Can the Syracuse Orange rebound after a tough loss on Sunday to the North Carolina Tar Heels, or will the pesky Statesmen spring another surprise? That’s the big question with Hobart on the slate tonight for John Desko and his squad.

Syracuse has hit the home strech of the regular season, and with the ACC schedule complete the Orange will finish up with Hobart, and then following the ACC tournament a road game at Colgate. Coming off a tough loss to North Carolina on Saturday, today’s game represents the shortest turnaround of the season. Hobart is one of the Orange’s oldest rivalries, with today’s game marking the 101st matchup between the two teams, with the first game taking place in 1916. Since making the move to Division I in the 1990s Hobart has struggled to find consistency as well as a conference home. Now firmly planted in the North East Conference, Hobart is off to its best start in years at 7-3, and hope is springing eternal in Geneva that the Statesmen could make their first NCAA tournament since 2004. Tonight’s game should be another in a long line of entertaining mathchups between Hobart and the Orange. Here are a few players and matchups I will be keeping an eye on.

Ben Williams at the X

Williams continues to have an amazing season for the Orange at the faceoff X. Despite a pedestrian performance in the second half of last Saturday’s game against UNC, Williams is still winning an oustanding 68% of his draws – good for second in the nation. For Hobart the situation at the X is much less encouraging. The Statesmen are winning only 41% of the faceoffs for the year while their opponents are winning over 58%. Obviously an ominious sign going up against a player like Ben Williams, who has been dominant nearly every game at the circle. Hobart’s main faceoff specialist is Andrew Spallanzani, who is 63-of-145 on the year – good for a 45% success rate. On paper, Syracuse has a huge advantage at the X but it’s worth noting that Williams has faded down the stretch in two out of the last three games against Notre Dame and UNC. Williams, who was nearly unbeatable in the first half against UNC, appeared to tire late in the third and looked spent by the fourth quarter. Having taken 245 draws on the year, plus a physical pounding from opposing defenses, there is a concern that he is starting to wear down. Should SU be able to jump out to a big lead early look for Cal Paduda and/or Zack Vehar to make an early appearance at the X.

Bobby Wardwell

As the starting goalie for the entire year, Bobby Wardwell has had a good senior campaign for the Orange. With .524 save percentage and a few excellent performances (for example, Duke and Army), Wardwell has been the steady goalie the Orange have needed for most of the year. However, Wardwell was abysmal in the first half versus UNC, making only three saves in the first half and allowing 10 goals. Coach Desko went with a goalie switch at half and inserted junior college transfer Warren Hill. Hill allowed seven second half goals but was able to make several key saves down the stretch, including a few shots on the doorstep. Desko was quick to note Wardwell would be the starter in this week’s pregame press conference but you have to think the leash will be extremely short moving forward. Wardwell has struggled over his career against other elite level teams and with a senior laden team on offense it’s clear Desko and the staff cannot afford to let subpar goalie play cost them a national championship run. A bounce back effort against Hobart will be key for Wardwell as another bad performance could force a permanent change in net.

Hobart Offense vs the Orange Defense

Coming off its worst performance of the season against UNC, there are mutliple questions surrounding the Syracuse defense moving forward. Unfortunately for Hobart they appear to be ill-equipped to take advantage. Hobart has leaned on a very good defense to get out to an excellent 7-3 start but has struggled offensively for most of the year. Hobart has only scored double digit goals in five of 1o games and has failed to score more then eight goals in the other five. In the last five games the Statesmen have scored 6, 7, 7, 13, and 7 goals, respectively. The lack of scoring is even more concerning when you consider that the NEC is one of the weaker conferences in Division I and only two of its seven members currently have winning records. To make a bad situation worse, it appears the Statesmen leading scorer Alex Love – who has tormented Syracuse in the past – is likely to miss tonight’s game with an injury.

Without Love, who has 24 points on the year, Hobart will turn to its midfield to pick up the slack. Seniors Brendan Saylor and Taylor Vanderbeek have scored 18 and 17 points, respectively, on the year. With Love out the Hobart attack is very inexperienced outside of lefty attackman Matt Opsahl, who has only 11 goals on the year despite starting every game at attack. The other two starting attackmen have only six goals combined on the year and there is little depth at either position. Expect Brandon Mullins to take on the task of marking Opsahl, but beyond that the other matchups are less clear. Look for Syracuse to double pole the midfield with Ralph D’Agostino likely to get his third straight start, most likely in favor of Jay Mcdermott.

Syracuse offense vs the Hobart D

Hobart has had great year defensively, and leaning on that defense has produced three overtime wins by the same score of 7-6. Hobart ranks 16th in the nation in scoring defense and has held opponents to several long scoring droughts, including four instances of more then 20 minutes between goals. On their current streak the Statesmen have given up only 23 goals over the past four games, impressive regardless of the opponent. One of the main reasons for this success has been sophomore goalie Jackson Brown, who has 114 saves on the season with a .576 save percentage. In his first career start last year against this same Syracuse team, Brown made 11 saves and put in a remarkable performance considering the circumstances.

With Henry Schoonmaker likely out for the Orange, Brown and the rest of the Hobart D will catch a much needed break. That said, the task for Brown is still daunting. Randy Staats had five goals and eight total points last year against Hobart and after some moments of rusty play against the Tar Heels figures to be in top form for tonight’s game. Syracuse will be far and away the best offensive team Hobart will play this year and against the only similar type offenses that they played this year, Hobart gave up 16 goals to Cornell and 15 to Georgetown. Hobart will need Brown to stand on his head for a majority of the game if they plan on having any chance to come out with a win. Further complicatinig matters, the Statemen’s three starting close defenders are two freshmen and a sophomore, a recipe for disaster going against players with the experience of Kevin Rice, Dylan Donahue, and Randy Staats. From a Syracuse perspective, the players to keep a close eye on are Randy Staats, Nicky Galasso, and the midfielder who replaces Henry Schoonmaker in the starting lineup. With Hobart likely to put its best two defenders on Rice and Donahue, the flood gates should open for the rest of the offense – especially Staats and Galasso. Hobart may try to go to a zone defense with Schoonmaker out and hope that the Orange struggle to shoot from 10+ yards out.

Final thoughts

On paper this game appears to be a lopsided affair with the Orange heavily favored. With Alex Love out and the Orange coming off of a loss it’s hard to see the Statesmen pulling a repeat of 2013. Syracuse has struggled the past few years to put Hobart away and even trailed for a large part of the game last year, but with Williams at the X for the Orange and Hobart struggling mightily to score goals against even lower end opponents, it’s difficult to see a path to victory for the road team. Unless Jackson Brown can put together 20+ saves (not unheard of by a Hobart goalie in this rivalry) and the offense can muster 10+ goals against a wounded but still potent Orange defense, this game should be over by halftime.

Final Score: Syracuse 17, Hobart 8

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