Ice Hockey

Syracuse loses in CHA championship, 2-0, against No. 9 Robert Morris

Courtesy of Mario Pasco | CHA

Syracuse players look on in disappointment after falling in the CHA title game again.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Every player on the Robert Morris bench stood for the remaining two minutes of the game, waiting. In the final minute, each one jumped up and down. As each second ticked off, the Colonials failed to hide their excitement and screamed in jubilation. Before the clock read zeroes, the players flooded onto the ice and the celebration began.

On the other bench, Syracuse players sat down. They had given up. They were done searching for a goal that would never come. As the Colonials mobbed goalie Jessica Dodds, SU head coach Paul Flanagan stood behind his players as they hung their heads.

It’s a sight he’s now seen six times. Saturday night marked the third year in a row.

Syracuse (16-13-5, 14-4-2 College Hockey America) failed to capture its first-ever CHA title yet again, falling to No. 9 Robert Morris (24-4-6, 15-3-2), 2-0, in the HarborCenter. The Orange came into this game looking to make history, but SU players watched the Colonials capture its second CHA crown. Saturday night was the sixth time Syracuse made it to the title game, each outcome yielded the same result. Mercyhurst has beaten SU four times, Rochester Institute of Technology had done it once. Saturday, RMU was the culprit.

“Never the bride, always the bridesmaid I guess,” Flanagan said.

After the game, the teams lined up along the blue lines. The Colonials wore CHA champion caps and all SU skaters had their helmets still on. Syracuse had been here before — they knew the drill. After the All-Tournament awards were given out, the public address announcer called over SU’s captains to receive the second place trophy. Larissa Martyniuk and Jessica Sibley didn’t move. Twice before they had witnessed Orange captains skate over and receive the consolation prize. Their turn had come.

Flanagan hoped that years down the line, his seniors would recognize all they accomplished during their time at SU, but not Saturday. Begrudgingly, the pair went over and accepted the trophy. Sibley didn’t pose for the photo.

The game started with a loud gasp. A Savannah Rennie missed shot 20 seconds into the game drew a yell from the crowd. Syracuse failed to capitalize on two 3-on-1 breakaways in the opening frame. Throughout the season Flanagan has consistently reminded his team to take advantage of great chances because SU’s normally-stout defense might slip up. With three minutes left in the first period, it did.

After SU failed to clear the puck, an RMU shot saved by goalie Abbey Miller created a scrum in front of the net. As the puck bounced around, Colonial forward Jessica Gazzola poked it home and RMU struck first, 1-0.

“It was kind of a fluke goal,” Flanagan said. “That’s what we were trying to do all night … get a rebound.”

With four minutes to go in the second period, a Rennie body-checking penalty gave the Colonials a one-skater edge. Just over a minute later, RMU executed in a way the Orange had failed to do throughout the first half of the game. Redshirt junior Brittany Howard carried the puck along the boards and slid into the slot before firing off a shot at SU’s net. The puck zoomed across Miller’s body and found twine. The often reliable penalty kill had conceded its first goal since Feb. 11 against Mercyhurst and SU faced a two-goal deficit. As the RMU bench celebrated, the SU side sat in silence, stunned.

The third period only further frustrated an Orange offense without answers. SU played desperate, pressing more and, in turn, the Colonials gained offensive chances on breakaways. Miller remained strong, adding another strong performance to her historic season. But her counterpart across the ice performed at a championship level.

“We could’ve done it but it just didn’t happen this year,” Dakota Derrer said. “ … which is heartbreaking.”

After the trophies had been given out, Miller stayed on the ice a minute longer, witnessing the celebration. The Anoka, Minnesota, native ended her career year with a set of accolades — SU’s single season and career shutout record, the CHA Goaltending Award — but she lacked the one she desired the most. Skating off the ice, she brought her stick above her head and slammed it on the ice. She prepared for a second blow, but instead she dropped her stick, hunched over and went to the SU locker room.

On Jan. 10, Syracuse made a pact to turn its season around. After losing 7-2 to Cornell, Flanagan went to his team and told them that they would have to make another late-season push to the CHA title game. The Orange responded, winning 11 of following 13 games. This year was supposed to be different. Last year’s championship ended when Mercyhurst defeated SU in overtime. But at the end of tonight’s game, it wasn’t.

Before the season started, the Orange developed the acronym “BTC.” The phrase has taken many meanings throughout the year, but in the last weeks of the season, the message was simple: “Break the cycle.” Break the cycle of overtime losses, break the cycle of finishing in second place.

When SU defeated RIT on Feb. 18, it accomplished step one: a first-round bye. Last night, the Orange routed the Tigers again to advance to a third straight CHA title game. Sixty minutes, the Colonials, and Dodds were all that stood in its way.

Syracuse joined College Hockey America in 2008 and won only 10 games. After back-to-back overtime championship game losses in the past two years, Syracuse was ready to break the cycle. But Robert Morris had other plans.


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