Years of getting close and not quite reaching the top ended for the Syracuse Cougars ice hockey team when it beat Baldwinsville at the War Memorial and won the Section III Division I championship.
Now, instead of chasing down a title, the Cougars, whose roster features players from several area high schools (including Marcellus, Solvay and Westhill) will have everyone chasing them, and it’s a bigger league, too.
Due to a change in the way the New York State Public High School Athletic Association classifies combined teams, three more – CBA/Jamewsville-DeWitt, Ontario Bay and Cazenovia – have joined the 10 already in Division I.
Before league play, though, Syracuse first tested itself with a trip to the Buffalo area, where it made quite an opening statement, earning back-to-back wins over Thanksgiving weekend.
On Nov. 23, the Cougars met Williamsville North, using five goals in the second period to break things open on the way to a 7-3 victory over the Spartans.
Andrew Corning led that mid-game charge and eventually had a three-goal hat trick, plus an assist, with Steve Matro getting a goal and two assists.
Nate Frye finished with one goal and one assist as Ryan Eccles and Hugh White also found the net. Philip Zollo had an assist, as did Skariwate Papineau and Wyatt Weil.
When Syracuse took on Williamsville South a day later, it again was decided in the second period as the Cougars broke a 0-0 deadlock by scoring three times to seize control, eventually beating the Billies 5-1.
During that late surge, Ryan Durand, held without a point against Williamsville North, got two goals and one assist, with Eccles adding a goal and two assists. Jack Grooms also had two assists and Zollo a single assist s Kyle Lamson chimed in with one goal and one assist.
In its Division I and home opener Wednesday night at Meachem Rink, Syracuse hosted Rome Free Academy, who was also 2-0 after opening-week victories over Whitesboro and New Hartford.
It proved a tighter contest than the first two for the Cougars, but it beat the Black Knights 3-1, getting all of its goals in a second-period surge after neither side converted in the opening period.
Corning, Eccles and Emmett Barry earned those goals, with Zollo getting two assists and single assists earned by Matro and Durand.
Up 3-0 going into the third period, Syracuse saw RFA break up the shutout with Griffin Eychner’s goal, but the Black Knights got no closer as Alex Moreno had a solid effort in the net, stopping 16 of the 17 shots he faced.
Syracuse would try to get its fourth straight win Tuesday against one of those Division I newcomers, Cazenovia, at Morrisville State IcePlex prior to a visit to Meachem from Fayetteville-Manlius Thursday night.