Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala sounded like a disappointed parent Saturday afternoon when a reporter asked if there was a specific X-and-O reason for his team’s defensive breakdowns.
“No, no, no,” Pietramala tsk-tsked. “It’s discipline.”
It’s also nothing new.
The Blue Jays have yielded 10 goals in nine games this season – or three more times than they combined for when they won national titles in 2005 and 2007.
While “discipline” is one of those unquantifiable things, seeing the defenseman (Michael Evans) who shut down everyone in his path during the postseason get absolutely roasted by Brown is easy to measure. So too is the relative mortality of a goalie (Mike Gvozden) who was sizzling this time last year but has been left trying to stop shots pretty much no one has any right to all year.
In short, this isn’t a classic Hopkins defense – and certainly not the kind Pietramala prides himself on producing. The Blue Jays have yielded 136 goals; when Virginia gets its fifth score on Sunday, it’ll be most goals Hopkins has allowed since 1996.
No one – no one – in the sport plays the “no-one-believed-in-us” card better than Pietramala, even when only a drooling idiot would discount the Blue Jays. It works even better when he actually has some doubt to work with, like the last two years when Hopkins rallied for a championship (2007) and a title game appearance (2008) despite early holes.
But the very reason it was foolish to discount the Blue Jays in those years was the defense. Goalies get hot. An effectivive close defense short on name recognition and high on efficiency didn’t permit opponents to extend possessions. A posse of faceoff guys helped the Blue Jays keep it away from the other offense.
There will be no shorting Hopkins here. You follow closely through enough Mays and you learn not to say Pietramala won’t pull off something.
But at the same time, this simply doesn’t look like a vintage Hopkins bunch. The Blue Jays never needed names. They needed discipline and cohesion, and it simply hasn’t existed for substantial stretches of the season.
So often, the difference in the postseason is the stop in the closing seconds. Jesse Schwartzman made one for Hopkins on Duke’s Brad Ross to secure the 2007 title. Gvozden denied Duke’s Matt Danowski in last year’s semifinals.
Look at the last two weekends. Yes, the Blue Jays won in overtime both times. But they were forced there when Loyola scored twice in the final 25 seconds and Brown tied it with eight seconds to go.
Right now, it’s no sure thing Hopkins could make a last-second stand in a tie game Sunday against Virginia, or further down the road against another high-caliber opponent. And it’s precisely why the team that should never be counted out might not make the trip to Foxborough for Memorial Day weekend.