First off, let's not forget the ladies. Congratulations to Gary Gait and his team for taking down Stony Brook 13-6 and moving on to the third round of the tournament, an excellent accomplishment.
With the score 10-9 favoring Bryant, and just seven seconds remaining, it all came down to a final face-off. After an up and down career at Syracuse, Chris Daddio had his chance to silence his detractors once and for all. The whistle blew and Daddio took it from the nation's best face-off man, Kevin Massa. After an almost perfectly clean win, Daddio sped into the offensive zone and sent it to Kevin Donahue, sitting in the far side of the box. Donahue rode his defender towards the net. The seconds continued to tick down, and Donahue fired. Bryant goalie, Gunnar Waldt, playing on a bum ankle, tracked the shot and dropped low getting a piece of it, but a piece of it was all he needed. The ball deflected to the back of the box and that was that, the #2 seeded Syracuse Orange fell to the unseeded Bryant Bulldogs.
I remember four years ago on this day. A senior, having just graduated, I was covering the Syracuse-Army game for another website. Coming into the game, the Army game plan was to possess the ball as long as possible and keep the ball out of the hands of the Orange attack. The Black Knights did just that and came out with a 9-8 win in double overtime. From what I remember, the worst part about that game was the press conference, and watching the emotional reactions from the players.
Four years later, it's the same thing, we really just have to feel for these guys. Not because they lost, and certainly not because they were upset in game they maybe should have won. Instead, it's the way this Syracuse team fought back this year, the way they handled themselves after falling into a seemingly overwhelming hole. Eight weeks ago, nobody thought this team would make the ACC Tournament, and many didn't think they would make the NCAA Tournament.
That is why the big takeaway from this season goes back to their motto: head, heart, hustle. Dom Lamolinara, who went from being yanked for a freshman two years ago, to starting 15 games last year, to splitting time this year, never gave up throughout his three-year career at Syracuse. The senior goaltender was a crucial piece in righting the ship mid-season. Then there's Billy Ward. As the senior watched his final season slip away, he put the team on his back when they most needed him. Ward was an instrumental and crucial part of the Syracuse turnaround. Especially though, you have to recognize Chris Daddio. The kid took the brunt of criticism for the Syracuse troubles over the last two years, and yet he continued to work at his game, finally breaking through. Yes, Daddio went 9-23 against, statistically, the best FOGO in the country tonight, but in the fourth quarter Daddio took 6 of 8, and he gave his team a chance to win it with 7 seconds remaining. Nothing stands out more to me than the efforts this team made to pick itself up. SU fans should be proud of their team and of its character.
Now let's get into the game...
The Bryant defense deserves a lot of credit for this win. The Bulldogs cut off Syracuse dodges and consistently locked down Kevin Rice behind the net, denying him the pass to the crease and making him a non-factor throughout the majority of the game. Rice sits fourth in the nation with just under 3 assists per game. However, Sunday night Rice finished with just 1 assist. The senior finally broke through in the third quarter, getting his first of three goals as he came around the crease from behind the net.
Also, we can't understate the importance of Bryant goalie Gunnar Waldt who had 13 saves tonight. Waldt held a 7.44 goals against average and a .611 save percentage coming into the game, and he did not let up. With 8 saves in the fourth quarter, and 4 in the final 2:35 of play, Waldt stood tall, even making several point blank saves on the doorstep to keep his team in a close game.
This year, the Orange offense has had a lot of success working from behind the net and getting passes to the crease. With Bryant locking down Rice below the net, Syracuse's offense was stunted and ended the first half with just 1 assist and down 5-4. The first half production was primarily relegated to dodges. Syracuse's first goal of the game came from Hakeem Lecky as he streaked down the alley and scores, even while drawing the double team. It's a move that Lecky has been good at all year, but it would be his only shot of the game. The Orange did not score again in the first period.
