So, I wrote this Sunday morning…. but haven’t had access to the internet until now. Act like it’s prompt still.
Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, so the Titans’ closer-than-expected loss to Notre Dame… well, it doesn’t count. Ain’t no moral victories in the NCAA Tournament. But yeah, this is as close as it gets.
From the official box score, a look at the tempo-free stats:
|Notre Dame 2013|
|Faceoff Wins||10||Faceoff Wins||9|
|Offensive Efficiency||.212||Offensive Efficiency||.273|
Statistically, this was about as even as a two-goal loss can be. The sides were dead even on possessions, and capitalizing on just a couple more of them was what gave the Irish victory.
About that, though… Detroit dominated the game through a half, and even through three quarters. The Titans had a 25-19 possession advantage – and a 7-3 lead on the scoreboard – at the end of the third. Notre Dame #turntup in the fourth to get the win. A six-goal run to end the game saved the No. 2 seed from total embarrassment.
About that run… I complained about the officiating on twitter after the game (and throughout the fourth, if we’re being serious here), and thought I would come back and regret it later. After sleeping on it… nope. Titans got the screwjob. I don’t think there was some directive from the NCAA office to make sure its (comically over-seeded) No. 2 went through, but the reputation as a national power certainly gave the Irish the enormous benefit of the doubt once the Titans had built a huge lead. I was watching the game with a referee, and while he was certainly a Detroit partisan, it’s also easy to view things through unbiased eyes when you come from an officiating background. He was dumbfounded at a lot of the calls (and rightfully so, from the perspective of my less-trained eye). I haven’t re-watched the contest yet, but the uncalled loose ball pushes and playing without equipment – literally the easiest call it’s possible to make – were a big part of Notre Dame’s sudden ability to dominated ground balls after the break. When one official has to spend more time explaining to UDM’s Matt Holtz that the bad calls aren’t his fault, because he has to let the other members of his crew do their jobs, too… that says it all.
Aside from that, however, a lot of the damage for the Titans in the fourth was self-inflicted. Notre Dame went to a heavy ride, and sure they got the benefit of the doubt on a lot of the ground game, but there’s no need to dodge into a double-team on the clear. Somebody is open in that situation. 2/7 in the fourth – with at least two of the fails the result of easy-to-avoid mental errors – is not how you close out a game.
In the end, Detroit played like a team that’s never been there… because the Titans had never been there. The program took huge strides by making it to the NCAA Tournament and taking Notre Dame to the brink. Now is the time to capitalize upon that going forward.
The top performer all game long was Jordan Houtby. He caused three turnovers and picked up nine ground balls against a very good Notre Dame team, and was everything we’ve come to expect and more. He ends his Titan career with a loss, but it’s certainly not on his shoulders (despite being responsible for one of those avoidable failed clears that led to a quick Irish goal).
A.J. Levell was streaky, but mostly in a good way until the fourth. He turned his game up at the end of the regular season, through the MAAC Championships, and into the Notre Dame game. He was absolutely robbing the Irish through three quarters. Even in the fourth when ND made their run, he wasn’t giving up soft goals – he just didn’t make the spectacular saves that his team was going to need to get the win.
Offensively, there was a lot to like in this one, and especially a lot to like going forward. Alex Maini had two goals and two assists, Brandon Beauregard had three goals, and Mike Birney had a goal and an assist. Birney’s goal especially – from the top of the box when Notre Dame’s defense was daring him to shoot – was impressive, and that’s kid’s just a sophomore.
Andy Hebden was held scoreless on just two shots, but certainly didn’t look like a freshman out there. The experience of going against a tough Notre Dame defense will help him grow going forward. His brother Jamie ends his UDM career with a 2CT 2GB performance.
Damien Hicks was unbelievable through three quarters. He lost nine facoffs all game, and six of those came in the fourth quarter. He had clean wins, good clamps, and everything you want from a faceoff specialist except a bit of instant offense (and he had an opportunity or two, but the gameplan dictated slowing it down). The ground ball game was what killed him in the fourth, and that’s obviously not all his fault.
For a Titan team that lost its best offensive player early in the season and one of its best defensive players about halfway through, the progress they showed was excellent. I questioned the coaching (particularly offensively) early in the year, but it’s clear that UDM just needed time to get comfortable in the system – this wasn’t last year’s dysfunctional unit. Going forward and adding weaponry (such as Shayne Adams’ return) will allow for a much-improved team next year. The defense will take a step back after losing a bunch of excellent talent, so it’ll be a very different team stylistically than the 2012 Titans.
The season is over, but there’s a lot to look forward to if the Titans can capitalize on a bit of momentum.