Goalie Blaze Riorden a key to Albany Great Danes' success
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) Blaze Riorden makes a jumping save on a shot from close range against Yale with the game tied early in overtime. Seconds later, after Albany fails to clear the zone, the senior goalie stops another shot, gains control of the ball, and then sends his teammates off in transition.
Less than a minute later, Seth Oakes scores the game-winner at the other end and Albany has an important road victory over the fourth-ranked Bulldogs.
''He's big in big moments,'' Yale coach Andy Shay said of Riorden.
This is Albany lacrosse coach Scott Marr's first season in a while without a Thompson in the lineup. The Great Danes (12-2) just finished the six-game America East Conference season undefeated for the fourth straight time, and if they seem to have barely missed a beat, look no further than the man who stands between the pipes as one of the keys.
''Blaze brings so much more to the table for us as far as his confidence and the confidence level that our team plays with,'' Marr said. ''He's kind of carrying that torch this year of being the guy who has that ability to change the course of a game.''
The 6-foot, 200-pound Riorden has helped Albany rebound from early-season losses to Syracuse and Maryland, backstopping the Great Danes to nine straight wins - one an 18-save performance in a one-goal win over Harvard. Albany's current ranking of No. 4 is its highest since the Great Danes were No. 2 in 2007.
''This is my fourth year starting,'' said Riorden, who grew up in the Rochester, New York suburb of Fairport and probably is best known for his scoring prowess. ''I had to take more of a role as a senior. I couldn't just be a goalkeeper. I had to be a leader. I want to leave a legacy for this school.''
The calming effect Riorden has every time he corrals an opponent's shot is evident. He surveys the field, decides where to go with the ball, and jumpstarts the aggressive Albany attack with a slick pass.
''He's the guy who gets it going,'' Marr said. ''That calmness and confidence that come over when he does make saves and gets the ball away, it's hard to measure that. We could put our team on his back and he knows that.''
This is what the Great Danes no longer can rely on: in their victory over Loyola in the NCAA Tournament two years ago, Lyle Thompson had three goals and five assists, brother Miles had five goals and two assists, and cousin Ty chipped in with three goals, giving the Native American trio 18 points in the victory.
This year's team might not match the offensive juggernauts that led the nation in scoring the past three years (15.9, 15.9 and 17.1 goals per game), but these Great Danes aren't far behind, averaging 13.4, good for fifth nationally, while allowing 9.9.
''We're not as much flash this year, but we have a host of kids that are really playing at a high level,'' Marr said. ''We're playing defense as well as we ever have, and we're scoring still.''
Lyle was the last of the Thompson trio (he graduated after last season), and he left a remarkable legacy - the only player in Division I history with three 100-point seasons and a record 225 assists. He schooled Connor Fields, and as a freshman Fields led the nation last season with 66 goals. Fields has evolved into a more complete player as a sophomore and leads the team this year with 68 points (39 goals, 29 assists), while Oakes is the top goal scorer with 43.
As for Riorden, who ranks third in saves per game (12.6), what separates him from most of the rest who play one of the most thankless positions in sports is that he's really an attackman at heart. He became a goalie only after one of his shots broke a hand of his team's goalie during summer youth lacrosse a decade ago.
Riorden's dad, Mike, was the coach and Blaze had to follow orders.
''He said since I broke his hand I'd have to play goalie,'' Blaze said. ''It felt natural, so I just stuck with it. I could see myself still playing attack, but I'm happy where I am.''
Riorden, on the list for the Tewaaraton Award given annually to the nation's best player, still plays attack in box lacrosse during the summer, and his shot with the short stick has been clocked at over 100 mph. So, naturally, he isn't shy about joining the Albany attack when opportunity knocks.
''There's this big statement that goalies aren't athletes, but we're athletes like the rest of the players,'' Riorden said.
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