Syracuse struggles building momentum heading into late stretch of conference play

first_imgThe barometer for Syracuse’s success is its performance against Mercyhurst. Since the Orange’s program started in 2008, SU had never beaten the Lakers until last year. But its recent results against the conference’s top team are evidence of Syracuse’s progression.The Orange has beaten Mercyhurst twice this season — including the team’s first-ever victory visiting the Lakers, a 2-1 overtime thriller.“Gosh, it was a struggle for a while there. We were happy just to tie them a few years back,” Syracuse head coach Paul Flanagan said. “To go into their rink and beat them in overtime, that’s a real confidence booster. We have to believe that we’re better than them.”Syracuse split the season series with its College Hockey America rival and the Orange sits in second place in the conference. Still, SU’s inconsistency has prevented the team from maximizing its potential.Syracuse has never had a three-game winning streak this season nor a clean sweep of a weekend doubleheader, which comprises the majority of SU’s schedule. With the three-round CHA tournament nearing in three weeks, the Orange (12-13-3, 8-4-2 CHA) is looking to quickly establish the stability necessary for postseason success.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“It all starts in practice,” senior Melissa Piacentini said. “We need to have a consistent week from Monday to Saturday. It’s really just an overall team problem we’ve been having, but hopefully this weekend we can start turning it all around.”Last season, SU didn’t win back-to-back games in the same weekend until defeating conference opponent Robert Morris twice on Feb. 6-7. The Orange was never able to win three games in a row in the 2014-15 campaign.This year, the situation is all too familiar. Syracuse’s next two games are on Feb. 5-6 against Penn State (9-14-5, 5-4-5), and the Orange still hasn’t won two games against the same opponent in a single weekend.“I think our mental preparation has struggled,” Flanagan said. “We aren’t ready for that first game, or we don’t respond on Saturday well after winning on Friday. That’s all upstairs, to me.”Syracuse’s best chance to develop consistency was against Robert Morris on Halloween weekend, according to Flanagan. The Orange won its first matchup in overtime, 4-3, before dropping the next day’s game, 2-0. That next weekend, Syracuse tied conference opponent Lindenwood after a 3-1 victory one day earlier. And in December, the Orange won on Dec. 4 and tied on Dec. 5 against Penn State.Flanagan is addressing his team’s mental preparation by completely backing off and letting the players handle it themselves. He believes that taking too much action about the team’s problems will make things worse.“I think we have to step back and really evaluate the things we need to do,” Flanagan said. “Whether that works or not, we’re trying to identify things that can help us, whether it’s physical or psychological. We know our system. It’s about fine-tuning things.”While the coaches may be backing off, the players are hoping to step up.Piacentini has noted the team’s mental growth since her freshman year, but she says it’s not enough if it plans on competing in the conference tournament.“We need to work with a goal of playing 120 minutes a weekend,” senior Nicole Ferrara said. “We’re not the most skilled team out there. But if we work hard, we can compete with anybody.”But no matter how SU solves its instability, players and coaches both detect a sense of urgency. If Penn State wins both games this weekend, the Nittany Lions would surpass the Orange in the CHA standings.The top two teams in the conference receive first-round byes, but if Syracuse drops below second, it’ll need to do something it hasn’t accomplished since the 2013-2014 season to make the NCAA tournament: win three consecutive games.“Anything can happen, so we have to take care of business,” Flanagan said. “Anything short of 120 minutes could have a lot to do with whether we’re fighting for first place down the stretch or more of just fighting to have home ice for the playoffs. There’s a lot at stake.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on February 3, 2016 at 11:53 pm Contact Chris: [email protected]last_img read more