Despite a third period surge that erased a late two-goal deficit, the West Chester men’s hockey team was unable to complete the comeback as they fell in a shootout to Syracuse, 4-3 on Saturday.
As was the case in Friday’s 1-0 loss, penalties and a lack of offensive pressure opened the door for Syracuse and buried the Rams. West Chester had five penalties in the first period alone, and although the special teams churned out several gutsy kills, playing a man down so often throughout the game caught up to them.
“Penalties killed us,” head coach Mark Gonsalves said. “Penalties killed us yesterday and penalties killed us today. Teams like that don’t stop, they wear you out, they screw up the lines and they throw your mojo off.”
Syracuse threw the Rams’ mojo off early on, when Russell Suskind capitalized on a power play to tie the score at one apiece with five minutes left in the first period. From that point on, things fell apart for the Rams. They had tremendous trouble putting quality shots on net, and failed to establish an aggressive forecheck. Most of their 36 shots on Syracuse’s Austin Lefkowicz were taken either from the outside or were shot right into his pads.
“We’re not testing their goalies and when we do shoot, we’re shooting right into the guy,” Gonsalves said. “It has to be a role reversal. We have to be cutting down the shots we’re giving up and putting more on the other guy.”
The shots that they gave up totaled 37-just one more than they took-but Syracuse was finding easy paths to the net and testing junior goalie Randy Japchen, who made several remarkable saves to keep West Chester in the game.
He just could not hold off the pressure for the entire game. Syracuse scored once in each period, taking a 3-1 lead into the final five minutes of the third period. When West Chester sunk back in the second and early in the third, Syracuse stepped up. Their persistence in pursuit of the puck was strong and for a while, West Chester could do nothing to break up their forecheck.
“When they come to our end, they don’t stop, Gonsalves said. “You can knock them off the puck, but they keep going like there was nothing stopping them. It’s a mindset. It’s a battle. You have want that puck more.”
The struggle to control the defensive zone not only led to a heavy amount of shots on Japchen, it directly affected the offense as well. It was a cycle. The offense could not sustain pressure, so Syracuse took over the puck. Syracuse could sustain pressure so the Rams were battling just to get the puck out of the zone. When they did manage to move the puck out, they were met at neutral ice and had trouble finding quality shots, and then the same thing happened over again.
“We couldn’t get the puck out of our zone and when we did our rushes, [they] were one on two and that’s why we had no offense. It goes hand-in-hand,” captain Steve Meade said.
However, despite the sloppy second period and early part of the third, West Chester did pull it together for a final push just in time to tie things up.
In what was only their second power play of the game, Matt O’Brien scored to pull them within one with just a few minutes left to play. Then West Chester showed the same fire they did in the first period, returning to a physical, fast-paced brand of hockey.
“We changed the forecheck up a little bit, tried to get two men going hard and create more chances,” alternate captain Tim Higgins said. “Being physical is everything, it’s how you get pucks loose and get chances.”
They did get several chances in the coming shifts, but when they did not score, Gonsalves called time out with about 1:45 remaining.
“He reminded us that we were in the same position we were in last night, and as a team, we needed to dig deep and fight until the final buzzer,” defenseman Gordon Nicholson said.
They dug deep. Higgins found a pass from Meade behind the net, and wrapped it around with a backhand off the post and in. Just like that it was a fresh game.
Both teams played hard through overtime, but nobody found the net and the game was to be decided by shootout. In what was an all too familiar theme from earlier in the game, West Chester did not get many good shots off, failing to score in any of their three attempts. Syracuse scored on one, but it was all they needed to secure the 4-3 victory.
Higgins, O’Brien and Harrison Welch were the goal scorers for the Rams, and Welch also added an assist. Meade had two assists in the game while Chris Tamminga and Tim Margadonna tallied an assist apiece. Syracuse’s goals came from Suskind-who also scored the lone shootout goal-,Chris Rurkowski, and Aaron Witzel.
With the loss, West Chester moves to 0-2, but being so early in the season, there is little concern.
“It’s a learning process,” Gonsalves explained. Coming out and losing two in your own barn is not the best way to start the season, but I see positives, a lot of positives. We had some young guys in tonight that really showed us something and to have that resilience and effort are always a good thing.”
“We’re still figuring things out but I like that this happened early on,” Meade added. “Because now we know what we have to improve and honestly, I really hope [these losses] piss some guys off and we play with some attitude now.”
Kenny Ayres is a third-year student majoring in communication studies with a journalism minor. He can be reached at KA739433@wcupa.edu.