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With 12:33 left in the overtime period, Syracuse defenseman Jessica DiGirolamo skated toward the middle of the ice and fired a shot near Mercyhurst’s blue line. The puck sailed past a number of players in front of the net, deflecting off the right pad of Lakers goaltender Ena Nystrøm. The puck landed perfectly at Sarah Thompson’s feet, and the sophomore forward wristed the puck into the back of the net with Nystrøm out of position.
Thompson immediately threw her stick and gloves into the air. She had just won the College Hockey America Tournament title for Syracuse, sending the team to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in program history.
“(DiGirolamo) just ripped the puck, the puck was there, I hit it, and I don’t remember a single thing after that except for being at the bottom of the pile and not being able to breathe,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s heroics capped off a 3-2 win for Syracuse in the CHA Championship game over Mercyhurst on Saturday. Senior Abby Moloughney, who was named tournament MVP, scored first for Syracuse late in the first period, but it was the the Orange’s youth that propelled them to victory in the game’s later stages, as freshman Sarah Marchand and sophomores Thompson and Tatum White all recorded a point.
Head coach Paul Flanagan believes that having young players who can step up in big moments is a significant reason why Syracuse won both the regular season and postseason trophies.
“We have a lot of depth,” Flanagan said. “As time goes on, they learn how to make those little plays that make a difference.”
The line of Anna Leschyshyn, White and Marchand made a difference early in the battle to put the Orange up by two goals. Leschyshyn found herself with the puck after a failed Mercyhurst attack, quickly dumping the puck to White. White then skated up the left wing into the Lakers’ zone and sent the puck inside to Marchand, who one-timed the puck past a Mercyhurst defenseman and Nystrøm into the top right corner to give Syracuse a 2-0 lead.
“She plays with so much confidence,” Moloughney said. “She’s a great passer, she always makes the right play, and she’s also super easy to play with. It would’ve been fun to play with her a bit more this past year, but overall, I think it really helps the team having her on the second line.”
Thompson nearly scored nearly two minutes later. She wristed a puck at Nystrøm, who slowed the puck down as she sandwiched it between her glove and the ice. But the puck still squirted through to squeak over the goal line. While the Orange erupted in celebration, the referees called the goal off, deciding that they had blown the whistle for a stoppage before the puck crossed the line. Flanagan believes that with a Thompson score in the second period, the team would have generated even more goal scoring chances.
“We thought we had the third goal,” Flanagan said. “I’m convinced if we had that third goal, we would’ve gotten a fourth. We were playing so well, but we ended up not needing it.”
As the controversial call went in favor of Mercyhurst, so did the game’s momentum. Soon after, the Lakers pulled a goal back, shrinking Syracuse’s lead to one. With the Orange trying to ride their 2-1 lead to a CHA Tournament title, Mercyhurst forward Alexa Vasko tied the score at two halfway through the third period, and the 2-2 scoreline held all the way to the end of regulation.
Heading into overtime, Thompson said the Orange’s captains kept things light, playing music and doing dance performances as they always do between periods. When it came time for her moment, Thompson credited a post-practice drill called “Goalie World” — a game where players fire shots off the goaltender for forwards to pick up and score off rebounds — for mimicking that same situation as her game-winner.
“Being positionally sound is really important,” Thompson said. “We’re always shooting pucks and practicing getting the rebound, and it came in clutch this time around.”
Going into the NCAA Tournament, the Orange will continue to rely on their young core to provide a spark off the bench. While taking home a national title is the team’s primary focus, Moloughney is excited to see what the team is capable of for years to come.
“I know that when it was my freshman year, I knew personally that I wanted to be a difference-maker on the ice for my team,” Moloughney said. “I really see that same drive in our young players. Possibly leaving next year, knowing that’s what’s coming up, they’re really great to have for the program.”
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