A 12-6 rout nine days ago gave Loyola Maryland a 3-2 lead in this series against Army. The Black Knights are making their second consecutive appearance in the Patriot League tournament final and are seeking their first championship since 2010. The Greyhounds are playing in their second conference title game in three years and captured the crown in 2014.
Army (10-5), the No. 4 seed in the tournament, avenged an 11-10 overtime loss to Navy on April 16 by upending the top-seeded Midshipmen, 9-3, Friday evening. An offense that has scored 12.0 goals per game is fueled by Cole Johnson. With 71 points this season, the junior attackman sits alone in second place in the program's all-time scoring list.
No. 11 Loyola (11-3), the No. 2 seed, needed a 7-6 double-overtime decision to outlast Bucknell Friday night. The defense has surrendered an average of 8.0 goals thanks to the play of Jacob Stover (McDonogh). The freshman goalkeeper leads the Patriot League in both goals-against average (6.62) and save percentage (.608).
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis on Sunday at 1 p.m.
1) Loyola's offense. The unit entered Friday's semifinal scoring 10.5 goals per game, but could muster only seven against Bucknell, who got exceptional performances from sophomore defenseman Matt Gilray (limited Offensive Player and Rookie of the Year Pat Spencer to two goals on nine shots and one assist) and freshman goalie Christian Klipstein (made eight saves). The Greyhounds misfired on many passes to the interior, and coach Charley Toomey was slightly uneasy over their 16.3 shooting percentage.
"We've got to move a little better off the ball and get some inside looks," he said. "But 43 shots on seven goals, we've got to talk about that."
2) Army's defense. The unit lowered its season average from 7.6 to 7.3 after holding Navy to its lowest output since an 8-1 loss to Maryland on Feb. 14, 2015. Senior defenseman Austin Schultz shut out Midshipmen senior attackman Patrick Keena, freshman goalkeeper A.J. Barretto posted nine saves, and the Black Knights gave up just 19 shots to Navy. With his tongue planted in his cheek, coach Joe Alberici said the defense would need to manufacture a similar performance in the Patriot League final.
"I don't know that they're going to hold anybody to three goals, but they're going to have to play realty well," he said. "When we're really good defensively, that means all 10 men are involved. That means that we're managing the game offensively, we're winning the faceoffs, we're clearing with efficiency, so that there's just a little less defense you've got to play."
3) Loyola's faceoffs. Junior Graham Savio won 11-of-17 draws for the Greyhounds against Bucknell. Army's duo of junior Dan Grabher (8-of-11) and senior Alex Daly (3-of-4) combined for an 11-of-15 showing against Navy. In the regular-season meeting, the teams split 22 faceoffs. Which side gains the upper hand on Sunday should be an interesting storyline.
"They're terrific off the ground at the faceoff X," Toomey said of the Black Knights. "The faceoff X is a big part of Army's identity, and that's going to be a fun battle to watch."