Maryland has won all four meetings with Denver, including going 2-0 against the Pioneers in the NCAA Division I tournament. The Terps, who captured national crowns in 1973 and 1975, are 2-9 in championship finals and have lost in their last seven trips to the title game. The Pioneers are making their debut in the championship final.
Maryland (15-3), the No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament, set a program record for wins in a single season with its 15th victory after Saturday’s 12-11 decision against Johns Hopkins in the semifinals. Faceoff specialist Charlie Raffa has been plagued by numerous injuries, but usually rises to the occasion in the playoffs. The senior has won 64.6 percent of his draws in 11 tournament games and needs just 11 more faceoff wins to reach the 500 mark in his career.
Denver (16-2), the No. 4 seed in the NCAA postseason, is riding a 12-game winning streak and hasn’t suffered a setback since March 14 in a 13-11 loss at Ohio State. While much of the national attention has been paid to the high-powered offense, the 14th-ranked defense at 8.7 goals per game isn’t shabby either. Senior goalkeeper Ryan LaPlante, who is the program’s all-time leader in victories with 41 (against just nine losses), ranks 15th in the country in goals-against average (8.53) and 29th in save percentage (.529).
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome of this NCAA tournament final at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Monday at 1 p.m.
1) Production. The Terps had a trio of players record three points each in the first-round win against Yale, junior midfielder Bryan Cole post four goals and one assist in the quarterfinal thumping of No. 3 seed North Carolina, and sophomore attackman Matt Rambo register four goals and two assists in the semifinal decision against Johns Hopkins. While Maryland fans might wish for a singular standout like Mike Chanenchuk was for the 2014 squad, coach John Tillman has a deeper appreciation for the offense’s diversity.
“You really can’t just focus on one or two guys,” he said. “It’s great to have those terrific players, but now when you have a system of guys and it’s a little harder to get a sense of who is going to be the guy and everyone is willing to share, that can be really helpful. And that was a good thing about this group, they’re a very selfless group, that they’re always willing to share the ball.”
2) Defense. The Terps lead the nation in fewest goals allowed per game at 6.9, and redshirt junior goalie Kyle Bernlohr is first in goals-against average (6.78) and sixth in save percentage (.577). The unit’s defensive integrity will be tested by a Pioneers offense that ranks fifth in scoring at 13.9 goals per game and boasts sophomore attackman Connor Cannizzaro (56 goals and 33 assists) and senior attackman and Tewaaraton Award finalist Wesley Berg (53 goals and 20 assists). But Denver coach Bill Tierney said his offense will clash with a Maryland defense that is unlike many others.
“It’s ‘I’m bigger, I’m stronger, I’m tougher than you are. Go ahead and try and beat me,’” Tierney said. “That’s what they’re all about. We don’t see many of those. … All I know is they’re really good, and they’re really good at stopping the individual. Unlike us or unlike Notre Dame where there is such a help system, they’re going to try to stop our guys individually.”
3) Exhaustion. The challenge of capturing the NCAA championship involves winning two games in a span of three days. The Pioneers are well-versed in that process, defeating Air Force and Furman in back-to-back days in February and disposing of Villanova and Georgetown in three days of the Big East tournament. The Terps, however, will face this task for the first time this season, and Tillman said he is trying to wrap his brain around the inevitability of a few more mistakes from his players.
“There's going to be some fatigue, and you've got to live with some turnovers,” he said. “You can’t have the guys too tight. They’ve got to play, they’ve got to play loose. You’re going to live with some turnovers. You just have to be OK with that. Sometimes as coaches, you’ve got to grit your teeth, move on to the next play, and be positive. That’s the approach our kids really respond well to. And then also the kids, you just have to remind them, ‘Hey, [with a] quick turnaround, let’s not try to do too much.’ We may have to play a little bit more within ourselves.”