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Sarah Thompson and Rayla Clemons had a chance to score just over eight minutes into overtime. Jessica DiGirolamo kept the attack alive and took a shot from her normal spot on the blue line. Thompson was able to score off the rebound, and the Syracuse players’ gloves and sticks flew as it won its second College Hockey America title.
The Syracuse players now stood on the blue line, waiting for the trophy. Three seniors, DiGirolamo, Abby Moloughney — who also was awarded the best player of the tournament — and Arielle DeSmet won all-tournament team honors. The three senior captains, DiGirolamo, Moloughney and Lauren Bellefontaine hoisted the trophy for the team. DiGirolamo held it up first, skating toward the boards to celebrate with the fans.
The seniors’ celebration was emblematic of the role they played in Syracuse’s (15-10-6, 11-4-1 CHA) season and its 3-2 overtime championship victory over Mercyhurst (21-12-2, 10-7 CHA) on Saturday. Four of SU’s five top point scorers and both goaltenders are seniors or graduate players. Throughout the CHA tournament, Moloughney scored the Orange’s first four goals over the two games, and DeSmet made crucial saves in overtime.
“This group has shown it since they arrived,” SU head coach Paul Flanagan said. “To get one big super senior class has been pretty special.”
In the fall of 2020, when the NCAA announced that winter sport athletes will receive an extra year of eligibility, Flanagan knew he would have an experienced group of veteran players on his team. The 2020-21 season saw the Orange also advance to the CHA Championship Game, where they fell 1-0 to Robert Morris.
Following the Colonials’ CHA championship season, the program folded. Flanagan said they were immediately on the phone to pick up players and recruits from Robert Morris, allowing the Orange to pick up DeSmet and freshman Sarah Marchand.
Both Syracuse and Mercyhurst were “feeling each other out,” according to Flanagan, as both sides got solid scoring chances. The Orange’s top line was relatively silent as Moloughney and Bellefontaine both missed on multiple shots early on, while the second line had back-to-back shots with less than five minutes in the first period. Ena Nystrøm was able to make two straight stops on Thompson to ice play.
On the ensuing faceoff, Bellefontaine won the draw and started another Syracuse attack. Moloughney couldn’t find a passing option on the left wing, and the puck sailed behind the net. Mercyhurst’s Sydney Pedersen grabbed the puck along the boards, trying to clear it. But Victoria Klimek quickly stole it and moved toward the net, centering a pass for Moloughney. Moloughney’s shot beat Nystrøm for her fourth goal of the CHA Tournament — following a hat trick against RIT on Friday — and the Orange led 1-0.
“I came out not wanting to have any regrets,” Moloughney said. “Overall I didn’t want to leave the rink thinking I could have done better.”
The Orange then controlled possession for the rest of the period and into the second period. Syracuse used this total control to its advantage halfway through the second. Tatum White skated down the left wing with Marchand flanking to her right. White fired a quick pass to the freshman, whose one-timer beat Nystrøm glove side, increasing the lead to 2-0.
“(The Orange) were getting shots on net, and they were driving the net, which made it difficult for our defense,” Mercyhurst’s Sara Boucher said.
After Thompson had a goal seemingly taken off the board due to a blown whistle, Mercyhurst cut the lead in half five minutes later. Mae Batherson looked to advance the puck in the neutral zone before Boucher stole it away and had a breakaway. Her first chance was stopped by DeSmet, but Boucher buried it past the goaltender to make the score 2-1.
The third period was once again back-and-forth as the Orange outshot the Lakers just 8-7. Klimek seemed to have gotten hurt, heading to the bench with pain in her upper body, but she was able to come back less than seven minutes later.
But the Lakers scored eight minutes into the final period. Alexa Vasko quickly skated the puck down the ice with teammates flanking her on both sides. But Vasko decided to keep it and fired a wrist shot that beat DeSmet’s glove. While DeSmet was beaten on that play, she wouldn’t be for the rest of the championship.
In overtime, DeSmet made three stops less than three minutes into the extra period. Kristy Pidgeon and Mary Kromer then had back-to-back chances in front of DeSmet, but the goaltender used her chest pads and glove to make the saves.
But on Thompson’s game-winning goal, it was DiGirolamo who set Thompson up with a shot from the point. According to Thompson, it was a play the two players had practiced throughout the season. For DiGirolamo, the connections she had with players like Thompson and others made this group different from any other before.
“After being here for five years, I can say this is the closest-knit team that we’ve had,” DiGirolamo said. “I think we’ve been supporting each other and winning for each other, and that made the difference today.”
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