May 3, 2012

UnCensered: Players, Teams Primed For Playoff Moments

by Joel Censer | LaxMagazine.com

Can you picture North Carolina freshmen Jimmy Bitter (above) and Joey Sankey putting on a Mikey Powell-like show in the NCAA tournament?
© Jim O'Connor
Another solid week for lacrosse. On Friday, two ACC powers trekked 2,000 miles to play televised games from Mile High in Denver. Frisky upstart Loyola packed 6,000-plus fans into their Ridley Athletic Complex to watch the Hounds lose a 10-9 overtime thriller to neighborhood bully Johns Hopkins.  Despite 40 degree weather and intermittent rain, Notre Dame treated their own sold-out crowd to an 8-6 win over Syracuse. It was a sort of formal exorcism – filled with quick slides and top-notch goaltending – for the Irish’s decade worth of Orange-colored demons.

Of course, we’re at that point in the season, where even for LaxMagazine.com’s resident lacrosse pundit there’s not much to chirp about. If you want to talk in coach-speak, the hay has been (mostly) packed into the barn. Rubber has met road.

Yes, some things still need to get sorted out. We’ll find out in the Ivy tournament if Princeton’s offense is really the Tigers’ best since Ryan Boyle and Brad Dumont played catch. Or, if Cornell can overcome a red-hot Yale team, goalie issues and some sloppy play in transition to make it back to the NCAAs.  

Despite Timmy Desko’s Twitter bonafides, Syracuse will likely miss their first NCAA tournament since that disastrous 5-8 season in 2007. But the Orange can find postseason redemption if they run the table at this weekend’s Big East tournament.  Not to mention, Maryland will take their grinding roadshow up north to deal with Colgate and likely Tewaaraton finalist Peter Baum.

As a primer for the real playoffs, here are four post-season moments that have stood out to me the past 10 years, with a 2012 corollary.

1. Ryan Boyle Goes Off in 2004

If people asked me what I thought  the most impressive offensive performance of the past century was, I’d probably gloss over Paul Rabil scoring six goals in Boston or Steele Stanwick running the two-man games to perfection last year, and point to parts of Ryan Boyle’s 2004 post-season.

At the time, Princeton had graduated four-year offensive staples like Dumont, Owen Daly and Sean Hartofilis, leaving Boyle and a couple cagey finishers to scratch and claw their way back to championship weekend.

Down a couple goals to Maryland in the NCAA quarterfinals, it looked like Princeton’s season was over.  But Boyle scrapped the quarterbacking role and inside rolled to bring the Tigers within a goal. Then he did the same exact move with 12 seconds left to send the game to OT. He wasn’t dodging against some chump either.  Maryland’s Chris Passavia was a fast, glitzy checker known for ding dongs, back checks and generally imposing his will on attackers. In hindsight, the Terps probably should of put rock-solid Lee Zink on Boyle. In the extra period, Boyle again started prodding his way up the right wing. With all the eyes of the Terrapin defense locked in on him, he found a wide-open Peter Trombino to send the Tigers back to the final four.

Potential 2012 Corollary: Steele Stanwick

People are jumping off the Cavalier bandwagon faster than you can yell “Wahoo Wa.” Sure, UVA has most of the same pieces that helped make last-season’s memorable championship run. But opponents are starting to snuff out the pick games and slide slower to Stanwick. Meanwhile, Rob Emery, Colin Briggs, Mark Cockerton, Matt White, and Co. haven’t provided the explosive complementary dodging just yet.

So like Boyle, Stanwick may need to transform from table-setter and calling his own number a little bit more. Against Penn, he did just that, putting the Cavaliers on his back and scoring six of UVA’s ten goals.

2. Mikey Powell Electrifies as a Freshman

In 2001, Mikey Powell laced it up for Syracuse as a freshman. He wasn’t, however, some wide-eyed first year, getting jitters around those big final four crowds. Instead he was the team’s leading scorer, and a whole host of talented offensive players for the Orange (Josh Coffman, Liam Banks, Mike Springer) deferred to the phenom from Carthage, N.Y.

In the NCAA championship, ‘Cuse met familiar foe Princeton. Powell was the fearless tip of the spear for the Orange’s up-tempo attack, taking on quick slides, shut offs, and Damien Davis and Ryan Mollett.  The Tigers – then the half-field grinding counterweight to the Orange – ended up winning in overtime. Powell was hampered by some end-of-game cramps and was even stripped by Davis in the extra period.  Yet, the stop-and-go kid had unquestionably captured everyone’s attention. 

It’s no coincidence that the “finalizer” is a staple of most attack dodges, or kids still smear triangles of eye black under their eyes (fortunately, Powell’s blonde ice tips didn’t stick). For the old-timers who want to point to a time or place when style in lacrosse starting becoming such a focus, Powell darting around that rainy field in Piscataway at Y2K would probably be a good place to start.  

