May 11, 2014

Saputo's Big Day Leads Drexel Into NCAA Quarterfinals

by Justin Feil | | Twitter

In-Game Blog Replay


Nick Saputo had three goals, including two in a run before the half that helped Drexel take control of the contest and earn its first quarterfinal berth. (John Strohsacker/

PHILADELPHIA – Drexel faceoff specialist Nick Saputo had one goal in February. He had one goal in March. And he had one goal in April.

On Sunday, Saputo scored three goals, including two in the final 12.3 seconds of the first half to give No. 12 Drexel the lead for good on its way to a 16-11 win at No. 10 University of Pennsylvania in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

"Like the rest of the team, I was real excited for this game," said Saputo, who won 21 of the 30 faceoffs he took Sunday. "We have a huge goal. Just to be a part of it is huge. Giving the team momentum is my job. Things were clicking today and hopefully we can keep it rolling."

The win is the ninth straight for Drexel (13-4) while Penn (11-4) saw its own eight-game winning streak snapped. Penn was seeded fourth for the tournament and they had won the neighboring West Philadelphia schools' most recent meeting in 2009. Drexel, though, dominated the second half in its first NCAA appearance.

When I got to Drexel five years ago, I was hoping it would be a little quicker than now," Voelker said. "This year, we have a real good team and a real good record. This team just took care of business and kept plugging away."

Drexel's historic appearance continues against third-ranked Denver at Delaware Stadium next Sunday. The schools have split their two previous all-time meetings.

"It's amazing," Saputo said. "As a group, this was our goal – win CAAs and carry on into NCAA tournament. It's surreal and we want to just keep it rolling."

The junior from Huntingdon, N.Y., entered the NCAA tournament ranked fifth in the country in faceoffs with a .632 winning percentage. He won 14 of 22 faceoffs against Bryant, whose specialist Kevin Massa is ranked first in the country. And he won 10 of 19 faceoffs against the No. 4 ranked faceoff specialist, Tyler Barbarich of Delaware. In the CAA semifinals win over Towson, he won 19 of 22 faceoffs, but his NCAA debut ranks as his biggest game to date.

"It was more dramatic with the goals," said Drexel head coach Brian Voelker. "In the Towson game, we didn't take advantage enough; he lost three faceoffs the whole game. He's had games like that where he's been 70, 75 percent against some really good games and we haven't been able to take advantage of it. The Bryant game, the kid is considered the best faceoff guy around and Nick whipped that guy.

"He's had some really, really good games and some really good years. If you pile on top of his numbers, 21 of 30 for today, plus the three goals. He always gives us a spark. Sometimes we have to calm him down on the sidelines, but he's been a huge key to our success."

Penn came out strong Sunday to take a 3-1 lead and they led 4-2 before Saputo scored the first of his three back-breaking goals with 1.9 seconds left in the first quarter right off a faceoff to cut the deficit to 4-3. In the second quarter, Penn went up 6-4 with 1:16 left before the half on a goal by Alex Blonsky for the Quakers' first man-down goal of the season. That's when Saputo went into action.

"I was trying to figure out the best strategy," Saputo said. "That was what I thought was best and it was working out so I continued with it. That's how it ended. It worked out."

After Jules Raucci scored with 17.7 left, Saputo won the faceoff and fired it in with 12.3 seconds left as he was starting to slide down. He won the ensuing faceoff and scored on nearly an identical run with 6.4 seconds left and Drexel went into the locker room up, 7-6.

"It totally turned things around," Voelker said. "I thought, to be honest with you, Penn totally out played us in the first half. I was hoping we'd go into halftime only down one. Then he turns the thing around and it went from one side to the other pretty quickly, and we came out the second half and took advantage of that."

The Drexel run extended to seven unanswered goals as they opened the second half with a pair of goals from Jared Boudreau, another from Raucci and one from Chris Frederick, who was filling in for second-leading scorer Cole Shafer, who missed the entire second half with a head injury.

Penn replaced starting goalie Brian Feeney with John Lopes and managed to snap the streak with a goal from Nick Doktor, who finished with a team-high three goals. Penn still trailed, 11-7, when the fourth quarter began with three straight Drexel goals to all but seal it.

"We're up 6-4 and they scored seven straight," said Penn head coach Mike Murphy. "We never really recovered. A lot of that is due to their faceoff guy. We didn't respond with faceoffs or scoring or getting stops."

Drexel's leading scorer, Ben McIntosh, also had three goals, but didn't have any through the first three quarters. In all, Drexel had eight different goal scorers. Raucci, Nick Trizano, Ryan Belka and Boudreau had two goals apiece, and Frederick and Hank Brown added a goal apiece. Raucci also had a pair of assists.

"We've said it all year, we have so many weapons on offense that they can't just cover myself, or Nick, or Belka or Cole," said McIntosh, the CAA Player of the Year whose final goal gave him a Drexel single-season record 46. "If one of us isn't having a good day, we have other guys that can step up. Today, we had Jules and Saputo both get multiple goals. It's tough to defend when you have so many guys on offense that can put the ball in the back of the net."

Will Gabrielsen made 12 saves in the game and kept momentum going in Drexel's favor through the second half combined with Saputo's faceoff success and the offensive efficiency.

"Will stepped up and made some big-time saves when we needed him to," Voelker said. "It was a huge, huge team effort. We had some guys that didn't score, that didn't do some things for us this year, step up today."

Most unexpected in the scoring spree was Saputo, who equaled his season total in 15 critical minutes.

"You don't expect him to score three goals," Voelker said. "I expect his kind of effort. You see his intensity out on the field. He's a really talented ball-player. He works really hard on his game. He's taken it to the next level this year."

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