Under normal circumstances, a 6-3 result in an ice hockey game only satisfies the side that finishes on top.
Yet a legitimate case can be made that both the Syracuse Cougars, who won, and West Genesee, who took the loss, both emerged from Friday night’s showdown at Meachem Rink with reasons to feel good.
Of course, the undefeated, state Division I no. 3-ranked Cougars were happy that it won, sprinting out to a 5-0 lead by the game’s middle stages and getting a hat trick from Philip Zollo.
On the other side, the Wildcats, no. 8 in those same state rankings after winning nine of 10 games following an 0-3 start, had to feel good about the way it fought back from that five-goal deficit, providing a serious scare to the reigning sectional champions.
This was the only time Syracuse and WG would meet in the regular season. As such, a large, overflow crowd streamed into Meachem, featuring loud student sections right next to each other that roared throughout the night.
Though the first period featured more chances on the Wildcats’ part, the Cougars still bolted to a 2-0 lead, both goals coming from Zollo, who scored one off a feed from Steve Matro and another assisted by Jack Grooms.
In between, Syracuse managed to kill off a one-minute five-on-three power-play opportunity in the middle of the period, its defense sound and energetic in a stressful situation.
Early in the second period, when the Cougars got its own power play, Andrew Corning converted to make it 3-0, and the game almost got away during a four-on-four situation midway through the period.
Sean Eccles took the puck in his own end, went the length of the ice up the middle, and beat WG goalie Chris Wells in a spectacular individual effort. Less than a minute later, Nate Frye converted to stretch the margin to 5-0.
Forced to use its lone time-out, the Wildcats regrouped and, before the period was out, climbed back into the game.
On breakaways 56 seconds apart, Ryan Washo and Jeremy Keyes both found the net, and it nearly got to 5-3 when Billy Fisher, short-handed, broke in alone – but Moreno stopped him point-blank, the most important of his 25 saves on the night.
That stop loomed even larger when Andrew Schneid scored 1:16 into the third period to cut Syracuse’s lead to two. Finally alert to the situation, the Cougars regained control, easily killing off another WG power play and controlling the puck for long stretches until Zollo converted an empty-netter in the final minute to complete his hat trick.
Grooms finished with two assists as single assists went to Zollo, Eccles, Matro, Ryan Durand and Skariwate Papineau. WG got assists from Dan Holzhauer, Jack Miller, Jack Anderson and James Schneid as Wells finished with 22 saves.
It was already an emotional week for the West Genesee hockey program, who last Monday learned that one of its long-time staff members, Jim Snell, passed away.
Snell had served as the team’s nutritionist for 24 years, during which he made sure the Wildcats players were well-conditioned when it mattered most – and the result was 11 sectional, seven regional and two state championships.
WG had just come back home from a two-game trip north where it had lost 4-3 in overtime to Canton, but then rebounded to beat Massena 7-2 as it closed fast with four goals in the third period after building an early 3-0 advantage.
Washo scored twice, as did Fisher, who added an assist as Joe Comins got a goal and two assists. Jimmy Bergan and Chris Kleberg had two assists apiece as Joe McLaughlin had one goal and one assist. Keyes also earned a goal.
At Shove Park last Tuesday, WG faced Rome Free Academy, a key contest since the Black Knights came into the game 8-2 and just behind WG in the Division I standings.
But the Wildcats were ready for them, shutting out RFA 4-0 as it roared out of the gate with a trio of first-period goals and then leaned on its defense the rest of the way.
The Black Knights took just 10 shots, all stopped by Wells, while four different WG players – McLaughlin, Schneid, Jack Miller and Jack Anderson – had the four goals. Washo and Keyes joined McLaughlin in the assist column.
While that was going on, Syracuse was at Lysander Arena, taking on Liverpool, and for a long while this game was in doubt – until a third-period eruption by the Cougars produced a 6-1 victory over the Warriors.
All through the first two periods, Syracuse found itself frustrated by a resilient Liverpool defense, its shots constantly scooped up by Warriors goalie Gavin Buza, who finished the night with 43 saves.
Then Matt Gagnon scored in the second period to pull Liverpool even, 1-1, but the Cougars stayed patient and, led by Frye and Eccles, solved Buza for five unanswered goals in that final period.
Frye and Eccles both scored twice, with Skariwate Papineau and Wyatt Weil also converting. Ryan Durand got two assists as Hugh White, Zach Delaney and C.J. Malone had one assist apiece.