From The Daily Orange
By Colin Yavinsky
After Syracuse men’s ice hockey lost 6-2 in its season-opener to Kent State on Sept. 23, freshman goalkeeper AJ Finta started against the Golden Flashes the next day. Finta, playing his first collegiate game, made 25 saves on 27 shots, helping SU get its first win of the season.
Following a 6-20 season last year, Syracuse’s club men’s ice hockey team has started 2-5-1 through eight games, picking up wins over Kent State and No. 23 Delaware. The team returned 23 players to their roster, adding 11 freshmen, who have made an impact early for the Orange.
Finta said the nerves “were definitely there” when he learned he was starting against Kent State, especially the day after the Golden Flashes “had their way” against the Orange. He said that as a freshman, it was a big opportunity to “prove himself” as he splits time with three other goaltenders.
Finta played at Middlesex School (Massachusetts), competing against a variety of New England prep school teams that he said are very similar to the skillset and pace at the club level in Syracuse. But he said the maturity and physicality of the players was an adjustment.
“Every team we play has a bunch of players that are anywhere from 22-26 (years old), and as you can expect, these guys shoot the puck and drive to the net much harder than your average 14-18 year-old high school player,” Finta said.
On the offensive end, freshman forward Jack Wren has sparked the SU attack, leading the team with four goals and is second with five points through seven games. He put SU in front against No. 6 Stony Brook, scoring a power-play goal early in the first period. Wren scored two game-tying goals in a close 5-4 overtime loss to No. 25 Drexel and notched the lone goal in a 9-1 loss to Stony Brook in the first game of the back-to-back.
“Kind of just teaching the freshmen now, I think there’s a lot of hunger, a lot of anticipation about this year and I think the expectations are higher than in years past,” captain Mack Murphy said.
Head coach Chris Timmons, who took over the program at the beginning of last season after coaching at Oswego State, said that the difference between this season’s team and last season’s is the camaraderie with players reconnecting.
Now a senior, Murphy was appointed as the team’s captain with Vincent Barone as the assistant captain, taking on leadership roles to develop the freshmen. Murphy said that being captain has its own challenge. He’s been captain of other teams before, but his focus is “turning the tide” on last season after not getting the results the team wanted.
“(The captains have) been good so far, just trying to keep them engaged, knowing that this season isn’t going to be easy, they’re doing a little bit of learning as well,” Timmons said.
After splitting the opening weekend matchups with the Golden Flashes, the team struggled, losing five consecutive games by a combined 33-13. It’s also been close against these ranked opponents, losing by one to Stony Brook and Drexel in overtime.
Syracuse bounced back though, snapping the losing streak with a 3-2 win on the road at Delaware on Sunday, its first win over the Blue Hens since before the pandemic.
“We’ve got to learn how to close out the close games,” Murphy said. “That comes from us being a young team.”
Timmons said that as coach, he teaches his players, specifically the freshmen, to learn from their failures so that they can adjust their playing style against certain opponents. They’ve been receptive to suggestions, though there’s still a learning curve, he said.
It’s still early in the season as Syracuse has 23 more regular season games before potential postseason play begins in March. The team plays next on Friday at Buffalo in the first game of a back-to-back, home-and-home before playing several schools in the Northeast.
“We’re a program that has struggled in recent years post-COVID, but anyone who knows the history of the program knows about its winning culture,” Finta said.
(Originally published at https://dailyorange.com/2022/10/syracuse-club-ice-hockey-2022/)