Early Lead Slips Away Late in Syracuse Ice Hockey Loss to Cornell
By David Edelstein
CitrusTV Ice Hockey Reporter
It was nearly a trap game on Tuesday night as Syracuse (6-18-2, 6-5-1 College Hockey America) took a 2-0 lead over sixth-ranked Cornell (14-2-5, 11-2-1 Eastern College Athletic Conference) just 8:03 into the game. That was all the Orange would score on the Big Red in the color war, however, as SU lost 5-2 in its first loss in a game this season where it was leading after the first period.
Anonda Hoppner scored 3:59 into the game with assists from Allie Munroe and Lauren Bellefontaine. Four minutes and four seconds later, Emma Polaski scored her team-leading tenth goal of the season.
“Cornell was half asleep. To be honest with you,” Syracuse head coach Paul Flanagan said. “They played two games on the weekend like we did, then trucked up here on a Tuesday late afternoon. They were half asleep.”
But Cornell snapped back into it just a minute later, scoring its first of five unanswered goals. The Big Red scored one in the second period to tie the game 2-2 at the second intermission and then scored three goals in the final frame.
While the Big Red is a top-ten team in the country that includes two former Team Canada U18 players, Flanagan said it was not Cornell’s skill that beat his team. Instead, he said, it was Syracuse’s own physical and mental exhaustion that led to the defeat.
“For me, the most glaring aspect of the third period was that they were so much more fit than us,” Flanagan said. “They just looked like they were feeling pretty good, crisp passes and just seemed to have more energy. Maybe the fact that they took the first period off they had lots of energy in the third. I just thought that they looked sharper from a physiological perspective.
“The second half of our shift, our kids were gassed. And then you make a lot of mental mistakes when you’re tired. And I think that’s what we did. … So the physical part of it, yeah, and then mentally, we just sagged.”
Cornell’s Kristin O’Neill scored the game winning goal on a power play where players from both teams bunched up (and some fell) in front of the Syracuse net, slightly to the left of SU goalie Allison Small. With the puck loose right in front of the net, O’Neill skated in with seemingly no other player moving at all and knocked the puck past Small.
“That third goal, that deciding goal, we had two forwards that didn’t do anything that they were supposed to do, because they were tired. They just didn’t respond. They just stood there,” Flanagan said.
The Orange players said much of the defeat had to do with fluctuating confidence in themselves.
“So say we go up in a game and then we get scored on, I think we’re really hard on ourselves, and even if we are ahead, we just kind of feel like we’re not,” senior forward Brooke Avery said. “I think it really beats us up. So to be honest with you, I think that with seven minutes left in that game, everyone was kind of out of it… We need to figure out how to play comfortable with a lead and not get so wound up about ‘oh, if they score’ even though we’re ahead.”
“It’s all mental,” Hoppner said. “I mean, it’s hard for us as a whole team to have a lot of confidence right now with our record [of 6-18-2], so I think it’s just knowing if we had bounced back after the fourth goal, I think it would have been a different game.”
Yet, they said the disappointment they felt after the game also comes from confidence they do have in themselves.
“A game like this is just frustrating because we did have them in our hands and we just couldn’t come away with it. It’s disappointing because we know that we can stick with teams like this, more disappointing that we know we can win these games. If we didn’t think we could win these games, then obviously it would be a completely different feeling,” Avery said.
Avery said work ethic is important, too, and can be improved in order for the team to keep itself engaged in all 60 minutes of the game as a whole.
“I think that we just need to be on the same page a little bit more with that. Sometimes certain players are like ‘well, I had a good game’ and don’t really work on what they need to work on,” Avery said. “I think every single one of us has something that we’re lacking in and that we need to work on moving forward.”
Some of the physical exhaustion could have came from Syracuse being down to two defensive pairings. A couple of players on defense seeing a lot of ice time on alternating shifts, but they said that was not a major issue.
“I think we were fine. I think the defense handled ourselves well with the amount of ice we got. But, yeah, of course, I think if you’re not breathing hard, you’re not working as hard as you can,” Munroe said.
With Lindsay Eastwood ill—which will just be a “time thing,” according to Flanagan—and Kristen Siermachesky a scratch for the game with an unspecified injury after taking a hard hit in Saturday’s game against Penn State, junior forward Logan Hicks played on defense for the first time since making a position switch in her freshman year.
“For Logan to come in and step up like that is awesome. She deserves definitely a tap on the back for that,” said Munroe, a senior defenseman and team captain. “Because she hasn’t played [defense] in a couple years now, so to come back and play that way against one of the top teams in the country is awesome.”
While recognizing that the game still resulted in a loss, the Orange said that by playing a ranked team, they did learn lessons that can be useful heading toward the end of the season and playoffs.
“For us to get better, sometimes you have to take a page out of your opponent’s book. Be more passionate, maybe, I guess, and consistent about how we take care of ourselves,” Flanagan said. “It’s a process. It’s their sleep, how they take care of themselves on a daily basis, their nutrition’s really important and then certainly how we train.”
Syracuse next plays on the road at Mercyhurst in Erie, Pennsylvania on Friday, February 8 at 6:00 p.m. in game one of a two-game weekend series.
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