Devils limited the sophomore attackman’s chances by assigning senior defenseman Henry Lobb to mark Kavanagh closely and force his teammates to make plays without Kavanagh’s contributions.
“I was kind of getting shut off a little bit throughout the game,” Kavanagh said. “Wasn’t really getting any touches, getting into the flow of our offense. It’s a credit to them and their defensive scheme.”
Said Lobb: “Obviously, Matt is a great player. So obviously going into the game, he was a big part of our game plan – make it hard for him to get the ball, crowd him, and kind of pressure him. So I think that’s what we did.”
3) Duke gets the faceoff that matters. The Blue Devils had a slight advantage on draws, winning 13 to Notre Dame’s 10. But Duke got the key faceoff when senior Brendan Fowler outdueled senior Liam O’Connor after Perkovic had scored his fifth goal with 49.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Video replays were inconclusive, but Corrigan said he thought Fowler – who won 13-of-22 and picked up a team-high six ground balls – moved early, which would have given the ball to the Fighting Irish with an opportunity to tie the score.
“I didn’t think there was any question, but I wasn’t the guy with the whistle,” Corrigan said.
Asked for his perspective on the faceoff, Danowski replied, “No comment.”