John Desko calls it the Scott Marr Magical Mystery Tour, some people call it the Lyle Thompson Show, and others call it the best offensive team in Division I. Whatever way you choose to describe it, the Albany offense is lightning quick, unforgiving, and dangerous.
Albany is the top scoring offense in Division I, averaging a mindboggling 18.4 goals per game. Despite the loss of Myles and Ty Thompson to graduation, the Great Danes offense appears to be as potent as ever. For Albany the game against Syracuse offers their last opportunity to pick up a top-5 win after suffering a lopsided defeat to Cornell back in February. For the Orange, it’s a chance to right the ship after a heartbreaking overtime loss to Notre Dame last Saturday, and keep the No. 1-seed for the NCAA tournament in sight.
Here a few matchups and players I will be watching…
Albany Attack vs Syracuse D
This is the key matchup for both teams and is likely to determine who comes away with the W. The Albany starting attack will be one of the best Syracuse will see all year, with Lyle Thompson leading the way, along with Seth Oaks and Connor Fields as his wingmen. Thompson has 53 points so far this season, including 30 assists. Freshman Connor Fields leads the team with 30 goals and has developed a nice chemistry with Thompson. Fields, a lefty finisher, has benefited mightily from teams attempting to double Thompson and has the ability to finish in close or shoot from the outside. Seth Oakes is a fellow Native American player who does a lot of damage around the crease. Oakes is more of a pure finisher, as he has only three assists on the year.
For Syracuse, the defensive matchups aren’t much of a mystery. Brandon Mullins will again be the go-to guy for Syracuse and take on the task of covering Lyle Thompson. Last year Thompson was able to put up five assists against Mullins but was held to only one goal. From a Syracuse standpoint, John Desko and staff would surely take a repeat of that performance despite the five assists. For Albany head coach Scott Marr, one goal is probably not what he has in mind for Lyle Thompson this game. Mullins has shown the ability to at least slow Thompson down, which is all you can ask for against such a great player. For the remaining matchups, it would appear likely that Sean Young will draw Seth Oakes and Jay McDermott will draw Fields. Young did a masterful job last year against Miles Thompson, holding him to only one goal. Seth Oakes is a similar player to Miles in that he is at his best around the crease and isn’t much of a threat to dodge or shoot from up top. Young struggled at times against ND with early slides, which resulted in a couple of doorstep goals for ND. It will be key that Young slides only when necessary and not leave Oakes alone on the doorstep for what will be a high percentage look. The most concerning matchup for the Orange is Jay McDermott on Connor Fields. Last year, Syracuse struggled to contain the third Albany attackman as Ty Thompson finished with five goals. Fields has already shown the ability to play at nearly the same level as the now departed Ty Thompson, which may result in a big headache for the Orange. Look for Syracuse to make a quick move to Ralph D’Agostino at close defense if McDermott struggles, as was the case last week against the Irish.
Albany coach Scott Marr must have been having bad dreams about having to go up against Tewaaraton nominee Ben Williams at the faceoff X. Those bad dreams are now a nightmare as Albany announced yesterday that starting faceoff specialist Connor Russell is out for the year after tearing his ACL against UMass-Lowell last Saturday. For Williams, who continues to win over 67% of his draws, this matchup has to be one he is salivating over. Albany is now forced to turn to freshman Cason Liles, who took a majority of the draws last Saturday after Russell was injured. On paper Liles is winning 56% of his draws on the year (30-of-53). However, when you look deeper a majority of those wins occurred this past week against UMass-Lowell, where Liles went 17-of-23. Taking away that game, Liles is under 43% for the year with limited draws against high end competition. Games aren’t played on paper, so Liles could certainly turn in a good or even great performance against Williams, but it’s hard to argue that Syracuse doesn’t have a huge advantage now at the X. If Williams is hitting anywhere near his yearly average of 67% its hard to see how Albany can win.
With Scott Marr and his staff certainly expected to pay extra attention to Kevin Rice and Dylan Donahue, the pressure and opportunities again fall on the Syracuse midfield. Hakeem Lecky and Henry Schoonmaker had less than memorable games against ND last Saturday. The two shot a combined 1-of-12, with many shots nowhere near the cage, and Lecky had a bad turnover late in the fourth. The two should have ample opportunities to redeem themselves against a porous Albany defense. Nicky Galasso turned in a two goal performance against Notre Dame that could have easily been doubled if not for some tremendous goalie play by the Irish. Galasso could be in for another big game as Albany will struggle to try and defend the starting SU attack, and may be forced to put a short stick on Galasso. The Syracuse second midfield has continued to struggle on the field, with the unit producing only one point last week and zero shots. With Syracuse expected to win a majority of the faceoffs it will be interesting to see if John Desko looks to change things up a bit on the second mid line and look to Derek Dejoe, Ryan Simmons, or even Jeff Desko to try and spark the second line. Keep an eye on Nick Westin and Jordan Evans this game. If either one is headed toward a breakout performance, this would be the game.
While there is no question about how good the Albany offense is, defensively there are many question marks. Despite the fact that Albany hasn’t played a difficult schedule the Albany defense has been victimized for large goal totals. Against Cornell they gave up 16 goals, and then 15 to Stony Brook, with 18 more to Harvard. With Albany’s run and gun offense there will be moments where the defense is left out to dry, and against upper level opponents the Albany defense has been less then impressive. With Randy Staats likely to miss his third consecutive game the Albany defense will catch a nice break but containing the starting attack trio of Rice, Donahue, and Tim Barber is still a tall task for the Great Danes. Albany is starting two freshmen at close defense, including one who made his first start only two games ago. The mostly senior led Syracuse offense would appear to have a pretty huge advantage, especially Kevin Rice and Dylan Donahue, who have run wild against young defenders this season (see the Duke game). Scott Marr may choose to go to a zone in order to try and slow the Orange down. Syracuse still hasn’t shown an ability to score consistently from outside, so a zone may be the best option for a young Albany defense.
On paper you have to question whether scheduling Albany on this date was a smart decision by Syracuse. Sandwiched between road trips to ND and UNC, and being the first mid-week game all season, it would appear Syracuse is at a disadvantage. Albany is a unique team with an unorthodox offense that puts teams at a disadvantage when they have limited time to prepare. That said, on paper this is a game you would expect Syracuse to win. They appear to have a massive advantage at the faceoff X and despite some bad lapses against ND last week the Orange defense has experience and the players to at least slow the Albany offense. Albany also lacks the skill and depth that Notre Dame brought to its starting midfield, as no Albany midfielder has over 10 goals and there is little depth on the second unit.
The key for the Orange will be the ability to respond to adjustments or wrinkles that Scott Marr is sure to throw at them. Expect Albany to try and harrass Ben Williams at the X after he wins the draw to try and negate an initial win and turn it into a turnover. In the end, coming off of a tough loss I expect Syracuse to respond, as despite the loss of Staats this is a senior laden team that knows how good Albany is.
Final Score: Syracuse 17, Albany 15