Syracuse holds off No. 1 Penn State to advance to CHA finals

Syracuse holds off No. 1 seed Penn State to advance to CHA finals

The 3-2 upset victory gives the Orange a shot to win their second conference title in three years.
Published: March 5, 2021
Emma Polaski (7) gets in position to pick up a pass during a game against Lindenwood in the CHA Tournament on Mar. 4, 2021.
Emma Polaski (No. 7) gets in position to pick up a pass during a game against Lindenwood in the CHA Tournament on Mar. 4, 2021. Polaski had two points against Penn State in Friday's game.

Syracuse ice hockey shocked the College Hockey America conference and held on for a late 3-2 win over No. 1 overall seed Penn State to advance to the tournament final.

Penn State entered the CHA tournament in first place, and it made sense with a 16-2-2 record that included a 12-game winning streak that led the nation. There’s no question that the Nittany Lions — a team built on the backs of freshmen this season — were the favorite to go all the way and win the tournament.

Still, there was some semblance of hope for Syracuse ice hockey. The Orange came into Friday’s game off a 6-0 win against Lindenwood in the first round of the tournament. Penn State got the early bye, but entered the tournament off a loss when Mercyhurst handed the Nittany Lions their second loss of the year.

It was also Syracuse that was responsible for one of Penn State’s losses and one of its ties. PSU’s two wins over the Orange were each by just one goal, and one game was decided in extra time. Whether or not it worked in Syracuse’s favor, the Nittany Lions were also 0-5 in CHA semifinals heading into Friday’s game.

In goal, it was Allison Small for Syracuse and Josie Bothun, who has started every game for Penn State this year. The Nittany Lions won the first face-off, but Syracuse’s Lauren Bellefontaine recovered and got off the first shot of the game 22 seconds in. Penn State played a strong game early with the Orange unable to clear the zone until nearly two minutes had passed.

Penn State’s Mikayla Lantto was called for hooking on the game’s first penalty. The Nittany Lions successfully killed off an early penalty for Syracuse, but not before the Orange sent nine shots Bothun’s way.

When play moved the other direction, Small had her biggest save of the game thus far. The CHA’s leading scorer, Kiara Zanon, fired a shot from center that bounced off Small’s pads. Syracuse defenseman Kristen Siermachesky fanned on the clear and Lyndie Lobdell fired the rebound toward Small, who swallowed it in her pads.

With five minutes remaining in the opening period, Penn State handed Syracuse its second power play opportunity when Lobdell headed to the box on a bodycheck call. Having the game’s first couple of penalties was out of character for PSU, who rank fourth in the CHA in penalties per game – while Syracuse ranks second.

Penn State killed the penalty, but Syracuse got lucky going the other way. Madison Beishuizen fired a shot that ricocheted off a Penn State skate and Bothun couldn’t react in time. The redirected shot was Beishuizen’s first of the season.

Small stepped up as action moved the other way. Penn State outshot Syracuse 5-0 to end the period, and Small got between all of them to keep the Orange ahead by one heading into the second period.

The Nittany Lions started off the middle frame how they played in the first: with a player in the box. Olivia Wallin was called for tripping on Jessica DiGirolamo just a minute and 12 seconds in, but Penn State killed off another power play. The box was getting lonely though, and Syracuse had another power play opportunity just 36 seconds later, when Amy Dobson tripped Rayla Clemons.

Syracuse wasn’t happy letting another power play go by. Anna Leschyshyn scored her ninth of the year off a rebound, giving the Orange an impressive 2-0 lead over the No. 1 Nittany Lions. Marielle McHale passed the puck to Emma Polaski, who skated around the back of the net before trying to shove a goal past Bothun. The puck rebounded across the crease and Leschyshyn was on the other side to finish it off.

Penn State responded with a barrage of shots. The Nittany Lions tried to capitalize when Small went down and lost her stick, but Kambel Beacom got in the way.

Several minutes passed by as play went back-and-forth. But with seven-and-a-half minutes on the clock, Emma Polaski picked up the puck at center ice and skated toward the top of the circle. She pulled up and fired a slap shot, which hit the post and barely bounced behind the line. Referees called a no-goal as Polaski celebrated, but the call was overturned. Syracuse went up 3-0, and Beishuizen and Siermachesky picked up the assists.

Goaltender Allison Small (31) follows the puck during a game against Lindenwood in the CHA Tournament on Mar. 4, 2021.
Goaltender Allison Small (31) follows the puck during a game against Lindenwood in the CHA tournament on Mar. 4, 2021. Small led her team to a 3-2 victory over Penn State on Friday.

The Nittany Lions played catch up after three goals against and four penalties, but they couldn’t muster anything in the second period. Syracuse went into the final intermission up by three.

Looking for inspiration heading into the final 20 minutes, Penn State came out looking to score. Small’s hopes of another shutout were dashed 58 seconds in when Olivia Wallin went five-hole to get the Nittany Lions’ first goal of the game.

Momentum continued to go Penn State’s way, as they finally got their first power play of the game when Clemons was delivered a tripping call of her own and sat for two minutes. Syracuse, the CHA’s No. 2 team in penalty kills, returned to even strength, but not before the Nittany Lions tested Small.

With few whistles, it was now PSU who was setting the pace of the game. Wallin pushed the puck under Small’s pad for her second goal of the game, and Syracuse was now barely holding on to a 3-2 lead.

Penn State continued to control the puck, but Syracuse held steady. The Orange kept the Nittany Lions from keeping sustained pressure in the zone and prevented them from pulling Bothun until one minute remaining. Victoria Klimek sent a couple shots wide of the open net, but her opportunities shaved valuable seconds off the clock and Syracuse skated away with the 3-2 victory.

Small spent all 60 minutes in net and finished the game with 24 saves and a .923 save percentage.

Polaski and Beishuizen each had a goal and an assist, and Siermachesky recorded two points as well off assists. Siermachesky also stepped in front of a team-leading three shots. Five other Syracuse players blocked at least two shots in front of Small as well. Bellefontaine led the team with 15 won faceoffs, but Tatum White was not far behind with 13.

The Orange edged out Penn State in shots on goal, 31-26, despite the Nittany Lions sending seven shots Small’s way in the third period. After Friday’s game, nine different Orange players have scored Syracuse’s nine goals.

Syracuse will play the winner of Friday’s matchup between No. 2 Mercyhurst and No. 3 Robert Morris in the final. The CHA tournament final is scheduled for Saturday, March 6 at 6:00 p.m.