For the first time in program history, the Syracuse Orange have secured an NCAA bid as champions of College Hockey America. Syracuse, the #3 seed heading into the CHA tournament, defeated #6 Lindenwood in the quarterfinals and #2 Mercyhurst in the semifinals before coming out victorious over #1 Robert Morris to win the CHA conference title.
Syracuse went 13-21-3 during the regular season, including 3-1-0 at neutral sites. Robert Morris had a 16-14-6 regular season record.
Syracuse carried control of the game through the first several minutes of play and was finally able to capitalize on a goal by junior defender Allie Olnowich, her second goal of the season. The Orange nearly got another minutes later after Kelly Rowswell had a breakaway after exiting the penalty box, but she was unable to get the puck behind Robert Morris netminder Arielle DeSmet.
The Colonials kept it a close game through the opening twenty minutes, tying the game with just 35 seconds left in the first period. Caitlyn Sadowy scored her sixth goal of the season to get Robert Morris on the board.
Syracuse regained their lead 7:16 into the second. Sophomore defender Kristen Siermachesky recorded her second goal of the season to put the Orange up 2-1. That's when the tide began to turn in Syracuse's favor. Shortly following the goal, they headed to a power play.
Although the Orange didn't capitalize on the advantage, they took a 3-1 lead seconds after it expired on redshirt senior Brooke Avery's 10th goal of the season. The goal was reviewed as potentially being offside but was deemed valid; the tally marked two goals on three shots for Syracuse in the second period.
Before the second period ended, the Orange scored twice more to go up 5-1 on goals from junior Savannah Rennie and freshman Lauren Bellefontaine.
"We can do this. If we just keep the pressure up, if we work harder than them, we have this game. We just have to keep going," Bellefontaine said after the game about her mindset when she scored to put her team up by four. Robert Morris would have their work cut out for them in the third period.
"...We had to keep fighting till the end," said Syracuse captain Lindsay Eastwood about heading into the final frame with such a big lead. "Going into that third period, that's what we were talking about. Can't stop now."
The Colonials did get one goal back – an early tally by Jaycee Gebhard less than six minutes into the final frame. Ultimately, they were unable to overcome the deficit, with Syracuse’s Abby Moloughney adding a power play goal as extra insurance with under three minutes remaining in regulation.
Junior forward Anonda Hoppner was named MVP and to the All-Tournament Team. The former Colgate University Raider recorded two goals and three assists for five points during the three-game tournament for Syracuse. Although she received individual accolades, Hoppner was quick to credit her teammates for the success.
"It was a good win," Hoppner said. "The team really came together. We had a tough year, a lot of ups and downs. But we knew the team we had at the start of the season, I think it really showed this week. Everybody's contributing, top to bottom."
It was a Syracuse sweep for the All-Tournament Team. Hoppner was joined by teammates Lindsay Eastwood (3 goals, 1 assist); Jessica DiGirolamo (3 assists); Lauren Bellefontaine (1 goal, 3 assists); Abby Moloughney (2 goals, 2 assists) and goaltender Ady Cohen. Cohen played in the tournament games against Mercyhurst and Robert Morris. She stopped 54 of 59 shots faced in the two victories, including 26 saves in the championship game.
Earlier in the tournament, Syracuse topped Lindenwood 4-1 in the first quarterfinal matchup, while Penn State beat RIT 4-1 in other quarterfinal, notching a pair of empty-netters along the way. In the semifinals, Robert Morris narrowly squeezed out a 2-1 win over Penn State, while Syracuse topped Mercyhurst 4-3.
Syracuse will now get a few days to enjoy their championship victory before preparing for NCAA Tournament. They're still waiting to find out who their next opponent will be.
"This team's waited a long time for this, so everyone is just super excited," Eastwood added. "We deserve this."