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Jacob Angelus and Russell Melendez

Hopkins Overcomes Early Faceoff Struggles to Beat Michigan

March 30, 2024
Patrick Stevens
John Strohsacker

BALTIMORE — Finding a way to gamely stick around in a game when an opponent wins the first nine faceoffs is a tricky task.

It’s a challenge, though not impossible — as Johns Hopkins illustrated in its 15-11 defeat of Michigan on Saturday before 2,776 at Homewood Field.

The Blue Jays (7-3, 2-0 Big Ten) shrugged off an early three-goal hole, took the lead for good by halftime and eventually flipped possession in their favor over the final 30 minutes to race past the Wolverines for the 11th time in 12 all-time meetings.

“You kind of have to start there, build an identity where your offense is going to come from the defensive end because you never know,” Hopkins coach Peter Milliman said. “You’re going to go on stretches where you just don’t see it off the faceoff, you don’t get second-chance opportunities after you score a goal.”

Jacob Angelus had a goal and four assists and Garrett Degnon, Russell Melendez and Johnathan Peshko each recorded hat tricks for Hopkins, which will welcome the only other team still without a loss in Big Ten play — Penn State — to Homewood next Saturday.

Justin Tiernan scored three goals for Michigan (6-4, 1-1), which committed 12 of its 17 turnovers in the first half as it squandered its early possession advantage.

“Everything adds up,” Wolverines coach Kevin Conry said. “Seventeen turnovers is a lot of turnovers. You can’t have them.”

Especially when dealing with a Hopkins defense that settled in over time and was forced to play less once the field tilted the opposite direction. Michigan won 15 of the first 18 faceoffs, an advantage somewhat mitigated by the Wolverines’ sloppiness. But Michigan still led 6-4 in the middle of the second quarter and shot 38.9 percent on the way to trailing 8-7 at halftime.

Abetted by an 8-for-11 finish on faceoffs, Hopkins held the Wolverines to 4-for-16 shooting in the second half, with two of the goals coming on man-up.

“You put it best --- hanging in there,” said Hopkins goalie Chayse Ierlan (15 saves). “That middle of the field, that’s a really good faceoff unit and they’re a really good ground ball team. We knew they were going to get some possessions and some big ones throughout the rest of the game. We tried to stay the course, stick to the scouting report and get to six-on-six defense.”

This was Michigan’s first trip to Baltimore since its galvanizing Big Ten tournament run last season. The Wolverines had no shot at making their NCAA tournament debut unless they won the league, and proceeded to do precisely that by handling Penn State and clobbering Maryland.

Michigan had won three of its previous four games at Homewood, dating back to their lone victory ever over Hopkins during the pandemic season in 2021. And it rolled into its first conference road game of the season buoyed by a 12-11 defeat of Maryland a week earlier.

So when Michigan built a 4-1 lead --- the last goal credited to Bo Lockwood after Ierlan appeared to stop his shot, only for it to veer into the cage thanks to some backspin when it hit the ground --- the Wolverines appeared well-positioned to enjoy the afternoon since Justin Wietfeldt (17 of 25) was winning faceoff after faceoff.

“They won a conference tournament on this field last year. we didn’t want to overstate it, but it was definitely a factor,” Milliman said. “They were going to have a confidence and a good feel for being out here. It was just going to be about our guys, making sure they stayed together, they focused on what they were doing.”

It proved to be Michigan’s peak for the day. Hunter Jaronski scored in transition. Melendez collected an extra-man goal. And when Degnon added an unsettled goal --- following a turnover in the middle of the field --- early in the second quarter, the Wolverines had all but frittered away their early faceoff edge.

“A little bit,” Conry said. “A couple penalties in there gave them a little mojo. They started to feel it a little bit. It’s certainly disappointing.”

Hopkins has its own understanding of disappointment. The Blue Jays won five in a row after an overtime loss to Denver in its opener, then endured back-to-back one-goal setbacks against Syracuse and Navy.

The latter --- after building an early 6-1 lead --- was a sobering result for a team that was at the time just two weeks removed from picking off Virginia on the road.

“It woke us up a little,” Angelus said. “We just had to move on and realize when we play bad, we’re not a great team. I think a lot of teams are like that. We had a rough wake-up call, but I think we’ve responded to that call and we’ve played well these past couple of weeks.”

It no doubt helped in how calmly Hopkins handled its early deficit on Saturday. And when that challenge was met, the Blue Jays were more than capable of pulling away when it finally saw the ball plenty in the second half.

“Coach [John] Crawley did a good job of keeping those guys disciplined and focusing on fundamental execution with what they were doing down there, so when you do get some possessions, a rhythm starts to favor you a little bit,” Milliman said. “That can be like a second spurt instead of just relying on it and needing it badly.”