By Stephen Sklar
Syracuse, N.Y. – Losses come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, the better team dominates from start to finish, and other times, the victor pulls ahead at the last second in dramatic fashion. Syracuse (3-8-1) Men’s Ice Hockey got a taste of both during its weekend set against Oswego State (8-2-1).
Coming off a weekend split against Buffalo a week prior, SU was looking to make a statement on the road against the Lakers on Thursday. But, the Orange were drubbed 6-0 in the series opener, despite an optimistic start to the game. It was scoreless between the Upstate New York rivals for almost 38 minutes until a penalty late in the second period put the Orange a man down. Oswego State would get the scoring started and, ultimately, open up the floodgates.
Even though Syracuse still had a chance based on the score, another Oswego goal 2:06 into the third period proved that the Lakers had found their groove. Goaltender Nikolaos Manousos was overmatched by a flurry of shots on goal, but the third period onslaught wasn’t on just one person. Syracuse has had trouble staying out of the penalty box this season, and when they sacrifice a player, it tends to burn them in the end. That was the case once again on Thursday as the first and third goals of the game all occurred when the Orange were short-handed.
The devastating loss surely killed off any of the momentum SU had carried over from the week prior. Each additional goal was like another dagger knifing into the spirit of the team. However, the squad still needed to regroup in time for the series finale at home on Friday in hopes of walking away with a split.
The effort all around was much improved, although SU still fell 3-1 in front of a fairly mixed crowd at Tennity Ice Pavilion. There just wasn’t enough offense to propel the Orange to a win against such a lofty opponent.
There was a time when Syracuse had a legitimate shot to put itself ahead of Oswego. The Lakers went up 1-0 on another power play goal with 15:21 remaining in the second period. While on a power play of their own, the Orange knotted things up via a Sam Hutchinson laser. The shots kept coming for the ‘Cuse, but they were never able to find the back of the net after that, leading to an untimely Lakers goal with 8.9 seconds remaining in the game. This would give them a 2-1 lead, and the third goal came on an empty netter with six seconds to go. It’s not like Syracuse didn’t have its chance, but the team has to do a much better job at capitalizing.
“You look at this past weekend and we scored a total of 2 goals, head coach Chris Timmons said. “We can’t expect to win games with one goal and just put the pressure on our goaltenders to hold them off…The conversion rate needs to be better and we have to put more pucks in the net.”
A few shots late in that Friday match even careened off the side of the post, but those aren’t worth any points. With so many tough breaks, the Orange put themselves in a hole they couldn’t pull out of.
There’s plenty of other things on the offensive side that SU needs to clean up as well. Timmons noted after the game that the passing this weekend wasn’t as sharp as he would have liked.
“Felt like there were too many times this weekend we were letting pucks bounce off our sticks in the neutral zone which resulted in turnovers and loss of possession. Need to clean up our neutral zone so that we can go into the offensive zone with speed and generate those odd-man chances.”
The key for the players on this squad right now is keeping their heads up even as the losses begin to pile up. They have played plenty of really good opponents tight, including one-goal losses to top-25 teams Drexel and Stony Brook. Every loss stings, but they’re also learning experiences for a team riddled with young talent such as freshman goalie A.J. Finta, who started on Friday.
“I think the biggest thing right now is remembering how close some of those losses were,” he said. We’ve taken some of the top teams in the country right to the final buzzer for ultimately being hurt by a few costly mistakes.”
And according to Finta, the only place to cut down on those mistakes is in practice.
“I think we just need to use the losses as motivation in practice while keeping a keen focus on playing a more simple and mistake-free game.”
Practice this week should be intense as Syracuse prepares for a big series against New York University. It’s also Hall of Fame Alumni Weekend and SU wants to put its best foot forward in front of a distinguished crowd.
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