With thanks to a couple of key moves made by the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Crunch have turned their fortunes around again. Many of my concerns of two weeks ago have been solved by the additions and subtractions of personnel from the team. The biggest moves, in my opinion, were sending down Pierre-Cedric Labrie for a conditioning assignment (along with defenseman Brendan Mikkelson) and trading struggling goaltender Dustin Tokarski to the Montreal Canadiens organization for goalie Cedrick Desjardins.
I know many people had an emotional attachment to Tokarski, and he had become a fan favorite here in Syracuse. But what we've seen of Desjardins has been much more impressive. He hasn't lost a game in a Crunch uniform (3-0, two shutouts) and has been incredibly sure-footed and fancy in the two games I've seen him play.
The trade has also seemed to do wonders for our other goalie, Riku Helenius. Helenius' performance during the week of February 10th through February 17 also included two shutouts, three wins, and stopped a total of 80 out of of 81 shots faced during that span. Those games were enough to earn Helenius the AHL Player of the Week (POW) award, an honor the Crunch hasn't seen since Cory Conacher (you know him, right?) nabbed it a few months ago. Helenius was the first Crunch netminder to get a POW award since 2010.
It's kind of funny, really, but the team's success was almost overshadowed this past weekend by something rather unusual, at least in this context. The Syracuse Crunch hosted our first "Fear the Beard" night this past Saturday, an event wholly dedicated to celebrating defenseman Radko Gudas' fearsome facial hair.
Hilarious videos publicizing the event were produced by the team. Fans were encouraged to use a "fear the beard" hashtag on Twitter (I'd link to it, but it's been taken over others about other people). Free fake beards were handed out to fans and worn by the players during warm ups and at the end of the game. Men who came to the game with a beard got ticket discounts. The team went all the way with this thing, and it was probably one of the biggest marketing successes the franchise has had in recent history.
Focusing on one distinguishing characteristic of a player like this, even as awesome as that characteristic is, might seem weird to those who don't know us. But, believe it or not, the Crunch has done something like this before. During the 2007-08 season, One of the most remarkable things about that Crunch team was that toughness seemed to be just about the only strategy they employed with success night after night. Our key forwards were led by guys like Zenon Konopka, Tom Sestito (I know, right?) and Derek Dorsett. Derek Brassard provided some sparkle every now and then, but looking at that roster...they had no business winning 15 in a row as they did that season.
Of course, when mentioning guys like Konopka, Sestito, and Dorsett, I'd be completely remiss (and totally off the point of this little story) if I didn't mention the ringleader. "Big Dog Z" (Konopka), Tommy and Derek had come to be known as part of a group of players known as the Nasty Boys. They were called the Nasty Boys because they were led by a guy that would become one of the most popular scrappers in Crunch history, Jon "Nasty" Mirasty.
Mirasty played in Syracuse for three and a half seasons. Many of 182 games he played in a Crunch uniform happened with Mrasty's signature mohawk tucked under his helmet.
I bet you can guess where I'm going here.
The mohawk became a galvanizing force within our fan base. Men and boys started sporting the signature cut around the arena, especially as the playoffs grew closer that season. The players themselves, in addition to sporting beards, also all cut their hair into a mohawk style (well, most of them...some of them had fohawks). And believe me, you haven't seen frightening until you've seen Konopka's broken mug with a mohawk on top.
All of this culminated in the Crunch's front office staff letting Konopka and Mirasty buzz their own heads into Nasty's signature look when the Crunch made it into the second round of the 2008 AHL Calder cup playoffs. Because of his unique skill set, Mirasty wasn't really used during the playoffs and actually only played four games. But his toughness and attitude were well represented. It was a magical time, and many of us felt "The Mowhaks" could do anything.
Unfortunately, it was probably that attitude and toughness that sunk us, as the Crunch fell out of the playoffs in the second round after a seven game series against the Toronto Marlies. But that season-and Mirasty's mohawk-defined us as a fan base for years after. Many of us still get a nostalgic yearning whenever we see a young fan toddle around the War Memorial with a mohawk.
So, all in all, it isn't really too surprising the Crunch went all out this past weekend over a beard. Fear the Beard night was fun, and you know, I loved that the fake beards gave all fans - men, women, and children - a chance to get into it. I mean, there wasn't any way I was going through the trouble (and social awkwardness outside War Memorial) of doing a mohawk. I certainly am not able to grow a beard. But those fake beards made it so we all could give a stick tap to a player (Gudas) who is rapidly becoming a favorite in his own right because of his skill.
Well, Gudas' skill and his sparkling personality.
Transactions of note:
- 2/16/2013: 2/14/2013: Pat Nagle (G)...Reassigned to Flordia (ECHL) from Syracuse
- 2/14/2013:Cedrick Desjardins (G)...Loaned to Syracuse from Tampa Bay after a trade that sent Dustin Tokarski (G) to Montreal
- 2/14/2013: Pat Nagle (G)...Reassigned to Syracuse from Florida (ECHL)
- 2/14/2013: Brendan Mikkelson (D)...Loaned to Syracuse from Tampa Bay on a conditioning assignment
- 2/14/2013: PC Labrie (LW)...Loaned to Syracuse from Tampa Bay on a conditioning assignment
- Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 33-14-2-4
- Place in the conference standings (top 8 make the playoffs): First place
- Place in division standings: First
- Top scorer: Tyler Johnson, 28-23-51
- Top scoring defenseman: Mark Barberio, 8-27-35
- Top defenseman, +/-: Radko Gudas, +27
- Game attendance: 2/20: 4,790; 2/23: 5,652; 2/24: 5,009
- Player notes: Labrie scored three times during the first six games of his conditioning assignment; Brown scored an ENG in his first game back since he was hurt at the end of December; after six games with the Crunch, Mikkelson has a +2 and no points.