May 19, 2010

Duke's Danowski Shows No Cage Fright

by Patrick Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Freshman Dan Wigrizer, Duke's starting goalie for most of the season, did not start against Hopkins. Will Blue Devils coach John Danowski return to Wigrizer against North Carolina in the NCAA quarterfinals, or stick with Mike Rock? Those questions don't bother him, he says.

One of Duke coach John Danowski’s mantras is to not place the onus of winning or losing on the goalie position.

He can’t help it, though, when the position gets scrutinized as it will be throughout the rest of the NCAA tournament.

After starting freshman Dan Wigrizer for 14 the Blue Devils’ first 15 games, Danowski switched to junior Mike Rock for the regular season finale against Sacred Heart. In a bit of a surprise, Duke stuck with Rock for its NCAA tournament opener against Johns Hopkins.

“Mike did a real nice job and we said ‘You know what? We can always bring in Danny if he falters,’” Danowski said. “We have the best of both worlds. We can win with two goalies. It’s that simple.”

Which goalie that will be as the fifth-seeded Blue Devils (13-4) face fourth-seeded North Carolina (13-2) in Saturday’s quarterfinals in Princeton, N.J., Danowski would not reveal. He said he does not intend to name a starting goalie until Friday.

Rock will bring a 4.66 goals against average and a .524 save percentage into the fifth-seeded Blue Devils’ quarterfinal. But he saw limited time -- less than 46 minutes -- before Duke arrived at the ACC tournament.

That's where Wigrizer (9.56 GAA, .521 save percentage) yielded 14 goals while making five stops against eventual conference champion Virginia. Rock came in a couple times in the second half as Danowski tried to avoid inflicting too much psychological damage on a freshman goalie.

In some ways, it was like a reset to February, when neither Rock nor Wigrizer had ever played a collegiate minute. Danowski said it was never his intention to go with a freshman, but Wigrizer demonstrated more consistency in preseason practices.

“I think when you look at the big picture, we just think Michael is capable, but does not have a lot of experience,” Danowski said. “Danny is capable and did not have experience coming into this season, either.

The first rule of Project Mayhem: don't ask questions.

* MD1 Tournament Central
* WD1 Tournament Central

The early returns for Rock are solid, even if he wasn’t severely tested the last two weeks. He played into the middle of the second quarter against Sacred Heart, stopping three shots while yielding a
goal in a 19-7 rout.

Then he played 45 minutes -- the longest stint of his career -- while making two saves against four goals allowed in an 18-5 defeat of Johns Hopkins.

It was perhaps an ideal way to acclimate Rock, considering the limited pressure applied for much of either game. And both contests hinted at a significant truth: Regardless of who Duke’s goalie is, he
will have a strong defense helping him out.

“We try not to put too much pressure on the goalie position,” Danowski said. “I’ve always looked at a goalie as a function of the defense in front of him. Mike against Sacred Heart gave up one goal.
He didn’t see a lot of shots, but played fine and looked the part. Against Hopkins, all the goals he gave up were all inside, on the doorstep.”

On the surface, juggling goalies at such a crucial juncture of the season seems like a bit of a gamble. That’s especially true when the new starter does not have much of an in-game track record.

Danowski, though, compared the possibility of playing multiple goalies to playing multiple quarterbacks, noting Florida frequently shuttled Tim Tebow in for Chris Leak and still won a national title in 2006.

“You never know what somebody is going to do until they get a chance,” Danowski said. “Certain kids, until game time, how do you know until you insert them?”

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