Seemingly all season, critics have besieged Syracuse, questioning why a team that boasts seven All-American seniors has won seven games by two goals or less.
The chorus grew in volume after the Orange got walloped by Cornell, 11-6, on April 12 – a result that dropped the team from No. 1 to No. 3 in The Sun’s rankings.
Even with top defenseman John Lade (high left ankle sprain) ending a three-game absence by starting in the team's 13-7 dismantling of Hobart on Tuesday night to improve to 11-1, doubters are beginning to suggest that Syracuse might not enjoy a long stay in the NCAA tournament.
But coach John Desko said the Orange – which has the top-rated strength of schedule and RPI according to Laxpower.com – has nothing to apologize for.
“It’s not like we’ve been a secret this year,” he said Tuesday. “We’ve come in as the preseason No. 1 and maybe No. 2 in another poll, and then beating UVA early, we stayed at that No. 1 spot for several weeks. I’ve watched a lot of game film on our opponents, and most times, I see a different team when we play them than what I see on film. I think people have raised their level of play when they come to play us. As far as how I’m used to seeing the game played, we haven’t been in very many games like that until this year in that everybody has come in with either a good faceoff guy or has played zone defense for most of the game or stalled the ball. When teams like Hopkins come in here and hold the ball for five, six minutes at a time, I’m not sure it’s a lot of fun to watch or to play. But we’ve been able to roll up our sleeves and beat all these good opponents. I think we’ve played nine of the top 11 teams in the country at one point, and it’s not like we’re going up against Joe Smith the Ragman. We’ve played a lot of good games and come out ahead. I think that speaks to the character of the group.”
No one likes to lose, but Syracuse will at least avoid talk of going undefeated. And Desko said the setback could serve as a rallying point for the players.
“I look back to last year’s group, and everybody said what a disappointing season it was because we lost in the first round of the playoffs,” he said, referring to the 9-8 double-overtime loss to Army in the NCAA tournament. “But during the regular season, we only lost one game by one goal, and that was to UVA early in the year. We kind of wondered after the Army game that if we had experienced a loss before that game, would that have made us a better group in some ways or helped us to refocus? I’m hoping that’s what Cornell has done to us. I hope we know that if we don’t bring our A game to every game, then we certainly can lose. So I think it helps us get refocused, and hopefully, that will help us come playoff time.”