By Brooke Killgore
Photo Credit: Arnav Pokhrel (Instagram @Prod_adp)
SYRACUSE, NY—Syracuse Men’s Hockey fell to an intense, overwhelming Niagara University lineup this weekend; finishing Saturday night with a 6-1 loss and Sunday by a score of 5-2. Yet, the Orange battled another enemy throughout the week as well: injured players and illnesses.
After a long road trip home from Virginia last weekend, SU was hopeful to build off their bouts against the Flames. Coming into Saturday’s matchup, 'Cuse were short on available players due to abrasions and sickness that followed them home from the LaHaye Ice Center.
“We’ve been battling through a lot this week with guys out—I think we have 12 guys currently out with illness or [being] hurt,” head coach Chris Timmons stated. “It’s not an excuse, but it’s just something we have to fight through.”
The Orange headed towards the Canadian border to NU’s Dwyer Arena in hopes of bringing home a win in game 1 of the series. After hearing two national anthems, the puck dropped and another round of hockey determining playoff contention began.
Within the first six minutes, Niagara’s Austin Robinson snuck one past sophomore goaltender A.J. Finta to draw the first blood. Forwards Tristain Taillefer and Charlie Belanger assisted the captain’s fifth season point. Freshman center Kade Cook responded a minute later off first-year Brendan Duffy and sophomore defenseman Jake Brown’s assist.
Cook was a fresh face to the first line, usually made up of upperclassmen Sam Hutchinson, Jack Alecia and Brock Alvers. He served in place of Alecia at center. His goal would be his fifth point in his first season as an Orange. The freshman shared his reaction to the call-up and how he believes it showcases his efforts.
“I mean, coming to practice every day… you hope to move up. You just have to be your best self,” the Fort Covington native said. “Being on the first line, it reflects how I feel about my play right now so it feels great...Hutchinson and Alvers are some of the [team's] top guys, and it’s good to be around them.”
Unfortunately, Cook’s contribution was the lone goal for the Orange. On the flip side, the Purple Eagles scored five goals—two powerplay tallies and one shorthand— throughout the next two periods, with forwards Robinson and Devin Sanders. Finta finished the night with 33 saves while Niagara outshot Syracuse 39-26 during the 6-1 loss.
SU took the ice again on Sunday in the comfort of Tennity Ice Pavilion with a 2 p.m. puck drop—an atmosphere full of Orange fans and second chances.
Yet, it was a similar story unfolding in the first. Niagara forward Louis Chabot slid the puck under Finta’s pads at the four-minute mark and Belanger took his 13th of the season not long after.
Cook was a part of the first goal for Syracuse again—this time as an assist for first-year left wing Matt Mahoney. The Orange headed into the locker room down by just one goal. The Orange would get on the board first in the 2nd period with a battle in front from Hutchinson who found a way to put the puck past Niagara netminder Jacob Dubinsky to tie the game at 2. Niagara would find the back of the net twice in the later half of the second period to extend their lead to 4-2.
Entering the third period, SU could not stay out of the penalty box; ten minutes combined in the second and third in which Niagara forward Belanger finished the night with a hat trick off a second-period power play and even strength goal in the final 20 minutes.
“We took a couple of bad penalties and put ourselves in a bad spot,” Timmons remarked. “You look at those goals they had and they were on the power play. You can't give good teams multiple chances like that. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot there. I know [the losing streak] is tough…but this is a bit of a learning curve for our younger guys and we understand what we need to do to get to the top of the rankings”
But even with a 5-2 loss, there is always a positive to takeaway. Junior Jared Topf took the ice for the first time in 11 months for the Orange. Topf, who has been battling his way back from injury, played defense alongside junior Lucas Skolnick in both contests over the weekend.
“Just being out there with [the guys] is what you live to play hockey for; with your friends. I mean, it was tough. I kept working hard and tried to keep up with them.” the New Jersey native described his experience.
Syracuse currently holds the sixth-place poisition in the ESCHL - the final playoff spot in conference which only takes the top six teams for post-season play. Drexel, who currently sits just behind 'Cuse in 7th, has 5 remaining conference games (Pittsburgh (2), Delaware (2), Stony Brook) compared to Syracuse's 2 (Delaware (2)). The 2 teams are separated by just 1 point and currently have the same number of conference wins - the first tie breaker if the 2 teams were to finished with the same number of points. SU does hold the second tie breaker over the Dragons (head-to-head record). Check out the full conference standings here.
SU (10-12-2 ACHA, 2-7-1 ESCHL) take a break before returning to Tennity for a weekend matchup against NECHL opponent, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Tigers (12-8-2 ACHA, 5-3-1 NECHL). Both games are home with puck drop on February 9th at 7 p.m. and the 10th at 2 p.m. 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.