Hockey Cougars starts crucial January stretch

Syracuse drops OT decision to Rome Free Academy, 3-2

In a nine-day span, the Syracuse Cougars ice hockey team would play four times, determining if it could stay with West Genesee atop the Division I American Conference standings before the two sides clashed again at Meachem Rink later this month.

Of those four games, just one of them was on the road – a visit to Kennedy Arena last Friday night to face National Conference pace-setter Rome Free Academy, just 24 hours after the Cougars had earned a 4-1 victory over Mohawk Valley.

It proved to be a tense, exciting contest, in doubt until overtime, but once again the Black Knights defended its home ice, prevailing 3-2 and handing Syracuse just its second defeat of the season.

They traded goals in the first period, making it 1-1. And it stayed that way until the third period, when again Syracuse and RFA answered each other. Sean Eccles had one of the Cougars’ goals and assisted on the other, by Colby Skrupa, while Jared Ristoff also earned an assist. The Black Knights countered with Justin Hussey and Zach Olivas earning goals.

But in the OT period, it was RFA’s Keegan Richie flashing open and pushing a shot past Cougars goalie Sam Walsh to end it. All told, Walsh had 22 saves, two more than Black Knights counterpart Devin Hart.

This, of course, followed the game against Mohawk Valley, an offshoot of the former Utica Proctor program that included players from 10 schools that, ironically, used Kennedy Arena as home ice.

But when they traveled to Meachem Rink, the Raiders got a taste of the Cougars’ all-around versatility, starting on the defensive side, where Syracuse kept MV off the board throughout the first two periods, Sam Walsh picking up most of his 27 saves.

Meanwhile, the Cougars’ steady attack did not yield large results, but goals in each of those first two periods produced a 2-0 margin, all that Syracuse would need, though it would double that total in the final period as Cole Bolcher’s goal broke up a possible Walsh shutout.

Again, the Cougars spread things around. Four different players –Eccles, Skrupa, Pat Farrell and Collin Thompson– earned the four goals, while Thompson joined Matt Pitre, Nick Matro, Nate Carr and Dan Donahue in the assist column.

Following the tough loss to RFA, Syracuse (8-2-1) finds itself back at Meachem Rink this week with two more big games at hand, hosting Baldwinsville (5-4-2) Tuesday and Liverpool (7-4) two nights later.

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