From The Daily Orange
By Jason Mazer
After a 5-0 loss to Delaware in late October, Syracuse’s club hockey team was 2-6 on the season, but its only two wins had come via forfeit. The Orange were missing several key players in their first five losses but were at full health against the Fightin’ Blue Hens. SU knew it needed more experience playing and working together if it wanted to be competitive moving forward. So, that night, the Orange held a players-only meeting, with players debating what they wanted the rest of the season to entail.
“I have never been on a team in a players-only meeting, and that shows how tight we are,” captain Mackenzie Murphy said. “Not everyone may have the skill, but everyone has the same mindset and the desire to make a winning team.”
Five days after the Oct. 24 meeting, Syracuse beat SUNY Oswego 4-3 in a shootout, its first regulation victory since March of 2020. But SU finished 2021 on an eight-game losing streak, 2-14 in the conference, and now sits in sixth place out of six teams in the Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League (ESCHL), a division that includes other Northeast schools like Stony Brook and Drexel.
But despite the slow start, Syracuse’s new acquisitions have helped provide a much-needed energy boost to the team, players said. Captain Tim Kalinowski said the Orange are looking to build on the positives as they begin moving into the final portion of their schedule throughout February.
“We are viewing the new year as a new season. What happened in the fall happened, and we learn from it, but we are 0-0 now,” Kalinowski said.
Last year, Syracuse’s season was canceled due to COVID-19, keeping the team off the ice for almost two years. It led to many players making their club hockey debuts this year, giving the group limited experience heading into the season.
“This is a very hard league to be young in and to get the hang of,” Kalinowski said. “It takes a few games under your belt before you feel more comfortable.”
Beyond just experience, SU’s lineup was also decimated by injuries and “every single sickness you could think of,” Kalinowski said, including a stomach bug and the flu, among others. Syracuse was forced to play next-man up hockey, with 18 combined inexperienced freshman and sophomores making their first appearances this season. But the Orange finally returned to full-strength as the first half of the season wrapped up in December, and they hope to maintain that during the season’s final weeks.
The Orange have already played their toughest opponents in the first half of the year, Kalinowski said, meaning many manageable contests will take place after the new year. SU has already played Stony Brook — the ESCHL’s top team at 17-5-2 — four times, losing all four games by a combined score of 33-3. Syracuse also has fewer traveling days than it did in the first half, something that will help with rest and recovery, Kalinowski said.
“No one is sulking. Everyone sees this as an opportunity to grow and get better,” Kalinowski said.
Syracuse’s 18 newcomers also gain more experience in each game they play and have brought significant energy that the team’s older players have fed off of, Kalinowski said, which is rare for college teams. Those underclassmen have given a boost to SU’s stagnant offense that has only scored 45 goals through 22 games this season. Evan Vassilovski and Anthony Larkin, who are two of the five top point-scorers on the team, have been the freshman standouts, combining for nine goals and 12 assists.
“The upperclassmen did a really good job in accepting us to the team and easing us into the college level,” freshman Lucas Skolnick said.
Graduate student Lucas Prestamo has also been one of the few offensive leaders early on this season. The forward has tallied 10 goals and seven assists so far, and for Syracuse to increase its offensive production — and ultimately number of wins — it will need to continue relying on Prestamo to lead the offense.
The Orange are looking to become one of the four qualifying teams for the conference tournament in February. In a normal year, all six teams in the conference qualify for the tournament, but with COVID-19 restrictions put in place, only four can advance to the postseason this season.
While currently sitting in last place and 10 points removed from a spot in the tournament, Syracuse hopes to use the experience its young players have gained in the first three months of the season to find more success in February and eventually play in the conference tournament for the first time in two years.
“We are a very young team with a small senior class, and we knew we would struggle early in the year,” Kalinowski said. “Everyone can see that something good is being built here.”
(Originally published at https://dailyorange.com/2022/01/syracuse-club-hockeys-new-crop-players-bring-hope-improved-season/)