SYRACUSE, NY – Syracuse might be the number one team in the country, but Orange players aren’t resting on rankings.
“We’re just trying to go week by week and game by game,” senior captain Mike Leveille said. “We’ve been doing that so far and we’re not trying to get ahead of ourselves.”
This week the game on the schedule was Princeton, and Syracuse dealt with the challenge, winning 13-6 in front of 6,501 at the Carrier Dome.
The Tigers did a good job limiting Leveille all afternoon, holding the Tewaarton nominee without a goal (although he had two assists), but the Orange offense didn’t miss a beat. It wasn’t necessarily that Princeton picked the wrong poison on defense – it was more that there was too much poison to choose from – too much for the Tigers to handle.
“You’re not talking about a team that only has two good players,” Tigers coach Bill Tierney said.
“We have six guys out there who can score a goal,” said senior Steven Brooks. “Mikey’s (Leveille) a big player on our team but when they shut him off we got other people that can step up and we did today.”
Brooks was one of those to step up. The fifth year notched a new career high with six points on three goals and three assists – four of those points came in the first half, propelling SU to a 6-4 lead at the break. But Brooks wasn’t the only man on his line to step up, the ‘Cuse getting another standout day from Brendan Loftus as well.
“It’s great for Brendan to have success because I can point to him and say look at what hard work does,” head coach John Desko said. “Ever since he’s been here he’s the guy that’s here before practice, still here after practice, doesn’t miss a weight room. I love it when I guy like this does well.”
Loftus finished the day with a hat trick and an assist, his best outing since scoring four goals (including the game winner) against Georgetown a month ago. With eight players scoring a point, the Orange continued to flaunt its offensive depth and versatility. The ‘Cuse began the game with looks well away from net. Four of SU’s first five tallies came off midfielder’s sticks, forcing the Princeton defense out, and creating openings closer to cage.
“They play the percentages,” Desko said. “They don’t want to give you any lay-ups to start with. With a goalie like that and some zone defense, they want to see if you can score from the outside first.”
The Orange clearly responded, dealing Alex Hewit his worst game against SU. With a career save percentage near 60% against the ‘Cuse, Hewit surrendered 13 goals on just 22 shots on net (40.9%). Most of the success was just a matter of patience.
“I think we just know that when we go out and play (Princeton) it’s going to take time,” said Desko. “I would be surprised if we had eight goals in the first period. It’s a work day when we come to play Princeton. We’ve got to be patient. We’ve got to take good shots on the goal tender. We’re going to have to work hard on offense.”
“They have six players who can shoot the lights out of the ball,” said Tiger All-America defensemen Dan Cocoziello. “There’s so many threats on the field. You can only account for so many guys…Brooks hit that one in the top corner a couple times, you know, you’re not going to save that shot.”
Another key for SU was once again the face-off. After struggling last weekend against Loyola, Danny Brennan went 15-6 at the center-X against Princeton. Tiger specialist Alex Berg played with what Tierney said was a hamstring injury, but the coach wasn’t disappointed in the senior’s play.
“Alex Berg the last two weeks has done exactly what we want him to do. Danny Brennan’s a heck of a player and with those two guys on the wings you’ve got to be real careful of trying to win it…trying to make a forward move, because if you do and you miss, it’s going three guys forward at you really fast.”
That’s a situation Princeton didn’t find itself in Saturday afternoon – limiting the Orange’s looks directly off the face-off. The only problem was SU still got its goals, holding possession much of the game.
“It’s easy to play defense when you’ve got the ball,” Tierney said. “The thing that’s really overlooked with (Syracuse) is the two athletes they put on the wings on face-offs. Those guys are a bear to deal with, so they got the ball the whole time. We got some great looks, to be honest with you. I thought we had some great looks when we had the ball.”
With the win SU moves to 8-1 with Cornell next on the schedule Tuesday. The Tigers fall to 4-4 with the Ivy League schedule still ahead of them.