Game: No.11 Rutgers (2-0) at No.13 Army (2-0) Saturday 2:30 p.m.
Location: Michie Stadium (West Point, N.Y.)
History: Rutgers won a 12-10 decision last year at home. Rutgers has won three of the last four games in the series, but all four of the games have been decided by two goals or less.
Inside Rutgers: Rutgers comes into this matchup with a 2-0 record. However, neither win equaled the type of impressive performance that Army put forth in its opener. The Scarlet Knights beat a scrappy Robert Morris team, 11-7, and an improved St. John’s Red Storm team, 12-8. Rutgers dropped in the most recent USLIA Media Poll from No.7 to No.11. Rutgers has been led on offense by senior attackman Jules Heningburg, who has five goals and six assists. The highly-touted Rutgers first midfield line has been as advertised with Christian Mazzone, Casey Rose and Christian Trasolini each having strong efforts in the first two contests.
Rose has hit the back of the net five times in two games including a hat trick against St. John’s, while Trasolini’s three goals came in the opener against Robert Morris. Mazzone continues to show why he is one of the best all-around middies on this team. He is currently second in points, in addition to being an excellent on-ball defender and wing player. Sophomore attackman Kieran Mullins also jumped into the scoring column against St. John’s with two goals and an assist. Rutgers looked to jumpstart their third attack spot by starting true freshman Tom Coyne in the St. John’s game. Coyne produced his first career point with a nifty no-look pass to Heningburg in the third quarter. The competition for that third attack spot appears to be somewhat unsettled for the Scarlet Knights.
Defensively, Rutgers was led by senior goalie Max Edelman, who had another outstanding day in net as he registered nine saves including a several point-blank saves. The Scarlet Knights defense was responsible for 18 Red Storm turnovers and rallied after spotting St. John’s an early 3-1 lead. Over the next 32 minutes of game time, Rutgers limited the Red Storm to two goals. Alex Schoen had an up-and-down day at the faceoff X, winning 8-of-17 draws.
Inside Army: Army returns an excellent core of players from a team that was one of the first excluded from the NCAA tournament last year. Head coach Joe Alberici has been forced to replace attackman Cole Johnson, who was the leader of the offense last year. However, Army brings back four of its five top point scorers from 2017. Defensively, Army will have to replace standout Reaves Klipstein, who led a defense that allowed just over eight goals per game in 2017. But possibly the biggest loss for the Black Knights is at the faceoff X where they will have to find a replacement for Dan Grabher, who won more than 470 faceoffs in his career, finishing with an exceptional career percentage of over 62%.
Army opened its 2018 campaign with a dominant 18-6 victory over UMass and followed with a solid 14-5 victory over NJIT. Army was led on offense by senior middie David Symmes, who has five goals and three assists so far in the young season. Attackmen Nate Jones and Connor Glancy have chipped in with eight points each, while senior Ted Glesener added five goals and one assist.
The defense was just as impressive, holding a solid UMass squad to its lowest regular season scoring output since last season’s meeting between the two clubs. Army also limited NJIT to just five goals on Tuesday. If there was one hiccup in an otherwise stellar opening portion of the season, it has to be at the faceoff X as West Point struggled in its opening game. John Ragno only won 9-of-25 faceoffs on the day, but appeared to rebound against NJIT, winning 12-of-13 draws.
What to watch: Faceoffs and wing play. Over the last four years, these games have been incredibly close, so extra possessions could be the key to victory. Rutgers brings back its top two faceoff men from the last two years. Schoen has taken the bulk of the faceoffs in the first two games as Jojo Francisco recovers from a minor preseason injury. It is possible that we see Francisco back this week but, as of today, it is still uncertain if he will be available. If he is good to go, then Rutgers would get the edge in this crucial matchup.
Army only won 9 out of 25 faceoffs against UMass (it did better on Tuesday against an undermanned NJIT squad). It used a combination of Ragno, who was the second faceoff option last year, and freshman LSM Kyle Beyer, who was an outstanding at the faceoff X while playing at Morristown High School in Morristown, N.J.
Keys to the Game: This matchup of top 15 teams could boil down to who is hot in the goal, who can win faceoffs and role players.
1- This could be one of the premier goalie matchups of the season with junior AJ Barrato in net for Army and Edelman between the pipes for Rutgers. Both of these keepers make a habit of playing their best games in their team’s biggest moments. Barrato made nine saves in Army’s OT victory over Notre Dame last year. Meanwhile, Edelman made nine saves of his own in an OT win against No.3 Ohio State in 2017 and also had15 saves against last year’s National Champion, Maryland.
2- If Rutgers is able to consistently win faceoffs they will be able to dictate the pace of the game. Pace will be important for this game as both Robert Morris and St. John’s have been able to effectively slow down Rutgers’ dynamic transition game. If Rutgers is able to push the pace and unleash its devastating transition game, Army may not be able to keep up.
3- Role players… Is Coyne the answer for that third spot at attack? Who gets more out of their 2nd midfield? Can Rutgers Rope Group slow down the Army midfield? On paper it appears like the matchups favor Rutgers at attack and on defense. Army had to replace its best player at each position, while Rutgers brings back their top two players at each spot. Rutgers is working out some issues on offense. At times, in each of the first two games, the quick ball movement and slick passing that made this team so dangerous last year has been apparent. If RU can get back to this more consistent style of play and avoid possessions where only one or two people touch the ball, it appears that it should have an advantage on the offensive side of the ball.
On defense, once again the matchups seem to favor the Scarlet Knights as Michael Rexrode and Alex Bronzo will probably match up against Army’s top two attackmen, Nate Jones and Conor Glancy. That leaves RU’s Garrett Michaeli to match up against Army’s Sean O’brien. The Michaeli/ O’brien matchup could be as critical as the Coyne/ Griffin Schultz match up on the other end of the field.
Overall: These games have historically been close. The two teams are well matched in terms of leadership and ability, so it is very possible that the game will be decided by the role players. If Rutgers can get more productivity out of the third attack spot, whether its Coyne or Connor Verycrusse. And if Army’s Ragno can improve on his faceoff percentage, it could be the difference in the game.
Pick: Rutgers 11 Army 9. Rutgers makes a statement after being dropped in the polls.