FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — You couldn’t draw it up any better.
Former Northport star Austin Henningsen of Maryland won the game’s first faceoff from Denver stud Trevor Baptiste, who had won 21 of 22 last week at Hofstra in a 16-4 rout of Notre Dame. Ninety seconds later, Maryland scored. Henningsen won the next draw, too.
A message had been sent. “Now Trevor knows he’s in a battle,” Henningsen said. “It was a confidence boost.”
Henningsen managed to win 7 of 15 faceoffs against Baptiste, a Tewaaraton finalist who led the nation with a 75.7 winning percentage, and that helped Maryland hold off Denver, 9-8, on Saturday in the second NCAA men’s semifinal played before a crowd of 30,530 at Gillette Stadium.
The top-seeded Terrapins (15-3) will face No. 3 Ohio State on Monday in an all-Big Ten championship game. The teams split two games this season, each decided by one goal.
That was also the margin Saturday and it felt even slimmer, with both teams having a goal wiped out by a crease violation in the final 1:25 — first Colin Heacock of Maryland that would’ve iced it and then Connor Cannizzaro that would’ve tied it with 9.2 left.
“We had a chance at the end. Obviously the call didn’t go our way, but that happens,” said Cannizzaro, Denver’s leading goal-scorer with 42 who was held to one, mostly being defended by Tim Muller (Garden City/Chaminade). “They had a good defensive scheme. They came out and pressed all over the field and disrupted our motion and ball movement.”
Muller scooped three ground balls and forced three turnovers including a key strip in the final minute. “I didn’t try to do anything out of the ordinary,” Muller said. “Just played our basic Maryland defense. Fundamental, relied on the rest of the teammates to slide when I needed to and slide to him when he had a match-up on someone else. To be honest, I didn’t really do anything that I haven’t tried to do the rest of the year.”
No wonder Muller was voted Big Ten defenseman of the year. In his mind, he was just doing his job. In that regard, he had plenty of help as Maryland plays for an elusive national championship. The Terrapins have been in six of the last seven Final Fours but last won the title in 1975.
“It literally was a game of inches,” Maryland coach John Tillman said. “You look at those last two plays, which I actually thought the refs made the right call on both of them, but that’s how close the game was.”
The Pioneers (13-4) never led, but never faltered either. They trailed 7-4 with 6:40 left in the third after goals by Maryland’s Tim Rotanz (Shoreham/Shoreham-Wading River) and Dylan Maltz, his second of the game. But Baptiste, who wound up winning 11 of 21 draws (the Terps’ Jon Garino went 3-for-6) strung several together to fuel a comeback. Joe Reid and Cannizzaro scored to make it 7-6, before Connor Kelley put the Terps on top 8-6.
Denver’s Ethan Walker scored two goals 1:35 apart early in the fourth to tie it at 8. But Kelley turned and fired a sidearm whip shot for the game-winner with 8:41 left, his third.
Plenty of time left and there was plenty of action. But no scoring thanks to stifling defense on both sides. “It’s great to have a lead the whole game,” Muller said. “With such a great faceoff guy that they have, any lead they get they can get the ball back and hold it.”
That’s why Tillman used Garino to spell Henningsen at times. “It’s like running backs in the NFL. It’s hard to get through the whole year with just one running back,” he said. “Those guys take a lot of hits, a lot of pounding and faceoff guys are the same way. Austin did better today but Jon was better last week. Faceoffs are the trickiest thing.”
Saturday, Henningsen provided just enough magic.