Things are looking pretty good in Crunch Land right now, and fans are really starting to get excited. We start our 19th season on Friday at Rochester before the boys come home for Saturday's tilt against the Hershey Bears. That game will be the first time many Crunch fans will get to see our brand new group, and all signs point to positive first impressions.
Preseason in the AHL means just about as much as it does in the NHL. (When the NHL plays, of course...) Usually, a team of nobodies plays another team of nobodies a few times within the span of a week. Cuts are made as guys come down from the big leagues, and eventually a team is formed. The NHL might toy around with a few select guys into the first weeks of the season, so we might not get a full idea of what our team is really going to look like until the second weekend or so, but usually, the pattern is pretty consistent.
This season isn't usually.
As reported before, this preseason saw the Crunch play all three of their preseason games against a single opposing team, the St. John's IceCaps, and all in Canada. Unusual, but not completely out of the norm. The big change was, with thanks to the 2012 NHL lockout, both the IceCaps and the Crunch rosters were already pretty well stacked. Sure, both teams played a few guys destined for the ECHL at times over their more seasoned veterans, but that was more to keep those vets from being injured senselessly in preseason action. We had them here, we just chose to look at other talent when we had the chance, keeping in mind that the lockout might not last forever.
The biggest questions are, of course: What was the result of this preseason experiment? What did we learn?
Answer: This team is more than happy to pick up where they left off. And that news is nothing short of fantastic for everyone in the organization.
In the first game versus St. John's, the Crunch dominated, beating the Ice Caps 4-1. I don't think anyone really doubted that this team would come out swinging, but to actually see it happen was pretty gratifying to us all. The teams tested each other, and the Crunch came out on top, no question.
The next two games, though, are where things got interesting.
The Crunch did end up winning the last two games of the 3-game series, but the margin by which they won was slim. The wins came by the shootout and an overtime game-winner, respectively. The latter game also featured a glut of 11 total goals scored by both teams combined. No one expects a goalie to risk injury during preseason, so the high goal totals of that final contest shouldn't worry the fans of either team. What's interesting is the never-say-die spirit the players making up the Crunch showed coming into a new year with a new affiliation.
I'm pretty sure no one in Crunch Fan Land would have been sounding the alarm had this team lost a game or two up in Newfoundland. I know no one in the organization would have panicked. Although both teams were probably more complete than they ever would have been had this been a regular preseason game ("regular" as in the NHL is also playing), it was still gratifying and encouraging to see this group of guys picking right up where they left off. Everything we've been hearing about the Tampa Bay Lightning's influence has been so positive and encouraging, but the proof, as they say, is totally in the pudding.
These guys found a way to win all three games. They could have just slogged it off. They probably more than deserved to after their amazing championship run at the end of last season. But despite facing a pretty talented team, they pushed through, they worked together, and they swept the series. They showed the last few doubting fans here in Syracuse that this will probably be a pretty exciting season. They certainly got me pumped up!
Saturday cannot come fast enough.