Hopkins: Fire in family

Brothers: Dan and Conor Denihan will put different talents, but the same high-spirited approach, to work for the Blue Jays in their bid for NCAA glory in 2000

Men's lacrosse preview

February 25, 2000|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Dan and Conor Denihan are fortunate to be playing on the same lacrosse team, gunning for the same goal, facing the same enemies together.

Were they on opposite sides on any given game day, one sibling might be forced to do some damage to the other. And don't think either of them would flinch at the thought.

Johns Hopkins coach John Haus has seen plenty of the brothers' fire, starting with the practice field.

"They are businesslike, but if there's a ground ball and they're both going for it, they'll kill each other for that ground ball," Haus said.

If the Blue Jays are going to reach their first NCAA championship game since 1989, the Denihans, two huge keys to the area's best team, will have much to say about it.

They are the first brothers to grace the same Hopkins squad as All-Americans since Brendan and Lance Schneck in 1981. They are each working toward degrees in sociology.

And that's pretty much where their similarities end.

Dan, 23, returns for his final collegiate season as the heart of the Blue Jays' attack. As a second-team All-American a year ago, when Hopkins fell to Virginia in the NCAA semifinals, he returned from a one-year sabbatical from the game to record his best season ever. He became the first Hopkins player in seven years to record 30 goals and 30 assists in a season.

Conor, 21, returns for his junior year as probably the team's most improved player and its best midfielder next to senior A.J. Haugen. As an honorable-mention All-American, he finished fourth on the team in scoring with 29 points in 1999.

The Denihans complement each other on and off the field. "I'm a better shooter than Dan. He's a better passer," Conor said. "He's got great eyes. I get a little tunnel vision out there sometimes. I'm working with Coach Haus on not holding the ball too much. I want to have something to do with whatever is going on."

Conor is the consummate middie, as comfortable assisting teammate Eric Wedin with faceoff duty as he is battling for a ground ball or running through a defender to unleash a shot on goal. At 6 feet 2, 200 pounds, he can be a tough load to handle on offense or defense.

Dan, 6-1, 200, is a big body around the goal, and he brings more flash to his game. Equally adept at scoring or drawing a double team and dishing to an open teammate, he is the quarterback of the offense.

"I'm not the fastest or the strongest and I don't have the hardest shot, but I'm always doing whatever I can to win," Dan said.

The differences between them are pronounced in other ways. Chances are, you'll rarely hear a peep out of Conor during a game. Not so with Dan, whose emotions regularly boil over in competition.

He might be screaming at an opponent, scolding a teammate for a mistake or berating himself for making a poor decision. His face usually turns red at some point.

"I express myself, sometimes to a fault. Sometimes, I get a little too graphic in practice," Dan said. "I let things get the best of me. I get a little too heated. It's my flaw, but it's also my positive. My intensity is my strength."

"I'm more moderate. Dan is more crazy, I guess," Conor said. "I'm quiet. He's loud. His emotions are on his sleeve. He's a bit of a yeller on the field, where I try to communicate calmly. He can't help it. He tries. He's a talker. Off the field, it's still tough for me to get a word in."

Though the Denihans rarely tangle in uniform, they will bicker like typical brothers at a moment's notice. The arguments will range from who belongs in the Pro Bowl to what kind of sandwiches they should eat to who isn't playing fair at video games.

At least they have dispensed with the fisticuffs. Neither Dan nor Conor remembers the circumstances that led to it, but they each recalled the last major scuffle between them.

Conor was an eighth-grader. Dan was a sophomore at Manhasset High (N.Y.). An argument ensued at their Long Island home. The fight culminated with Conor chasing his brother throughout the house, then breaking a golf club over Dan's collarbone.

"[Dan] was all right, but the club was smashed in half," Conor said. "It's not worth it anymore. If we were still fighting, there would be bloodbaths."

Added Dan: "We're too big for that now. If we did [fight], one of us would end up in the hospital."

Lacrosse has bonded the brothers for nearly a lifetime. Since they first picked up sticks as preschoolers, the game has grabbed Dan and Conor and never let go. At Manhasset, a pipeline to Hopkins for years, Conor excelled quickly at football and lacrosse. Dan was a high school All-America attackman.

After Dan took a scholarship to play at Hopkins, he hoped Conor would follow him there.

"I couldn't imagine [Conor] playing at another university," Dan said. "If he was, I'd be forced to dislike him, especially when we were playing against each other."

Dan quickly established himself as a freshman, recording 26 goals and eight assists while starting all 14 games. He described his sophomore year (20, 20) as frustrating.

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