"Well, this is weird." - Alexandra Ackerman
The last two weeks have seen the Crunch lose hard, win pretty, play brilliantly, and implode. It also saw them play their former selves, the Norfolk Admirals.
When we look back on the 2012-13 Syracuse Crunch season, there will probably be many words used to describe it. I won't jinx anything by using them here, but it's still exciting to think where these guys might take this club. In that same vein, I can also think of several words that will never be used in reference to this group.
One of those words is "boring".
In the past two weeks, the Crunch has taken their fans on a joyride of emotions, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at us. And despite the bumps and some bruising, Crunch fans are ready and willing to take more. These guys have energized this fanbase like only one other group in recent history has, and I could see this group surpassing the popularity of that 2007-2008 team.
Last weekend saw the Crunch drop two games at home, both to opponents they had won against the previous weekend. The first loss was in the shootout to the Adirondack Phantoms, a team the Crunch had shutout just five days before. The second was in regulation to the Baby Pens. Going into Binghamton a few days later, the Crunch found themselves looking down a loaded barrel. Lose without extra frames and they'd be handed their first back-to-back regulation losses of the season.
The Binghamton Senators have proved tenacious this year, and at the time of the game the series between the two teams was tied at 2 wins apiece. The Crunch was the better team that night, winning 5-3 while putting a plug in Senator's comeback efforts, no small feat against of one of the hottest teams in the league right now. Five separate players, including defensemen Mark Barbario and Radko Gudas, found the back of the net that night.
As dramatic as that game was, the fireworks of the week were far from over. Coming into the final weekend of 2012, the Crunch was set to play in one of the most anticipated games of the season.
On Friday, December 28th, the Norfolk Admirals came into town. The backstory behind that game is pretty well known already; I'm fairly positive I don't have to go into it. With very few Crunch fans losing sleep over the Anaheim Ducks organization leaving our city and taking their players with them...well, let's just say we were all looking forward to this.
The game was very weird for our players judging by the various accounts I have read, and I can imagine why. Seeing other guys in the jerseys they won the Calder Cup in just six months ago was probably a breath-stealing moment for many of them. However, our players knew they needed to get used to the sight and fast: the Crunch and Norfolk will face each other seven more times this season, including back-to-back games in Norfolk on January 4th and 5th..
Judging from the first game between the two clubs, those contests will be rather exciting.
The Crunch did a nice job determining the physicality of the game and responding to the crowd's cheers and desire for a win. When Admirals captain Pat Maroon lost his temper, as he often did while playing for the Crunch, Syracuse's own captain Mike Angelidis stepped up to the bell. After Norfolk defenseman Mat Clark broke J.T. Brown's collarbone in a rough collision (knocking him out of action for 6 - 8 weeks after surgery) the Crunch seemed to become even more determined to win. And win they did, 4-2.
Although the game itself was relatively low in penalty minutes, with a paltry 22 minutes combined through 59 minutes of hockey, the post-whistle period saw the animosity that had been building all game spill over. Maroon, irritated with the way the game had gone for the 14-14-1-0 Admirals, took a post-game spear at Crunch defenseman Gudas. Crunch forward Angelidis took exception to this, as did defenseman Kieth Aulie. By the time the dust had settled and the Crunch was allowed to make their traditional post-win salute to the crowd at center ice, a whopping 45 penalty minutes had been handed out. Fun times!
It probably isn't an embellishment to claim that a tone was set by the game against Norfolk that will probably continue on throughout the series.
Unfortunately, despite the high note Friday night sounded, the air was let out of the weekend rather rudely with a mighty flop of a game the next day. Playing against the St. John's IceCaps who boast one of the worst offenses in the league, the Crunch would allow five unanswered goals, including the game winner in overtime, frittering away the 4-0 lead they had gone into the second period with. I'm not sure who was in more disbelief when the IceCaps skated off with the win after scoring with just twenty seconds remaining in OT, but I'm sure we can all say we hope to not see that kind of a collapse again.
Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 17-7-2-3
Place in the conference standings (top 8 make the playoffs): First place
Place in division standings: First
Top scorer: Tyler Johnson, 19-14-33
Top scoring defenseman: Mark Barberio, 6-16-22
Top defenseman, +/-: Dimitry Korobov, +18
Top rookie: Alex Killorn, 12-12-24
Game attendance: 12/21: 4,792; 12/22: 4,922; 12/28: 5,776; 12/29: 5,127