With the score 3-1, Derek Maltz held the ball on the wing, tightly guarded, and sent a nice pass to Nicky Galasso as he cut down the middle, 3-2 Bryant. Tucker James followed that up 44 seconds later with his third goal of the game. James had 4 goals on 4 shots, also picking up 2 assists. At 10:08 in the second, Henry Schoonmaker dodged from the top left in the box, hitting the far side of the net, 4-3 Bryant. It would be Schoonmaker's only goal of the game, as he had problems putting the ball on net. After a goal from Bryant's Alex Zomerfeld, Syracuse got the ball back on a Daddio face-off win. In a settled possession, Kevin Donahue dodged from the goal-line extended, getting underneath his defender and going high on Waldt. Bryant walked into halftime up 5-4.
The first goal of the second half came at 10:29. With the timer-on for Bryant, which we saw happen over and over all game, Zomerfeld got his second goal of the game by pushing his way through Tom Grimm and finding some room to take a low shot on Bobby Wardwell, 6-5 Bryant. Wardwell would finish the game with 4 saves and 5 goals against. Colin Dunster followed up Zomerfeld's goal with a cannon to make it 7-5 Bryant. Dunster finished the evening with 2 goals on 7 shots.
Between Bryant slowing down the game with lengthy possessions, Syracuse missing the cage and Gunnar Waldt making several saves, both teams went scoreless for just over eight and a half minutes. At 10:29 in the fourth quarter, Syracuse made it 7-6 on a controversial goal. The offense had some nice movement leading to a shot from Randy Staats on the wing. Waldt saved the low shot but it deflected high into the air in front of the crease. With a cluster of players on the doorstep, Galasso jumped up and hit the ball into the net, where he landed, however, could not be definitively determined. It's possible his foot came into the crease, but the refs didn't have a good view with the crowd of players on the crease, and they had to allow the goal. Just a minute later, on basically the same play, Rice hit Staats on the wing and he buried it to tie the game at 7. Staats had just 1 goal and 1 assist, a relatively quiet night for him, primarily due to the play of Waldt.
The tie held for several minutes but was finally broken up by Tucker James who had the next two goals, 9-7 Bryant. On the second of the two, he curled around the crease while being guarded by Matt Harris. Harris played well all game and finished with 3 caused turnovers, but on this occasion he attempted to go over James' head with a stick check and missed, leaving James open for an easy goal.
Kevin Rice hit a shot from the wing before Shane Morrell picked up Bryant's final goal of the game, 10-8 Bryant. Down by two with 2:51 remaining in the game, Syracuse's chances began to fade. Off the face-off, Matt Harris picked up the groundball and took it to the net, but Waldt was there reading the shot and stoning him low. On the ensuing clear, Cody O'Donnell received a pass in the box and got leveled by Sean Young with the flag being thrown immediately. They slapped Syracuse with a one-minute, illegal body check penalty. I thought the referees did a nice job recognizing the Bryant and Syracuse stalls tonight. That being said, I also thought they were a bit eager to call penalties, on both sides. Watching the replay on the Young penalty, it looked to me like a clean hit with his shoulder hitting O'Donnell's upper chest. Nevertheless, Bryant went on the man-up with 2:23 to go in the game.
On an extra-man opportunity there is no timer-on call, so one would think Bryant would hold the ball. Instead, the Bulldogs tried to go to the cage and ended up turning the ball over on a Brandon Mullins takeaway. Mullins had a stellar game, picking up 5 groundballs and causing 3 turnovers, none more important than the man-down strip of Dan Sipperly, 26 seconds into the penalty.
After a Syracuse timeout, the Orange returned to the field with 1:31 to go. Four shots from four different players followed, two of which went wide and two of which Waldt made saves on. With 35 seconds remaining Bryant went on the clear, and it looked like that would be it. But of course, this is Syracuse, so they have to make your heart pound a little. Matt Harris caused Colin Dunster to turn it over. On the unsettled transition situation, the ball found Kevin Rice, and he took it towards the side of the crease. The shot he fired came at an improbable angle, but it appeared to kick off Waldt's shoe and deflect into the net, 10-9 Bryant.
So with 7 seconds to play and down by one, the Orange found themselves in a familiar position. Tonight, however, just wasn't their night.
10-9 Bryant is your final.