Regular-season honors in Division I ice hockey would hinge on whether the Syracuse Cougars could win two more regular-season games to overtake West Genesee.
Even with its win over the Wildcats in mid-January at Meachem Rink as the difference maker, the Cougars started the week in an ornery mood after it suffered its first defeat of the season to Cortland-Homer on Feb. 2, which dropped them from no. 3 to no. 5 in the state Division I rankings.
That 7-3 loss saw the Golden Eagles bolt to a 3-0 lead before the first period was done and never get caught, Adam Jubran getting three goals and two assist. Syracuse had to settle for goals by Kyle Lamson, Steve Matro and Philip Zollo, with Skariwate Papineau getting two assists.
Syracuse didn’t play again until last Wednesday night, hosting Cicero-North Syracuse. By then, state no. 8-ranked West Genesee had concluded its 15-5 regular season when it had shut out Fulton 5-0 a night earlier at Shove Park.
On Senior Night, the Wildcats dominated the first period, but kept getting thwarted by Red Raiders goalie Nate Blasczienski, who would finish the night with 57 saves.
Finally, Joe Comins’ goal early in the second period got WG in front, and in the last minute of the period Joe Artini, off feeds from Ryan Washo and Jimmy Bergan, stretched the margin to 2-0.
Comins scored again in the third period, in between tallies from Jack Anderson and one from Andrew Schneid in the final seconds. All the while, Billy Fisher accumulated three assists as Anderson got two assists. Liam Sexton and Anthony Felix also had assists.
Syracuse returned a night later, hosting Cicero-North Syracuse, and welcomed a key player, Ryan Durand, back to the lineup. His presence seemed to settle the Cougars down on both sides of the ice as it defeated the Northstars 4-1.
One big contrast in this game was that Syracuse was fairly rested, while C-NS was playing for the third time in as many days, though it had won the first two of those games against Mohawk Valley and Ontario Bay.
Sensing a chance to pull in front early, the Cougars scored all of its goals in the first two periods, and Durand had one of them, joining Ryan Eccles, Steve Matro and Philip Zollo in the scoring column.
Eccles gained a pair of assists, while Matro, Nate Frye, Mack Etoll and Jack Grooms had one assist apiece. Other than a first-period goal from Nick Sciore, Syracuse shut down C-NS, with Alex Moreno stopping 16 of 17 shots.
So the outright league title hinged on the Cougars getting a win or tie over Baldwinsville Friday night, and just like in December at Lysander Arena, a single scoring burst helped Syracuse bump off the Bees 4-0.
In this case, it came in the second period. Following a scoreless opening period, Syracuse got on the board early in the second and didn’t stop until it had converted three more times and knocked B’ville goalie Tommy Blais out of the game.
Frye was in the middle of most of it, netting a goal and two assists. Zollo, Eccles and Kyle Lamson also found the net, with Lamson also getting an assist. Durand, Hugh White and Andrew Corning also had assists as Moreno’s 16 saves produced a shutout.
A 13-0 win over Watertown IHC followed on Saturday, with Zollo amassing four goals and two assists to lead a potent Cougars attack as Eccles got wo goals and three assists.
Lamson, Durand and Cam Walsh also scored twice, with Frye, White and Corning matching Lamson by earning two assists apiece. Skariwate Papineau had one goal and one assist.
As the top two Section III playoff seeds, Syracuse and West Genesee will host quarterfinal games Friday night, their opponents determined by first-round games early in the week involving Liverpool, Cazenovia, Cicero-North Syracuse and Fulton.