Ice Hockey

Senior forward Jessica Sibley eyes late-career push

LeighAnn Rodgers | Staff Photographer

Sibley leads the team in assists with 14 and plus-minus at plus-12.

Down 1-0 after 40 minutes, a frustrated Paul Flanagan told the seniors they had only four periods left at Tennity Ice Pavilion. Syracuse trailed Mercyhurst on Saturday, 2-0, and senior forward Jessica Sibley, who had not scored since the season opener on Sept. 30, bullied her way to the net. She took a rebounded puck on her forehand and wrapped around the net in one fluid motion, before depositing it off Jessica Convery’s padding and into the back of the net.

The Orange went on to lose, but the senior forward’s versatility shined. It’s one of the reasons why SU (11-12-5, 10-4-2 College Hockey America) remains within reach of a first-round bye in the CHA playoffs. Sibley will likely have to play on both ends of the ice, especially when Syracuse takes on Rochester Institute of Technology (6-22-2, 4-10-2) this weekend. Most important, she needs to find a consistent scoring touch.

Before the goal last weekend, Sibley played a role on the penalty kill as one of the main forwards on the ice. She led the team in assists with 14 and plus-minus at plus-12. The night before, when the Orange beat the Lakers 3-0, Sibley got the team rolling with a key forecheck on the penalty kill that led to a power-play for Syracuse during which the Orange scored.

Sibley has also been one of the team’s most reliable shot blockers, often taking shots right off the knee and body. Junior goaltender Abbey Miller has noticed Sibley’s play and the energy she has brought translate to scoring chances for the team.

“We’re a team that is going to get a lot of momentum off (the penalty kill),” Miller said. “Just going hard all the time is huge for us.”

Flanagan still wants to see Sibley, a 12-goal scorer last season, to step up without being overly aggressive, because she has committed some careless penalties in open ice. They’ve prevented her from helping out on the penalty kill. Flanagan also wants Sibley to play more selfish and shy away from a pass-first mindset.

“Christmas is over, the season of giving is over,” Flanagan said. “Shoot the puck … Sometimes when you (look to pass first) that little fraction of a second looking to pass, that scoring opportunity closes.”

Sibley agreed, but she said team success is more important than finding individual stat lines. One beneficiary to Sibley’s play is senior wing Heather Schwarz, who has almost as many goals this season (10) as she had in her previous three (11).

“Maybe I should be shooting a little bit more than I do,” Sibley said, “but it’s always nice having other people put the puck in the net, too.”

With that in mind, Sibley hopes to continue her goal of winning a championship at Syracuse. Flanagan’s intermission speech from last week rings loud and clear to her, as her career comes to a close.

“We (seniors) all know the last two years where we’ve been standing on the blue line,” Sibley said, “and we don’t want to be standing there on (the losing side).”

Asst. Web Editor Nick Alvarez contributed reporting to this story.

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