Syracuse Captures First-Ever New York State D-I Ice Hockey Title

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BUFFALO, NY — You may win many times over the course of your career. You may not win any. But if you are lucky enough to call yourself champion among 20 other teammates, you will always remember your first.

Ryan Eccles scored twice and set up a third, Phillip Zollo added a goal and an assist while Alex Moreno steered aside 18-of-20 shots as the Cougars from Syracuse staked claim to its very first state title with a 4-2 victory over Suffern in the final of the NYSPHSAA Division-I Ice Hockey Championships at HarborCenter on March 10 in Buffalo.

“The goosebumps really haven’t started to go away yet,” Eccles said. “It definitely helped having the team we had. When great players surround you, they make you even better than you already are.”

“Since Day 1, this was the goal,” Syracuse first-year coach Neal Purcell said. “We knew we had the team this year. They sure put the work in.”

Stephen Matro opened the scoring 4:01 into the second period assisted by Nathan Frye, but Suffern battled back to tie it exactly two minutes later when Ben Burns finished the play started by Joshua Abbott.

With 1:07 remaining in the second frame, Zollo, coming off a hat trick in a 5-1, victory over Orchard Park in state semifinals, scored a beauty of a wraparound goal to give Syracuse a 2-1 lead and an advantage the Cougars would not relinquish en route to its first state title in program history.

“The whole Syracuse community came out to support us, and I love them all,” Zollo said. “For our team, some schools have 60 kids, some have 120. We combined them all in order to compete, and we love the support we’ve gotten from our schools.”

Syracuse (24-1-1), formerly known as Corcoran, made up of co-op of schools within the Syracuse City School District, utilized players from five different schools to achieve success.

“Seven years ago, had we continued being only a city school program, it would’ve been like eight skaters and two goalies,” Purcell said.

The issue of cooperative programs in high school is a hotly-debated topic. Co-opping for a competitive advantage or out of necessity to keep a program going continues to split allegiances on both sides of the center ice line.

“I kind of knew it would come up again if we were gonna win this thing,” Purcell said. “I think the common misconception is we have 100 kids try out and we get the cream of the crop of hockey players here. We don’t have that many kids that try out.

“What really happened is, when you have 12 seniors and the amount of them who played valuable minutes as freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors now — when you get that core group running the show, good things are going to happen.”

Carrying a slim, 2-1, lead into the third and final frame, Eccles provided a huge insurance goal with 6:32 remaining in regulation to extend the Cougars’ lead to two.

“I was just trying to get it on net and luckily it found the back of the net,” Eccles said. “It was a big point in the game.”

It was a crucial goal for Syracuse as Suffern (22-2-2) battled back to within one just 3:27 later when Ryan Schelling scored an unassisted goal to cut it to 3-2.

“I was hoping, of course,” Suffern coach Rob Schelling said in reference to his team’s ability to continue to erase deficits in the state tournament. “You never want to be behind. We won two games when we were down 3-1 and we came back, but you don’t want that. We tried to get one at the end, but it didn’t happen.”

With their goalie pulled in favour of an extra attacker to try and tie the game and force overtime, Eccles, the Division-I Player of the Year, scored his second goal of the game into an empty net with 20.5 seconds left and the celebration was on for Syracuse.

Related: Victor Victorious! Blue Devils Seize First-Ever New York State D-I Title



Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS 

Special to HockeyClan


Main Image: Syracuse Cougars — Your 2019 NYSPHSAA Division-I State Champions. (Photo by Travis Jackson)


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