Ziniu Chen | Staff PhotographerIce Hockey
Syracuse comes away from Mercyhurst losses learning season-long lessons, retooling for final weekend, CHA tourney
The lessons of Syracuse’s 2012-13 season crystallized in a pair of home losses to league-leader Mercyhurst at the weekend.
The Orange grinded its way to a 3-2 lead over the No. 9 team in the country with 10:30 remaining in Friday’s game, but three Mercyhurst goals in the closing nine minutes undid SU’s upset bid that threatened to knock the Lakers off of the College Hockey America summit.
“It’s like Groundhog Day,” head coach Paul Flanagan said, “Every time I turn around we’re losing to Mercyhurst.”
Syracuse (18-13-1, 12-5-1 CHA) skates into its regular season-ending home set with Lindenwood (6-23-3, 6-9-3) needing no result – Syracuse is locked in as the No. 2 seed in the CHA tournament. Instead, the Orange must iron out the fatal kinks that have undone some of its greatest efforts this season.
Mercyhurst’s Friday fight back and three early goals Saturday actually serve as a model for SU, looking to extend its season to a rematch with the Lakers in the CHA finals, and potentially an NCAA tournament bid. The Lakers crashed rebounds constantly, working their way to rugged goals.
Syracuse knows it must do the same. The Orange knows it’s pulled about even with the perennial conference power. But to beat them, SU has to match the Lakers and teams of similar caliber for net-crashing effort, channeling the defensive energy that’s carried SU for so much of the season into the offensive zone – and for 60 minutes.
“We’re not the type of team that scores those really pretty goals anyway, so we have to have that crash-the-net mentality,” junior forward Margot Scharfe said.
Increased power-play output would save the Orange, too.
On its own end, Syracuse is among the best in the country. Kallie Billadeau is tied for seventh in Division I in save percentage at .939. She’s also tied for second in shutouts, despite having played six less games than Noora Raty, the netminder for undefeated No. 1 Minnesota.
Down 3-2 with eight minutes to go against Mercyhurst on Saturday, SU took a five-on-four man advantage after Jenna Hendrikx checked Holly Carrie-Mattimoe in the head for a five-minute major. SU got off just one shot and came away with nothing, all but permanently surrendering momentum to the Lakers.
“I don’t know if we were just looking to pass first instead of look to shoot. That’s what it seems to me,” Flanagan said. “The onus is on us as a coaching staff to have our power plays better prepared, we’ve got to do a better job. And we have to instill confidence in our kids that they know what they’re going to do.”
SU has no problem holding, scrapping and staying with potent offenses. In fact, only seven teams have surrendered fewer goals per game. The true challenge, though, is injecting that dogged mentality into the offense.
Lacking the skill of some of the nation’s elite, SU must scrape by on raw effort on both ends of the ice to unsettle the best in the country.
“Even if you chip it by the defender you’re going against, you still have to crash hard to the net, you got to crash,” senior captain Jacquie Greco said. “Even if you don’t have the puck you got to always crash, to the net, crash, crash. It kind of becomes tedious and tiring but we have to do that for a full 60 minutes.”
Lindenwood is far from the best in country, but the Lions represent the Orange’s last chance to fine-tune its approach before the Mercyhurst-hosted CHA semis in Erie, Pa. Success there will mean a likely rematch with the rival and model SU is so nearly caught up to – and a shot at extending one of the Orange’s best-ever seasons.
“We want to see them again, we want to – we know we owe it to them and we really got to bring it,” Greco said. “We know we’ll get them in the championship game so we just got to be there for that game.”
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