BALTIMORE—On the eve of championship weekend, there was just one question about Duke's offense—how would it play without Josh Dionne?
The Blue Devils entered Saturday averaging 15.06 goals per game—good for second in the nation—and 19.5 in two tournament games. Dionne had netted a career-best 49 himself, but after suffering a knee injury in the quarterfinal against Johns Hopkins, the senior would be missing for Duke’s final stretch in search of a second straight national title.
Dionne’s replacement, junior Kyle Keenan, answered that question early and often against Denver Saturday—scoring a career-high four times—and when the Pioneers battled back in the fourth quarter, Keenan and Duke’s other Kyle, goalkeeper Kyle Turri, stepped up to help Duke hold them off.
“No one is going to replace Josh Dionne. He's an unbelievable player, and with his loss, there's no one that's going to step in like Josh, but we just encouraged Kyle [Keenan] to be himself all week, and he was,” senior attackman Jordan Wolf said.
In his first career start, Keenan wasted little time making an impact, helping his team with an assist to Deemer Class in the first quarter, giving the Blue Devils a 2-1 lead after Duke had conceded the first goal.
The junior, whose 28 points heading into the game were 12 higher than his total from his previous two campaigns combined, then added a goal in the second quarter. Keenan weaved his way through two defenders and with nearly no angle to work with, snuck a quick shot by Pioneer goalkeeper Ryan LaPlante, putting Duke up one again, 5-4, and sparking a 4-0 run to close the half.
“It's very hard to put a short stick on him,” sophomore midfielder Myles Jones said. “He's a great dodger, dodges with his head up and he's a great feeder, so it kind of changes the way our offense is, but it also changes the way defense has to play us.”
After the halftime break, Keenan played a major role in keeping Denver from taking back the lead. Twice in the third quarter, the attackman responded to Pioneer goals with scores of his own less than a minute later, extending the margin back to four each time.
“I've got to credit my teammates. I got a bunch of great feeds,” Keenan said. “And just working with Jordan, [Case Matheis] and Dionne all week on my spacing and just being in the right place at the right time [helped a lot]."
On his third goal, with 2:56 to play in the third quarter, Keenan scored while drawing an unnecessary roughness penalty, but the Blue Devils could not capitalize on the resulting one-minute extra-man opportunity.
The Pioneers, however, did just that, scoring on back-to-back extra-man opportunities to close the quarter. Riding that momentum, Denver attackman Wesley Berg cut the lead to 11-10 with his fifth goal of the day less than 90 seconds into the fourth.
In stepped Kyle No. 2.
Turri, a junior and Keenan’s roommate, started Saturday’s contest on the bench behind Luke Aaron, who has started 17 of 19 contests for Duke this year. Turri’s last start came against the Pioneers in February, when he allowed four goals and managed just a single save in the first quarter. Turri watched the rest of that game from the sidelines.
But as a starter on last year’s national championship squad, Turri is no stranger to pressure on a national stage, and after coming in to relieve Aaron in the third quarter to preserve a two-goal lead in the quarterfinal against Johns Hopkins, Turri heard his number called again to close out a tight game and used the chance to redeem himself against Denver.
“Well, certainly the starter kind of lost his fast ball, so bring in the reliever,” head coach John Danowski said of the change. “You know, I don't think there's really too much science to it, but we needed a spark and needed something, and just didn't look like that Luke was getting his hands down quick enough and was getting beat.… [We all] trust Kyle.”
Thrown into the game with 13:46 remaining and Duke nursing a one-goal lead, Turri had to make a swift transition and put an end to the Pioneer run, but he had few qualms about the lack of warm-up time.
“It's kind of nice,” he said. “When I get thrown in there, I don't have any time to really think about it and get in my head.”
Duke won the faceoff, giving the junior ample time to stretch in the cage, Turri noted, and Jones took a little pressure off his teammate, shaking his defender to put Duke up two again.
But the Duke defense left Turri in a one-on-one after losing Zach Miller on a swift fake, and Denver pulled back within a single goal.
This time, it was Keenan who gave his roommate the additional breathing room, scoring off a cut across the middle and sparking a 3-0 run for the Blue Devils as Turri held strong down the stretch, making four saves in about 14 minutes of action and allowing just two goals.
Coming in as an understudy, Keenan registered five points, including a perfect four-of-four shooting day, and picked up two ground balls.
"I'm not surprised about Kyle's performance,” Jones said. “Natural attack man, lefty, so him filling in that spot was just natural for him."
And no one was surprised how Turri came through either.
“He's won a national championship before,” Wolf said. “He has all the experience in the world and has all the confidence of our team and coaches, so it was no big deal."