By Brooke Killgore
Photo Credit: Arnav Pokhrel (Instagram: @Prod_adp)
LYNCHBURG, VA—The clock struck midnight at LaHaye Ice Center. Liberty University fans were allowed to stay up past their curfews as Syracuse took on the #8 Flames for “Midnight Mayhem” on Saturday eening. While there were no Cinderalla-esk reveals, ‘CUSE men’s hockey struggled to find their rhythm with a 6-3 loss on Friday and a late-night 7-4 loss on Saturday.
The Orange were coming off a devastating sweep against the University of Rhode Island last weekend, their first series back for over a month. Syracuse went into Friday night needing a dominant win as ACHA playoffs loom closer each week. And for the first time all season, SU would be broadcast on ESPN+.
“The energy was amazing. The team was more [excited] than usual [with] playing on ESPN+ and in front of a huge crowd,” alternate captain and defenseman Connor Chesner said.“This was a weekend that we highlighted the week our schedule came out so everyone was excited to play.”
Friday’s game was a mix of intense Liberty lines and several trips to the box. Syracuse struggled on the penalty kill as three Flames found the back of the net; one per period. The Orange accumulated ten minutes in the box just off minors and as tensions ran high, two SU and two Liberty players were disqualified for fighting.
Syracuse was able to put points on the board. Junior right-wing Brock Alvers was the first to score, racking up two goals—one being a powerplay shot— late into the second period. The junior also scored during Saturday’s game. The Illinois native discussed the key—or player— for his success.
“Honestly I really can’t take a lot of credit. [Sam] Hutchinson did a lot of the work on two of those goals and I was just the guy on the other side of the pass,” the forward said. “I think a lot of people thought we would get blown out there, but it felt like we were in both games.”
Alternate captain and left wing Hutchinson ended the series with two assists, one for Alvers and another for Chesner. Syracuse goaltender A.J. Finta brought up how Hutchinson’s leadership qualities have pushed the team farther than imagined.
“In the dressing room, [Hutchinson]’s the guy that keeps us locked in between periods,” Finta said. “He never lets us get too high or too low depending on how the game is going, rather Hutch keeps us focused on the task at hand and constantly reminds us that we need to play a full 60 minutes to win hockey games.”
Even with a third-period score by freshman forward Evan Applegate, the Orange struggled to close the gap on Liberty, 6-3. The Flames outshot the ‘CUSE 38-30 and Finta recorded a .842 save percentage off 32 saves. The Connecticut native mentioned how he kept himself calm, even with the Liberty offensive lines flying at him.
“The atmosphere at Liberty was awesome, arguably the coolest environment I’ve ever played in. It’s not every day that you get to hit the ice in front of 3,000+ fans rowdy in the ACHA,” Finta described. “As a goalie I visualized myself having a big, game stealing, performance in front of a packed crowd. Unfortunately, this didn’t end up coming to fruition…However, I knew I owed it to myself and my team to stay locked in and keep battling to ensure that the score didn’t get out of hand.”
Saturday was a highly discussed subject in the eyes of Liberty and Syracuse fans: the arrival of “Midnight Mayhem.” The ‘CUSE had the advantage of a “no curfew restriction” back home and hoped to shine on ESPN+ for fans who’d stayed awake.
Even with an early Liberty goal, it was Chesner who responded on a power play score for SU. The sophomore made mention of Syracuse’s effective movements of the four lines during the Flames penalty kills.
“What helped me find the net this weekend was the penalties that they gave up to give us the opportunity for a power play. We ran our 5-3 [powerplay] perfectly and I was able to shoot through the screen and luckily found the back of the net,” Chesner said. “...despite all the challenges we faced, we were still able to compete with one of the best teams in the nation.”
It wasn’t just the playmakers who helped the Orange find stability on the ice. Thanks to players like first-year right-wing Brendan Duffy, the gap in points was reduced significantly. The Queensbury, NY native finished the series with an assist for Hutchinson.
“Going into the weekend, I knew I had to bring my physical style of play to the table. Playing the body wears down teams then leads to opportunities in the offensive zone, which in turn leads to goals,” the forward said. “I think we need to clean up our neutral zone and penalty kill, as well as pick up guys in front of the net. That was a big weakness for us this past weekend.”
Even with a late third-period goal from first-year left-wing Matt Mahoney—off the assist by freshman right-wing Brett Edgren—SU couldn’t hold off the Flames any longer and finished with a 7-4 loss. Struggling on the defensive end, Liberty took 44 shots on Syracuse’s net while SU only accumulated 29 shots overall. Junior goaltender Chris Spano finished the night with a .841 save percentage off 37 saves.
Syracuse—now 10-10-2—heads home to take on ESCHL opponent #9 Niagara University—13-6-1— this weekend, where a sweep is needed for a playoff appearance. SU showed potential to come away with a win, especially after keeping their heads high and making the needed plays against Liberty.
“If you want to beat a top team like Niagara, you need to frustrate their defense by winning the battle for net front positioning. I’d say fans can expect us to get to the net and score dirty goals like never before this weekend,” Finta mentioned the key to beating the Purple Eagles this weekend.
You can catch the Orange with puck drops at 7 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. All home games are played at the Tennity Ice Pavilion on Syracuse University’s campus and are free to attend for students and the general public. Home games are also broadcast live for free on the SU Hockey Network.