Women's hockey advances to CHA championship game with 1-0 win

Syracuse defeated Niagara 1-0 Friday to advance to the championship game against perennial power Mercyhurst.

The Syracuse women’s ice hockey team did not have to journey very far for this year’s College Hockey America’s playoffs. In fact, they did not have to travel at all.

This year’s CHA Tournament is being held at Tennity Ice Pavilion, the home rink for the Orange. Syracuse looked every bit at home during their semifinal game versus Niagara University Friday night. The Orange overwhelmed Niagara in the first period, scoring the game’s only goal, and defeated the Purple Eagles by a score of 1-0.

“For me, I think it is really nice to play at home in front of family and people you know,” SU forward Isabel Menard said.

It was Menard’s goal 6:44 into the first period that put the Orange ahead early. On the power play, the sophomore tried to center a pass from the right faceoff circle to the front of the net. Instead of reaching the desired player, the Niagara player hit the puck into her own goal.

“It was a lucky bounce, but I think we worked hard through that sequence,” Menard said.

Syracuse outshot Niagara 12-2 in the first period and spent much of the opening 20 minutes in its offensive zone.

“They were back on their heels a little bit early on,” Syracuse head coach Paul Flanagan said. “It’s one of those games that if we could have just gotten that second goal when we had that territorial advantage in the first period, who knows what the game would have been like.”

The early domination was good for Syracuse’s confidence but was difficult for goalie Kallie Billadeau. Accustomed to facing a lot of shots and action in high school, the freshman had to concentrate to keep her head in the game.

“These games are always tough for me,” Billadeau said. “I was on a high school team that wasn’t very good, and I had constant pressure. I’ve slowly learned how to stay mentally focused within a game, and I definitely had to do it today.”

Assisting Billadeau in the net was a stellar defensive effort by the five women in front of her. The forwards and defense blocked shots and deflected pucks away from the goal. Even two of Syracuse’s best players, Menard and Stefanie Marty, threw their bodies in front of Niagara pucks to prevent scoring chances.

“It was a great shutout for Kallie, but it was a team shutout,” Flanagan said. “The first forward back did a real good job supporting the defense, and the defense supports the goalie. It was a real collaborative effort back there.”

Along with earning her first shutout of the season, it was also Billadeau’s first collegiate playoff experience. She made 18 saves on the night, including 10 in the second period.

“It kind of felt like my first game of the season,” Billadeau said. “I was nervous, but my teammates helped me calm down.”

Regardless of her feelings on the inside, Billadeau played a composed and confident game, especially during a penalty kill-filled second period.

“She had to make a handful of really tough saves,” Flanagan said of Billadeau. “Her style is just that she makes it look easy. She’s very technically sound. She’s a very calming influence for our defense the way she plays.”

The victory secured Syracuse’s spot in the championship game versus Mercyhurst at 5 p.m. Saturday. The game will be a difficult one for the Orange. Mercyhurst finished the season ranked No. 3 nationally, and Syracuse lost the season series 0-4.

Mercyhurst also has a history of winning this tournament. Since the CHA Tournament began in 2003, the Lakers have won the championship every single year.  

Although the Orange killed off five power plays Friday night, they will not be able to allow their emotions to boil over against Mercyhurst.

“We have to be smart in the physical way we play the game,” Flanagan said. “We just have to check our emotions, play smart and disciplined. We have to stay out of the penalty box; they have a dynamic power play.” 

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