For Californians, a road trip to the East Coast is usually something to be dreaded, but it might be just what Cal field hockey is needing right now.
It’s been difficult to get a read on the Bears thus far. There was the gutsy defensive effort that ended up just short against a stellar No. 5 Syracuse squad, which led right into a bizarre double-overtime shootout loss against a decent Michigan State team. Then, there was the upset at home of No. 22 UMass, followed by a flat 3-0 loss to No. 17 Iowa. The common denominator is that the Bears have outshot their opponents in each of the last three games, but finishing has been the real key.
“It’s just not falling,” Cal head coach Shellie Onstead said. “I think we’re pretty close to having it on track. It comes down to set pieces and stuff like that (that) we didn’t have a lot of time to work on in the preseason. I’m pretty optimistic — I think it’ll be a great weekend.
There’s no obvious fix for an erratic team, but easy wins can’t hurt in setting the tone for a return to normalcy. The Bears may be in line for at least one of those when they head out east to play Bryant and Northeastern this weekend.
Bryant has opened its season on a rough note, going 1-4 through an admittedly tough slate that included two ranked opponents. You can’t say they earned style points in those losses either — their aggregate line against No. 16 Boston University and No. 24 Maine is 1-16. BU managed to hold the Bulldogs to a single shot in their matchup, and although they doubled that total against Maine, no future opponent is overly afraid of two shots over 70 minutes.
You can’t attribute those anemic figures to an incredibly conservative defensive scheme either, as those two opponents averaged 26.5 shots themselves. When Bryant last matched up with Cal in 2015, the shot totals weren’t quite so lopsided, but the Bears still nearly managed to double up the Bulldogs’ total in a 7-2 win. Almost every American East team, including Cal and usual basement-dweller UC Davis, has had its way with Bryant over the past few seasons.
“Teams like that are really dangerous because you never really know when they’ll put it together,” Onstead said. “They have a new coach this year, and I don’t know much about their personnel, but I do know their coach and we can’t take them lightly.”
Northeastern is certainly in better position to put up a fight against the Bears. They already embarrassed Bryant this season in a 8-0 whipping, but they haven’t truly been tested this season, so Cal’s killer early season schedule might prove to be an advantage here. Last season’s matchup ended in a fairly classic overtime win for the Huskies in Berkeley.
That was the Bears’ first game of the 2016 season and now with roles reversed — Cal the more battle-tested team bringing the fight to Massachusetts — the team will be looking to reverse the result as well. Cal could have had the win last season but for a penalty corner in the last few seconds of regulation. The shot total was fairly close last time around, but Northeastern’s 12-0 lead in penalty corners unsurprisingly came around to bite the Bears. We’ll know soon if Cal can bite back.
“I think four games under our belt is going to be the difference,” Onstead said. “The team coming together on the road with a little more bonding always works in your favor.”