By Jacob Erlbaum
Photo Credit: Maria Kaffes (instagram: @mariakaffesimages)
SYRACUSE, NY – It was Hall of Fame Alumni Weekend in Syracuse as the Orange welcomed the defending ESCHL champion, Pittsburgh Panthers to the Tennity Ice Pavilion. It wasn’t the victorious weekend SU had hoped to put on for its alumni, but SU’s play was promising.
On Friday night, Syracuse fell 4-0 to Pitt, but the scoreboard does not tell the whole story. In game one, the Orange jumped out to a good offensive start with nine of the game’s first 12 shots, including an early two-on-one opportunity and two good shots from Evan Vassilovski that were turned away.
While Syracuse had nine shots in the first six minutes, their good start was quickly dismantled after star Pittsburgh forward Oldrich Virag scored his 13th goal of the season on the game’s 13th shot. Virag was a problem for the Orange all weekend. As the period progressed, Syracuse tallied two more shots but remained down just one, largely due to the play of AJ Finta in net. Finta denied Connor Stueiwe on a breakaway midway through the period to keep the Orange within one. Sam Hutchinson also played a big role for SU, blocking three shots in the period as the Panthers fired away from the point.
In the second, Finta made a great cross-crease save while Syracuse was shorthanded and then another save on a breakaway as his strong play continued across periods.
However, Virag added another for Pitt just under seven minutes into the period after he found himself wide open in front of the net and buried a backhander top shelf.
Later in the period, after Brendan Duffy went off for an interference penalty, Finta was tested again, making a phenomenal save to deny Oldrich on the power play. Finta spoke about Oldrich and how his presence on the ice challenges him as a goalie:
“The main thing is you always wanna be aware where he is on the ice. I found this weekend a lot when he was on the ice, just doing a quick shoulder check, making sure I know where he is. They really like to feed him on the backdoor, especially on the powerplay. So just getting a read of where he is and then he’s a good player but I kinda just tried to get right out and take away his angle but he definitely scored some on me but I made some saves on him too and it was a good battle.”
Finta made some excellent saves in the second period to keep Syracuse alive, but a devastating blow came after Edward Pazo was left alone in front to bury a pass to extend the Panther lead to 3. In the third, Daniel Kral added another for Pitt to put an exclamation point on the win for the Panthers.
Although the score may not show it, Syracuse battled all night and hung with a tough Pittsburgh team that shut down the Orange offense. Head coach Chris Timmons talked about what his team needed to do Saturday after a tough game Friday night:
“I think it was more or less just, you know, fixing up a couple of things in our D-zone and our systems.”
SU certainly responded to Timmons’s message as they hung in with Pitt from puck drop to the final whistle on Saturday. Syracuse jumped out to another strong offensive start with eight of the game’s first ten shots, but again, Pittsburgh responded by outshooting ‘Cuse seven to two to close out the period.
Just over two minutes into the second, the Panthers got the scoring going when JC Bele got the puck in front after a failed Syracuse breakout, and he deked and put one past Finta. Just a minute and 35 seconds later, Oldrich Virag scored his third goal of the weekend, and suddenly Syracuse was down by 2.
After falling behind by two quickly, the Orange battled back with chances of their own, but Evan Applegate was robbed by Pitt goalie Devin Barressi, and then a minute later, Brett Edgren hit the post on a two-on-one rush. Finally, after a double minor from Pittsburgh, Brock Alvers put the Orange on the board for the first time all weekend, finishing a beautiful cross-ice feed from Brendan Duffy on the power play.
Alvers talked about his goal and what it meant to get the offense going:
“It felt good. I think a lot of us were frustrated after yesterday when we had so many chances and we were shut out and it felt good to finally put one by and that kinda turned the positive momentum our way.”
In the third period, Syracuse had several chances again, but like Friday, they couldn’t find the back of the net. Applegate had an early opportunity with a shot and follow-up chance, but he was denied. Midway through the period, Duffy made a strong move to shield off a defender to get to the net, and his flip shot over the shoulder of Barressi found yet another post for Syracuse.
The frustration continued for Syracuse all period long, and then Virag put the nail in the Coffin with his fourth and final goal of the weekend with an empty netter with six seconds left. The comeback bid for the Orange fell just short.
Despite the two losses, Syracuse battled all weekend with a strong and talented Pitt team. The youthful Orange never backed away, and head coach Chris Timmons commended his team for that:
“Tonight you chalk it up to a couple of bad bounces for us, and a million posts you know and it happens though, that’s the game of hockey and I think we just did much better in terms of lessening our mistakes and playing hard. We took it to a top 17 team with a young group so there’s a lot of promise and we’re looking forward to continuing that.”
Timmons was happy with how his team played after a tough defeat Friday, and the head coach is excited for what’s to come for his group after a hard-fought weekend series with one of the best ACHA teams in the country.
Syracuse gets its opportunity to build off this weekend on Thursday night when it travels to Oswego for the front end of a home-and-home series.