They've had their heart and their effort questioned this season. Their face-off man at one point better resembled a firing target for criticism, taking the brunt of the blame for the entire team. They were embarrassed on national television in one of the worst losses in Syracuse history. But since that loss in late March to the Duke Blue Devils, the Syracuse Orange have shown their character and mental toughness, fighting back and reclaiming their season. Since that game, Syracuse has looked like the team they were predicted to be at the beginning of the year, and today's game was simply a capsule of the fight that they have.
We could not have seen a better finish to an incredible game. The Orange will play in the ACC Championship game on Sunday at 1 pm on ESPNU.
Duke started off the game with three big saves from goaltender Luke Aaron. SU couldn't connect on several crease-shots, and instead of running their offense from behind the net as they usually do, they elected to take multiple deep shots from high in the box. Still though, Aaron played superb, especially in that first half. Duke took a 2-0 lead, Will Haus picked up the first goal of the game taking the ball into the center of the field from the side of the box and getting a good look after Syracuse didn't slide to him, 1-0 Duke. The second goal was a bit of a fluke, Deemer Class sent a hard shot bouncing off the pipe and landing right in Jordon Wolf's stick; easy goal for Wolf, 2-0 Duke. Syracuse got back to their usual offensive scheme as Kevin Rice, behind the net, threw a fake pass and then hit up Billy Ward on the crease, 2-1 Duke. Just seconds later Scott Loy dodged from the wing and got underneath his defender, Thomas Zenker, 2-2.
The following two were Myles Jones to Deemer Class repeats. The first was a defensive breakdown, and the second was a deep bounce shot, fooling Dom Lamolinara, 4-2 Duke. Christian Walsh finished the quarter up with a goal of his own, 5-2 Duke.
Starting the second quarter, Syracuse went on a four-goal run to take the 6-5 lead. Just over a minute into the period, Hakeem Lekcy burned Zenker down the side lane and scored low on Aaron, 5-3 Duke. Kevin Rice got the next one as the Blue Devils curiously left him unguarded behind the net. No need to ask twice, Rice came around the crease and scored high, 5-4 Duke. With the timer on, Staats got his 24th goal of the year on a shot from ten yards out, low to low, 5-5. Finally, SU got its first lead of the game. Nicky Galasso put a shot into the side of the net, but Aaron fumbled the ball sending it outside of the crease where Derek Maltz scooped it up, spun up the crease and put it away, 6-5 SU. Deemer Class tied it up once again before Donahue and Rice went back-to-back, 8-6 SU.
One of the worst looking Syracuse defensive plays came at 4:05 in the second quarter. With the ball in the middle of the box, Chad Cohen made a sloppy fake pass left but Henry Schoonmaker bit hard and then couldn't find the ball after he realized his mistake. It left Cohen open for an uncontested shot, 8-7 SU. This one was followed up by another flukie rebound. Dom made the save on Class but it bounced off of him to Case Matheis who looked up to a wide-open net, 8-8.
The first half finished up with goals from Dionne and Matheis, 10-8 Duke. One of the most disappointing points from the first half, Syracuse found themselves 0-3 on the extra-man opportunities. For such a great man-up team, they dropped the ball today on their chances. The Syracuse defense also showed heavy weakness in allowing Duke passes to penetrate their defense and the Duke offense had little trouble getting open in front of the net. Aaron ended the half with 9 saves while Dom only picked up 5. Overall, Bobby Wardwell outplayed Dom by a significant margin. I'm not saying Lamolinara was bad, he wasn't, but Wardwell had some phenomenal saves in the second half to keep the Orange in it.
For all intents and purposes, the third quarter was a snoozer. Dionne got a goal at 13:45 while getting slammed by Brandon Mullins who was given a one-minute, un-releasable penalty for unnecessary roughness. On the EMO Duke took advantage on a goal from midfielder Jack Bruckner, 12-8 Duke. Galasso got his first of the game, grabbing a pass from Rice just off the crease even while being closely guarded, 12-9 Duke. It took almost nine minutes for either team to score after the Galasso goal, but with 38 seconds left, standing behind the net, Rice fed Donahue on the opposite post and Donahue dunked it in, 12-10 Duke.
To start the fourth quarter, the Orange gave up horrible, back-to-back goals in less than 30 seconds. The first came from Kyle Keenan, who replaced Christian Walsh at the start of the fourth period. Brandon Mullins allowed Keenan too much separation and he caught a pass in the middle for an easy mid-range goal. The next one came from Josh Dionne, working from the goal-line extended no SU player came to pick him up so he moved up the field to get a good angle and put it passed Wardwell. Just bad communication on the second of the two, and it left Syracuse down 14-10.
This is where things began to get interesting again. At this point it looked like Duke might pull away and hit the gas, but the Orange regained composure after a timeout. Off the face-off, Bobby Wardwell responded by making a huge kick save on the doorstep against Will Haus. Meanwhile, the offense bounced back with 4-straight goals. Kevin Rice started the run by beating Chris Hipps behind the net, rolling up the crease and sending it high, near-side corner, 14-11 Duke. On the second, Dylan Donahue held the ball behind the net, sent it high to Scott Loy who missed the pass but Hakeem Lecky, standing behind Loy, caught it and fired low on Luke Aaron, 14-12 Duke. The third goal of the run came on a feed from Donahue, sending it to a cutting Derek Maltz who grabbed it in front of the net and put it away, 14-13 Duke. The tying goal was extremely impressive. Wardwell makes a huge save, and Drew Jenkins gets the pass on the run. At this point the Duke midfield was completely exhausted and simply could not keep up. Jenkins took it into the box, passed it to the top right side to Henry Schoonmaker. Schoonmaker found Rice on the crease and Rice made one more, cross-crease pass to Donahue for the easy goal, 14-14.
Tewarraton Trophy Nominee, Jordan Wolf, was able to take back the lead at 3:15 remaining in the game. Mullins had done a great job all game of shutting down Wolf, but on this occasion, behind the net, Wolf got Mullins tripped up and took it above goal-line extended, sending it high on Wardwell for his first of the game, 15-14 Duke.
With 1:37 left, Wardwell made an excellent foot-save on Josh Dionne, but Duke recovered the rebound. Fortunately however, Myles Jones threw the ball away. Jones had a very quiet game. That first Duke midfield line played a ton of minutes today and it showed by the end. Additionally, Syracuse put 2 of their 4 long-poles on the midfielders, opting to leave Case Matheis guarded by a shorty and putting a long-pole on Jones throughout the game.
Syracuse effectively cleared the ball and called a timeout with 48.2 seconds left and down by one. After a missed off-goal shot, Randy Staats recovered the rebound. He brought the ball behind the net and forced his way up the opposite side of the crease. He made it above goal-line extended, and began to back his defender closer towards the edge of the crease. As the double came for Duke, Staats made an incredible behind the back pass to Billy Ward who stood on the center of the circle and put it home to tie the game with 14.7 seconds on the clock. It looked like the play of the game, until the next one.
Chris Daddio took the ensuing face-off. Daddio started the game off well taking the first 4, but eventually was overtaken by Brendan Fowler. In the last several minutes of the fourth quarter, Daddio and his wings stepped up and were a major reason for the victory tonight. Off the win, it looked like SU had absolutely no sense of urgency, as the clock counted down, Staats got the ball in the top-right corner of the box with about 5 seconds remaining. He waited the clock down a second or two more before sending it top-center to Rice. With no hesitation, Rice somehow weaved a pass through several defenders to Donahue on the crease who turned and fired the winning goal as time expired. Syracuse wins 16-15.