Scranton at Goucher: Three things to watch

Goucher is just 3-4 against Scranton, the only Landmark Conference opponent with a winning record against the Gophers. The Royals (8-4 overall and 2-2 in the league) are currently tied for fourth place and in danger of being unable to defend the tournament championship they won last year by stunning Goucher, 12-8. The Gophers (13-1, 4-0) are riding a program-high 10-game winning streak and are 6-0 at home this season. Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Gopher Stadium in Towson Saturday.

1) Scranton’s Daniel Slade. Last year’s loss to the Royals was punctuated by the five-goal, one-assist outburst from attackman Daniel Slade. The senior is tied for the team lead in assists (11) and ranks fourth in points (24) and will likely get a certain amount of attention from Goucher. But coach Kyle Hannan said he is more concerned with the team’s overall defense, which got caught up with Scranton’s dodges and left Slade alone at times. “I don’t think it was necessarily our one-on-one matchup with him last year,” Hannan said. “I think it was our defense as a whole, and he ended up finishing some backside shots that were set up by his teammates, and he did a great job of finishing them. We’re stressing rather than the one-on-one matchups this week staying within our system offensively and defensively and really buying into the game plan and staying the course. I think if everyone does their job, No. 26 for Scranton is hopefully not going to be as successful as he was last year.”

2) Special teams. The Gophers boast the Landmark Conference’s most prolific man-up offense, converting 40.6 percent (26-of-64) of their extra-man opportunities. On the flipside, the Royals have the league’s stingiest man-down unit, allowing opponents to score on just 18.6 percent (8-of-43) of their extra-man chances. It figures to be a batlle of strength versus strength. “I think that’s going to be an exciting part of the game,” Hannan said. “They’re very talented and organized with their man-down unit, and we’ve taken a lot of pride with taking a high scoring percentage on extra man. That’s going to be an exciting part of the game. It’s two good units battling it out, and that could be the difference because this is going to be a very competitive, close game where maybe if we’re able to score an extra-man goal, it could be the difference. And if they get a stop, it could be the difference for them. That’s something we’re focusing on a lot this week.”

3) Faceoffs. One contributing factor to Scranton’s victory last spring was the play of Patrick Cefalu, who won 14-of-23 faceoffs. Cefalu, who won 62.6 percent last season, has since graduated, and the Royals have dropped off, winning 49.4 percent (126-of-255). Meanwhile, Goucher, which labored to a 35.5 success rate (130-of-366), has flourished at 54.5 percent (170-of-312) this year. Hannan is hopeful that the Gophers will be able to continue that success on Saturday. “That will be a different picture,” he said. “Now how successful we are, I’m not sure. But I’m quite sure that we won 9 out of 23 last year. We’re working pretty hard so that’s the not the same situation Saturday, and more possessions could put us in a better situation to win the game.”

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