Faceoff struggles plague banged-up Michigan squad in loss
Michigan junior defenseman Finn Goonan crouched down opposite Marquette faceoff-man Jared Kurschman and lined up his long pole parallel to the midfield line in preparation for the opening faceoff of the Wolverines’ fourth-straight road game.
But Goonan plays defense. He does not typically take faceoffs.
With Michigan’s top four faceoff options injured, including true faceoff-men sophomore Connor Cronin and junior Matt Dellacroce, as well as star senior midfielder Brent Noseworthy, the Wolverines’ coaching staff had to get creative with its personnel options at the dot.
Despite traditionally being a defenseman, Goonan got the nod to be the team’s starting faceoff-man and won the opening faceoff for the Wolverines. Less than a minute later, senior midfielder Decker Curran dodged from the wing, rolled back to beat his defender, and fired a shot past goalkeeper John Hulsman, giving Michigan an early lead, 1-0.
However, the Golden Eagles charged back ferociously, leading by as many as seven goals throughout Saturday’s game. Despite a three-goal rally in the dying moments of the fourth quarter, the Wolverines (3-3) fell to Marquette (4-3), 16-13, in their first, true road loss of the season.
A significant concern going into the game, Michigan’s depth issue at the faceoff X forced its coaching staff to rethink its faceoff strategy to jam up and slow down Kurschman on the clamp.
“(Assistant coach Chris) Harren is doing an awesome job taking some good athletes and turning them into some muckrakers,” said Michigan head coach Kevin Conry. “(By making faceoffs) a 50-50 ground ball, (it is) an opportunity to use some of our wing play to create some tempo.”
In addition to Goonan, Michigan plugged in other nontraditional faceoff players, such as senior defenseman Nick DeCaprio, freshman midfielder Andrew Russell and sophomore midfielder Hunter Batesko to try to fill the void.
However, as a whole, the unit struggled, cumulatively winning 9-of-33 total faceoffs. In the second quarter, the Wolverines didn’t win a single faceoff.
Capitalizing on its opponent’s woes, Marquette notched four goals in the quarter, highlighted by a pair of goals by midfielder Tanner Thomson, who scored five total on the day.
With three minutes remaining in the first half, Michigan found itself in a six-goal hole, down, 6-3.
“We got doubled-up in possession time with a significant disadvantage at the faceoff X,” Conry said. “When you have that large of a possession disparity, your fundamentals are really exposed. We have to do a better job focusing on the little things.”
With the odds against them and a critical offensive force like Noseworthy banged up, the Wolverines could have easily folded.
“A lot of teams could have gotten swallowed up by that moment,” Conry said. “(But) they fought.”
Embodying the team’s hopeful resilience, with just 1.7 seconds left in the first half, junior midfielder Avery Myers snuck in a goal past Hulsman to cut Michigan’s deficit to five at the half, 9-4.
Tallying two goals in the opening three minutes of the second half to bring the score to 11-4, the Golden Eagles got out to their largest lead of the day.
With a pair of goals coming from sophomore attackman Alex Buckanavage, in addition to a single goal added by freshman attackman Bryce Clay, the Wolverines desperately attempted to climb back. But with under two minutes remaining in the third quarter, Michigan faced a seven-goal deficit, down 12-5.
Similar to the end of the second quarter, the Wolverines’ offense shined for a brief moment in the final minute of the third quarter, with Curran and Clay adding a goal each within 19 seconds of one another to cut Marquette’s lead back down to five, 14-9.
Refusing to give up, Michigan’s momentum carried over to the fourth quarter, with DeCaprio winding up and rocketing a goal past Hulsman to bring the score to 15-10. A renaissance man on the day, in addition to his goal, DeCaprio also won four faceoffs, scooped up four ground balls and notched an assist to Clay off a full-field clear.
In the final moments of the game, junior attackman Jason Brown, sophomore attackman Kevin Mack and Myers all found the back of the net to mark a mini-comeback for the Wolverines to cut the Golden Eagles’ lead to three, 16-13.
However, it was too little, too late. Injuries and struggles to gain possession proved to be too much on the road for a hardy, driven Michigan squad.
“Our kids did a great job just handling the circumstance and playing,” Conry said. “And that’s what we can ask for.”