March 11, 2018
By John Heisler
The ESPN commentators love to trumpet the Notre Dame-Denver men's lacrosse rivalry as the most competitive in the nation.
That's based on the fact that five of the previous eight meetings went to at least one overtime and seven of the last nine had been decided by a single goal.
But none of that meant much to Kevin Corrigan's Irish, who had come out on the short end of the last six matchups with the Pioneers, two of those in the NCAA Championship.
Current Irish players certainly hadn't forgotten their final 2017 outing, a 16-4 NCAA quarterfinal loss in which Denver scored 11 straight goals against the Irish.
And it's never easy against a Denver team that starts with hall of fame-caliber face-off expert Trevor Baptiste, who had won 83 of 114 previous face-offs in five previous games against Notre Dame and already boasted a 22-for-22 effort against Cleveland State last month.
That's what made Notre Dame's effort so remarkable Saturday at Arlotta Stadium against the fifth-rated Pioneers.
Irish faceoff man John Travisano and his wingers battled gamely against Baptiste -- and the Irish offense was coolly efficient in building a highly impressive 8-3 halftime margin into an 11-9 victory.
Corrigan with his team before the game summoned up a metaphor connected to the phrase "canary in a coal mine."
It's based on miners who received advance notice of danger when they literally would take caged canaries with them into the mines because if deadly odor-less gases (methane or carbon monoxide) existed they would kill the birds first and give the miners notice of the risk involved.
"For us today the canary in the coal mine is ground balls," Corrigan said. "We're gonna know if we're on this if we're getting ground balls. They take an aggressiveness, an assertiveness, a decisiveness, it's about putting your nose on the ground and poise and communication. If we're doing all that effectively, we'll be where we want to be. That's the way we need to play. That's the challenge and it's a big one, being completely dialed in for 60 minutes."
Denver gave up an own goal when it inadvertently shoveled a pass into its own net, and that prompted a Pioneer timeout with the score 3-0 just 4:44 into the contest.
Irish freshman Mikey Drake broke out of the box to notch his first career goal a minute later to make it 4-0 -- then Bryan Costabile (also shut out a week ago at Maryland) made it 5-1. Ten minutes into the opening period, the Irish had five shots, five shots on goal and five goals.
Costabile's second tally came with 2:21 remaining in the opening period, the Irish were winning individual matchups all over the field and Notre Dame built a stunning 6-1 advantage after a single period.
Baptiste ended up winning 15 of 24 face-offs overall, but the Irish won at least two in every period (one lasted about 45 seconds and drew a standing ovation from the crowd) and on several others they forced turnovers after the Pioneers earned initial possession. That set the tone for the Notre Dame approach all afternoon in front of a packed house at Arlotta Stadium on a sunny, 40-degree day.
Drake and Gleason scored in the second period for Notre Dame and only a Pioneer score in the final 11.3 seconds kept it to a five-goal Irish lead.
Notre Dame built a 13-5 edge in shots on goal in the first two periods while forcing the visitors into eight turnovers.
Corrigan loved most everything about the way his team played over the first two periods.
"That's half the job," he emphasized.
Gleason scored twice in the first six minutes of the third period and Notre Dame led 10-4.
Then the Pioneers roared back, scoring five straight goals.
Denver sophomore Ethan Walker (a Culver Military Academy product like Notre Dame starting goaltender Matt Schmidt, senior Pierre Byrne and rookie Wheaton Jackoboice) notched the last of his five goals (on only five shots) to make it a 10-9 game with 8:27 remaining.
Costabile scored his third of the day after multiple rebounds at the 3:39 stop, and the Irish hung on impressively in a variety of ways down the stretch to close it out.
A nine-for-24 face-off win rate won't normally earn a blue ribbon, but it was good enough Saturday to merit Travisano a huge roar from his teammates in the locker room.
Said Corrigan after it was over, "That was so much fun, wasn't it? You know why? Because we went all in. It's not easy, we know that. We don't have an easy game the rest of the year. But it reinvigorates you when you work your butt off during the week and put it together on a Saturday.
"It's never going to be perfect, but, darn, it was good today. I'm really proud of you, and yet we're not even close, we're going to keep getting better."
The score sheet said Costabile and Gleason, nether of whom scored last weekend, combined for seven of Notre Dame's goals. Meanwhile, Mikey Wynne and Ryder Garnsey, who scored six of Notre Dame's goals at Maryland, combined for only two shots Saturday. That's how different it can be from one Saturday to the next.
But none of that mattered because of the way the Irish battled in blue-collar fashion against the Pioneers.
Next week's assignment is no easier -- it's eighth-ranked and 6-1 Virginia in Notre Dame's Atlantic Coast Conference opener at Arlotta.
After Saturday, Corrigan and his Irish know exactly where the bar stands.