No. 3 Syracuse (15-2) vs. No. 5 Johns Hopkins (11-5)
Time -- 1 p.m.
Site -- Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
"D" is the key
Today's championship final features two of the stingiest defenses in the country. The Orange ranks 11th, surrendering just 7.6 goals per game; the Blue Jays are 17th with a 7.9 average. Johns Hopkins has allowed 17 goals in the tournament, while Syracuse has given up 23 goals. Which defense will prevail?
Senior midfielder Paul Rabil leads the Blue Jays in goals (eight) and points (10) in the tournament, but sophomores Steven Boyle and Michael Kimmel rank second and third, respectively, in points. Boyle (nine points on five goals and four assists) is a starting attackman, but Kimmel (eight points) leads the team in assists (five) despite playing on the second midfield line.
A Michael Evans repeat?
Conventional wisdom suggests that Johns Hopkins will assign the junior defenseman to mark another Tewaaraton Trophy finalist in Orange senior attackman Mike Leveille. Leveille, who leads Syracuse in goals (10), assists (six) and points (16) in the tournament, torched the Blue Jays for three goals and three assists in the Orange's 14-13 overtime win March 15.
Johns Hopkins senior Stephen Peyser meets one of his toughest challengers in Orange senior Danny Brennan, who leads the nation with a .681 faceoff percentage (201 of 295). Peyser, who ranks 11th with a .579 percentage (132 of 228), won only nine of 22 faceoffs in the regular-season meeting. Youth will be served in the cage, where Blue Jays sophomore goalkeeper Michael Gvozden has been solid. Syracuse's John Galloway will be the first true freshman to start in the net in an NCAA championship game.
Two of the most successful tournament coaches take the stage. The Orange's John Desko leads all coaches in all-time winning percentage in the tournament at .815, and his 22 career victories rank third for most tournament wins by active coaches. Johns Hopkins' Dave Pietramala is tied with former Blue Jays coach Henry Ciccarone for second in all-time winning percentage at .750. Pietramala overtook Maryland's Dave Cottle for fourth among active coaches with 18 career victories. Under Pietramala, Johns Hopkins is 27-5 in the month of May.
WHEN SYRACUSE HAS BALL
The Orange would love to run and get some easy scores in transition. Leveille, who has recorded 48 goals and 32 assists this season, quarterbacks the Orange offense - whether it's behind the cage or dodging from the wings. Junior attackmen Kenny Nims (32 goals, 24 assists) and Greg Niewieroski (23, four) complement Leveille, but Syracuse boasts two midfield lines that will draw the Blue Jays' attention.
WHEN JOHNS HOPKINS HAS BALL
The Blue Jays scored four goals in unsettled situations in their 10-9 upset of top seed Duke in the semifinals, but expect the team to try to be patient and methodical and force the Orange into a contest of possessions. Senior midfielder Paul Rabil (30, 13) can shoot with either hand, and senior attackman Kevin Huntley leads Johns Hopkins with 32 goals this spring. All senior attackman Michael Doneger does is score goals - 19 this season.
History is on the line as both programs take aim at their 10th national championships. Although the two schools have split four meetings in tournament finals, the Orange have beaten the Blue Jays seven times in 11 tournament games. Syracuse's offense is dangerous and must be accounted for. But Johns Hopkins has proved it can impose its will and force opponents to play its style. Clear some more cabinet space in Baltimore as the Blue Jays buff their reputation as a dynasty.