May 27, 2012

Coyne's Picks: The Salisbury Ultimatum

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Despite being the focus of the Tufts defense, Sam Bradman (above) still managed to score seven goals and set up an eighth. He'll undoubtedly by the focus of Cortland's efforts on Sunday, but will it matter?
© John Strohsacker

"Have you looked at the number of goals they are giving up? Seriously, have you seen the number?"

That's what Cortland head coach Steve Beville said when he was sizing up how his team would approach their contest with Salisbury on Sunday afternoon.

"For crying out loud, now they are now No. 1 in offense and defense," he continued.

Despite the fact that this final features a pair of undefeated teams – the first time it's happened since Salisbury and Nazareth squared off in 1995 – there is an underlying feeling that this contest is a formality. The Sea Gulls offense is unquestionably tops in Division III and now, thanks to a new approach, the defense is equally daunting.

"The difference that you see is they are much more disciplined on defense and they don't press out as much as they have in the past," Beville said. "They don't take as many chances as they have in the past as far as pressure. When you play a pressure game, you open up some gaps and some lanes and they have really cut back on that. People have had a tough time scoring on them. They have an unbelievable system and an incredible consistency of greatness. We have our hands full."

Beville and the Red Dragons likely embraced the underdog role leading into Sunday – it's really not that much of a stretch – but they are no slouches themselves. In fact, it could be argued that Cortland has played a stiffer schedule than Salisbury this spring and still came out unblemished.

The Dragons defense will present a serious challenge to the Salisbury offensive unit, especially initiators like Sam Bradman and Ryan Clarke, and Cortland has a premium goalie in Mike Kaminski. On the offensive end, Cortland has both the guns to keep the pressure on, but also the discipline to dictate tempo if the game mandates it.

What will ultimately be the deciding factors?

First, Salisbury has a decided advantage in playing on the biggest stage. The Sea Gulls are not only eyeing a repeat, but have been to the national championship game for three straight years. Meanwhile, the Red Dragons last appearance was in 2009, meaning only the senior class has a concept of what goes on during championship weekend.

The only thing in favor of Cortland is the last time Salisbury held a "been there, done that" edge over one of its opponents, the Sea Gulls got handled by Tufts in 2010. And whereas Salisbury had the Jumbos' upset to incentivize them in 2011, the Gulls don't have much of motivational impetus this spring other than chasing history.

Second, and just like for most of the season, Salisbury will have a decided advantage at faceoffs. The two-headed monster of Tyler Granelli (226-for-339; 66.7%) and Chris Biank (129-of-184; 70.1%) has worn down every opposing faceoff unit. They'll be going against Nick Jarvis, who has not only taken the bulk of the faceoffs this year (196-for-346; 56.6%), but is the only player on the Cortland roster with multiple draws and a plus-.500 winning percentage.

Third, Salisbury has the best player on the field. Even with the Tufts defense keying on him, the Jumbos couldn't stop Bradman from scoring seven goals and dishing out one assist. You can bet that the Red Dragons will be throwing the kitchen sink at Bradman, but it might not make a difference. And if it does, it will likely open large windows for guys like Matt Cannone and the rest of the Sea Gull scoring junta.

As much as I want to find a way for Cortland to pull out the victory – and I do so only to keep this division interesting – it's very difficult to craft a case for the Red Dragons. On Sunday, for better or worse, Salisbury's march continues, 9-6.

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