Syracuse sets aim for CHA tournament bye as it enters home stretch of conference play

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ As the new year starts to settle in, Syracuse has one goal for the home stretch of conference play: Secure a first-round bye in the College Hockey America tournament.Despite starting the season 0-4-2 in nonconference play, the Orange appears to be turning its season around after one of the worst starts in program history.With a recent weekend sweep of CHA foe Penn State under its belt, Syracuse (7-10-5, 6-2-2 CHA) is positioned to lock up a first-round bye and finish what could have been a disappointing season with a CHA title run. After winning a three-overtime thriller in last year’s semifinal game, only to lose in the title game the next day, the SU upperclassmen hope for another chance to get back.“We’ve been in five championship games in eight years,” head coach Paul Flanagan said. “Very much so unfinished business.”SU now places second in the CHA with 14 points, only three points behind No. 7 Robert Morris. Right below Syracuse is Penn State (nine points), but thanks to a strong weekend series, the Orange has pulled away from the Nittany Lions in the conference standings.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textWith only 10 conference games remaining — and a home weekend series with Robert Morris looming — the Orange could move into position to be the No. 1 overall seed. But in the end, the first-round bye is the most pivotal component.“If you don’t get that bye, you’ve got to win three games in three days,” Flanagan said. “Just taking one game out of the equation, just physiologically, and even mentally, that’s a huge boost.”“That one less game really makes a difference,” junior forward Steph Grossi said.In early December, a tie against Rochester Institute of Technology, which only has four wins, had Flanagan saying: “It was an awful hockey game. Brutal. Just brutal.” A 7-2 drubbing at the hands of Cornell last week showed the Orange is far from polished.“The RIT game, I feel like that’s a point we just let get away,” Flanagan said. “That shouldn’t have happened.”But for upperclassmen, the opportunity to finally break through and win the CHA tournament is here.Last year, Syracuse was in the same position. After a rough first half of the season — it entered Winter Break with an 8-11-2 overall record — the Orange managed to put together a strong second half, one that saw it rattle off eight straight wins to finish the season before falling to Mercyhurst in the CHA title game.To get there this year, Syracuse will need to play the way it did against Penn State last weekend. Over the course of two games, the Orange piled up 71 shots to the Nittany Lions’ 32, saw goals from five different players and outscored PSU 7-2, picking up a pair pivotal conference wins.“We started off pretty well with a first league weekend with Penn State,” senior forward Emily Costales said, “so hopefully going into Lindenwood we have the momentum. Flying down there, getting our business done and keeping it rolling.”If Syracuse can replicate last year’s hot streak, the first round bye is all but certain. And for right now, it is SU’s to lose.“There’s that fire in there,” Grossi said. “We need to win this year. It’s not OK if we don’t.” Comments Published on January 17, 2017 at 11:33 pm Contact Andrew: aegraham@syr.edu | @A_E_Grahamlast_img

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