The Syracuse Cougars ice hockey team wanted to make two trips east this week, but only ended up making one of them.
Having advanced in the opening round of the Section III Division I playoffs with its marathon triple-overtime victory over Baldwinsville in the opening round, the Cougars now looked for more magic when it went to Kennedy Arena for Tuesday’s semifinal game against Rome Free Academy.
But a rough start would prove to doom Syracuse, as RFA jumped on them with a pair of quick goals, and then relied on its defense to keep the Cougars away, leading to a 3-1 defeat.
A win in that semifinal game would allow Syracuse to go to Utica Memorial Auditorium for a shot at the sectional title. And it had played RFA tough in their lone regular-season meeting Jan. 10, pushing it to overtime before taking a 3-2 defeat.
But the state no. 3-ranked Black Knights was not interested in any prolonged battle this time and attacked the Cougars from the outset. That plan worked, as RFA twice put shots past Syracuse goalie Sam Walsh and took a 2-0 lead.
And that two-goal margin held throughout a scoreless second period. Though Syracuse had a fair share of opportunities, every one of them got swallowed up as Black Knights goalie Devin Hart would stop 20 of 21 shots he faced.
Only Pat Farrell, with a third-period goal, was able to solve Hart, but that didn’t prove enough as RFA also scored in the final period and earned a return trip to the sectional final.
Overcoming Walsh’s 24 saves, RFA saw three different players – J.T. Entelisano, Tyler Willliams and Jaxon Rutkowski – earn the three goals. Williams also managed an assist as Cameron Mecca got two assists and Nick Nardslico added an assist.
Syracuse finished its season with a 13-6-3 mark, having gone further than it did in 2013 (a first-round playoff loss to Cicero-North Syracuse), but not quite reaching the top. A large returning cast in 2014-15, including Walsh, Sean Eccles, Matt Eccles, Collin Thompson and Colby Skrupa, could change that equation.