Dec 09, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
A season ago, the Solvay ice hockey program that used to call the State Fair Coliseum home merged with the Corcoran program, forming the Syracuse Cougars.
And things went quite well, the Cougars going 11-8-2 and making it to the Section III Division I playoffs before a first-round defeat to Cicero-North Syracuse.
In short, it was a mix of modest success and room to improve, keeping head coach John Purcell and his players hungry going into 2013-14.
Division I alignment has changed this winter. Instead of East and West division, there’s American and National Conferences.
Syracuse is part of the American Conference with five-time defending sectional champion West Genesee, Fayetteville-Manlius, Watertown IHC and newcomer Fulton. Rome Free Academy, Liverpool, Baldwinsville, Cicero-North Syracuse and Mohawk Valley (formerly Utica Proctor) are in the National Conference.
As such, when the Cougars faced IHC in last Monday’s season opener at the Watertown Fairgrounds, it was a league game – and Syracuse won it, edging the Cavaliers 3-2 in overtime.
After a slow start from both teams, the Cougars got on the board in the second period, only to surrender that 1-0 edge as Jared Pignone and Chandler Burgenstock both scored for IHC.
Still, Syracuse pushed the game to overtime, and won it when Mitch Laffin scored just 45 seconds into the extra period. Sean Eccles contributed one goal and one assist, with Jared Ristoff, fresh off leading Westhill to the state Class B boys soccer final, also finding the net. Liam Barry added an assist as goaltender Sam Walsh finished with 21 saves.
From there, Syracuse proceeded to its appearance in the Bobby Conklin Memorial Tournament at Lysander Arena, where it had to face host Baldwinsville in Friday night’s opening round.
That didn’t bother the Cougars one bit, as it prevailed 3-2 in a game where it fell behind 2-1 in the first period thanks to goals by the Bees’ Garrett Gray and Adam Tretowicz, but moved back in front during the second period. Eccles, Laffin and Sean Purcell each had one goal, with Pat Farrell adding an assist.
Though Syracuse did not score in the final period thanks to the work of B’ville goalie Nick Harper (who had 31 saves), the Cougars also blanked the Bees, too, thanks to a stingy defense and big stops from Sam Walsh, who managed 23 saves.
And this put the Cougars into Saturday’s final against Division II power Oswego, who handled Fulton 6-3 in the other part of the opening round.
Somehow, Syracuse played even better than in its first two games and dominated in all phases of the game, earning a 4-0 shutout of the Buccaneers to earn the first-place trophy.
The attack proved steady, scoring in each period at least once, and again spreading around production. Eccles got a pair of goals, while Laffin and Nate Carr also found the net. Barry, Matt Matro, Collin Thompson and Dan Hodgens each contributed one assist.
Of course, just one goal would prove enough. Against a potent and explosive Oswego offense, the Cougars shut everything down, the defenders deflecting pucks and Walsh turning back all 22 shots he faced.
All of this adds enormous anticipation to Friday night’s showdown between Syracuse and defending sectional champion West Genesee at Shove Park. Like the Cougars, the Wildcats had a 3-0 start last week and claimed a tournament title, winning its own Wildcat Classic.