Potential 2012 Corollary: Joey Sankey and Jimmy Bitter

At the beginning of the season, I didn’t really know where the two bite-size freshmen were going to fit in.  The Heels had established guys like Nicky Galasso and Thomas Wood coming back at attack, so I assumed the two would get subbed in through the box to break down some helpless short stick on an invert every once and a while.  But in the fourth quarter in UNC’s first meeting with Duke, Sankey and Bitter helped generate 17 shots, and the two jitterbugs haven’t let up since.

They’re a little different. Bitter is better at getting a step and turning the corner. Sankey, who can embarrass you with quick feet too, is probably a little more comfortable hanging around the crease.

But like Powell, Sankey and Bitter are human highlight reels. I’m excited for the two freshmen to hopefully get their own opportunity to potentially flash their turbojets on a national stage.  

3. Hofstra’s Unfortunate End in '06

Could Greg Cannella's UMass bunch go the way of Hofstra, circa 2006? It's a possibility, writes Joel Censer.
© Kevin P. Tucker

Before John Danowski coached Duke, he led Hofstra to CAA titles.  In 2006, the Pride were one of the best teams in the country and the only group people thought could potentially provide some pushback to a dominant Matt Ward-led Virginia squad.

On offense, Chris Unterstein worked with Canadian finisher Athan Iannucci.  Converted longstick John Orsen and d-mid extraordinaire Kevin Unterstein (rocking the wood stick no less) ran roughshod between the 30s. Defenseman Brett Moyer had the Philly enforcer role down pat.

By the fourth quarter in the NCAA quarterfinals against UMass, the Pride found themselves up 10-5. Soon enough, UMass’s Jake Deane started cleaning up at the faceoff dot, the Minutemen roared back and beat Hofstra in overtime. UMass’s Sean Morris and Jack Reid both became the toast of the post-season.

If I had to guess why Hofstra “lost their poise” (Danowski’s words), I would presume that all those CAA games they had spent the last month playing and double-digit wins they had complied just hadn’t primed them for the inevitable ups and downs of a playoff run.

Potential 2012 Corollary: UMass

I try to get my hands on every UMass clip. When I watch them I admittedly think back to the first time I saw that ’06 Hofstra team give the business to an overmatched Villanova.

Like that Pride squad, the Minutemen ride hard, are lethal in transition and always make the extra cut and the extra pass.

Maybe (and I know they have to get through a pesky Drexel in a brutal CAA championship first) it’s unfair, but I would feel more comfortable with UMass’s post-season chances if they were going through the ACC or Big East gauntlet right now.

4. Kyle Barrie’s Redemption at Hopkins

If someone asked me who I thought the best Hopkins attackman of the last century was, I’d first want them to clarify what they want out of their attackmen, because there have been plenty of crafty opportunists drifting around the crease and the perimeter at Hopkins the last decade. As much I respect Kevin Huntley, Conor Ford and Jake Byrne, I’d probably answer Kyle Barrie circa 2003 and 2004.

Barrie was more than of the catch-and-shoot variety.  He would crush himself dodging to the rack -- I can still remember how he’d him propel himself perpendicular to the crease -- and compiled close to a 100 points during his sophomore and junior seasons.

But senior year, the Philly native was dealing with a bunch of nagging injuries and by the end of the season; he came off the bench some and played extra man.

In the semifinals against Virginia, in a game I now refer to as “Debris-Gate” or “Jake Byrne Day”, Barrie deposited a low-to-high rocket in the second quarter to put the Jays up a couple of goals. It was a nice exclamation point for what must have been a tough year for Barrie.

In that same 2005 post-season run, Matt Rewkowski, who had come back mid-season from a torn ACL injured in the fall, was a slick-sticked, steadying force on that first midfield with Kyle Harrison and a young Paul Rabil. While he could've redshirted the year and played 2006 fully healthy, Rewkowski instead trained and rehabbed and eventually helped Hop slay those 18-year old demons.

People like to think of that season and immediately point to Harrison and a stingy defense.  But Barrie and Rewkowski making plays down the stretch and not letting their ego get in the way had to have helped.

Potential 2012 Corollary: Rob Pannell

It’s ironic twist of sorts, Rewkowski ‘s now Pannell’s offensive coordinator at Cornell.

I don’t know what Pannell is thinking, and at this point with the Big Red on the bubble, it’s probably pretty easy for him to wait and see where the chips fall. I’d certainly never be one to tell someone what to do with their final year of college eligibility. But if the Big Red manage to get through the Ivy League tournament (a very big if), and Pannell comes back for the NCAA tournament, that could be special.


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