Unlike the in-state brethren, Michigan already has a game under its belt prior to today’s action – and the competition is a little less stiff, as well.
This was a really bad team last year – No. 63 of 70 according to LaxPower, 3-11 on the year with the wins coming against Wagner, Monmouth, and NJIT. Jim Rogalski’s fifth season at Lafayette had better feature some sort of turnaround, but this Michigan team – while hardly a world-beater – is not exactly on the “expansion teams and Wagner” level (hopefully).
There is good news for Lafayette: they return all three starting attackmen from last year, all seniors (plus the No. 4 scorer is also an attackman, now-sophomore Conor Walters). Eric Joseph’s 33 goals and 8 assists plus Kevin Lewis’s 19 and eight indicate that they’re primarily the finishers – Joseph leading the way, of course – while Jason Sands scored just seven goals but put up 21 assists: he’s your feeder. Walters started five games while Lewis was out of the lineup, but only put up 13 total points on the year.
The top three midfielders are also returners, with juniors Will McCarthy and Matt Close and senior Dillon Confalone all coming off years in which they mostly finished, and notched either 11 or 10 points. Connar Dehnert and Luke Cummings, midfielders No. 4 and 5, are also returners (with a handful of starts apiece last year). This is an experienced offense, albeit one that wasn’t particularly good last year.
Sophomores Zack Merle (nine starts in 11 appearances) and Josh Hubbard (eight starts in nine total) and Sean Andrews (started all 13 games he played) formed a super-young core of the defense last year, but with all three back – and presumably fully healthy and ready to go at the beginning of the year – they should be improved. LSM Erik Cannon, another returning starter, is the elder statesman of the group.
The Leopards were pretty good on faceoffs last year, with Michael Sullivan hitting a nice .519 stride in his first year on-campus. There’s no guarantee those numbers continue (there’s little correlation between years – except at the very top and bottom of the rankings – or guaranteed improvement on faceoffs, statistically), but entering his sophomore year, one wouldn’t expect a huge step back.
Literally the only key contributor from last year’s team who won’t see the field for Lafayette this year is goalie Dillon Falcone. However, he was actually the worse of the two regularly-used options last year, saving only .448 of shots faced while Jon Anastos saved .484… and will presumably be the starter in his sophomore year.
This was a bad team last year, there’s no questioning that, but the experience that they gained (and the growing pains that came with it) should make them much better this year, it’s just a question of how much that will manifest itself in the results.
So… a very bad team that one must assume will make huge improvements, against a Michigan team that should finally be hitting its stride as a program, but utterly failed to inspire in its season opener against a brand new program. Color me nervous about this one.
There’s plenty of turnover in U-M’s offense (Kyle Jackson, Peter Kraus) and defense (Chase Brown, Charlie Keady, Gerald Logan). There’s almost literally no turnover among contributors for the Leopards. In the battle of Experience v. Not Being Terrible Last Year, this prognosticator is going to have to punt.
Michigan needs to win this game to build a bit of confidence and cushion in the W-L record heading into a pretty tough overall schedule in the Big Ten. The advantage of Oosterbaan should help equalize whatever they lack in experience, but the Leopards aren’t coming out just for the sake of showing up.
For all the reasons listed above, this is tough.
- Michigan at least tries out a heavy ride a couple times. They’ve gone away from this as a regular tactic, but inside Oosterbaan Fieldhouse against an upset-minded Lafayette team, they have to try to work it to their advantage. Why play home games if there’s no benefit to it, right? If it works, they’ll stick with it a bit, but they’ll be flexible enough to scrap it in a hurry.
- Ian King is a goal-scorer, rather than a feeder, in this one. That may seem a strange prediction to have to make, but he reinvented himself as an assist specialist playing on the attack line with Kyle Jackson last year, and four assists against Cleveland State. The Leopards have a big, physical defensive unit, so draw slide-dish is a recipe for getting one’s head taken off, may as well work topside and get a couple goals.
- Teddy Heidt starts in goal and looks pretty good. His performance against Cleveland State was fine (two of the Vikings’ eight goals were against backups after he’d hit the bench in the fourth last weekend). He’s not going to make anyone forget about Gerald Logan – who was an outstanding shot-stopper and clearing goalie, which has continued at Johns Hopkins – but hopefully won’t need to in this one.
- The faceoff game tips Michigan’s way, though only slightly. It was one area of the game in which the Leopards succeeded last year, sure, but Michigan should have the more athletic wing players, and there’s a lot to like about the potential of Mike McDonnell (like Heidt, his backups made the overall stats look worse last weekend – losing all three of their draws – giving a bit of a negative look to a day that was actually outstanding individually, winning 15/22).
It’s closer than those who just look at the Leopards’ record from last year think it’s going to be, but the Wolverines manage to win nonetheless. It’s a second-straight uninspiring win (at least for thoss who didn’t look into Lafayette’s returning roster), but Wolverines win, 13-11.