Last season, one of the highlights of coach Jon Cooper's Crunch team was a "down but not out" mentality. No matter the score, there was always this hope that the team could come back. They just seemed to have the mental drive and the passion for the game that let them push through any deficit. Sometimes they were able to, sometimes they felt short, but fans knew it was never over until the final horn.
This year's team doesn't exactly have that same characteristic. Syracuse has lost 17 games with a three-goal deficit or more. Using that definition, that means over half of their 30 loses this season have been blowouts. Every game had the same feeling to it: what might have started as a trickle--the Crunch getting behind by a goal or two--soon turned into a deluge.
Interestingly enough, these "blowouts" have happened at regular intervals all year, regardless of Crunch personnel or the team faced (although some blew the Crunch out more than once). Observe:
-October 13th, 2013: Syracuse loses to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins by a final score of 6-3. Vladislav Namestnikov, Cedric Paquette, and Matt Taormina scored for the Crunch in the loss. Goalie Riku Helenius allowed the 6 tallies on 27 shots.
-November 22nd, 2013: Syracuse loses to the Hamilton Bulldogs by a final score of 4-1. JP Cote is credited with the Crunch's lone goal. Desjardins allows 4 goals on 27 shots.
-November 27nd, 2013: Syracuse loses to Binghamton again, this time with a 5-1 final. Geoff Walker scores the Crunch's only goal. Helenius faced 37 shots.
-December 10th and 11th, 2013: Syracuse loses to St. John's two nights in a row, first by a 6-2 final and then by a 5-1 final. Mike Angelidis, Paquette, and Walker score the three Crunch goals between the two games. Goalie Kristers Gudlevskis faces 47 shots the first night; Desjardins faces 36 the next.
-December 28th, 2013: Syracuse loses to the Norfolk Admirals by a 6-3 final. Angelidis, Evan Rankin, and Drew Olson score for the Crunch. Gudlevskis and Desjardins split time, facing 30 total shots between them.
-December 31st, 2013: Syracuse loses to the Penguins by a 5-2 final. Angelidis and Taormina score; Desjardins faces 28 shots.
-March 7, 2014: Syracuse loses to the Rochester Americans by a 4-1 final. Angelidis is the lone scorer. Gudlevskis faces 26 shots.
Up until the 18:21 mark of the third period Saturday night, it looked like that game versus Utica belonged on this list. Syracuse was losing 5-2 against the Comets and had allowed 4 unanswered goals. Despite appearing to outplay Utica for most of the game, the Crunch just wasn't finding the back of the net.
When Syracuse pulled Gudlevskis for the extra attacker, most fans started gathering their things and heading for the exits. The Crunch has had little, if any, success with this tactic this season, so pulling Gudlevskis when the score was 5-2 just seemed like the team was begging for more humiliation.
But then Namestnikov scored at that 18:21 mark. The previously sleepy barn, at least on the Syracuse side of things, woke up a little. The score was 5-3, and everyone left in the building was familiar with that old hockey saying about a two-goal lead.
Then Syracuse had to go on the penalty kill. More people started leaving as Gudlevskis was pulled again to make it 5-on-5 with an empty Crunch net. What little hope that had been created by the last goal seemed to fade.
But, when Marchessault scored short-handed at the 18:52 mark, Syracuse was suddenly within one of the Comets. The spectators who had stayed woke up even more. There was blood in the water, and both the Crunch and its fans started to seriously wonder if this was going to be possible.
Syracuse was still shorthanded and still had an empty net fifteen seconds later when Marchessault scored his second tally of the night. The War Memorial erupted with sound from the previously dejected Syracuse crowd. In less than one minute, Syracuse had managed to erase a three-goal deficit and tie the game.
When Dmitry Korobov took a very badly-timed delay of game penalty a few seconds later, Crunch fans couldn't help but hold their collective breath. Utica had scored two power play goals over the course of the game. The developing miracle was in danger, but thankfully the worry would be short-lived. Syracuse survived the penalty kill and was back at even-strength two minutes and twenty-five seconds into the overtime period.
The game would end eleven short seconds later. Connolly blasted home a shot that found the back of the net and completed the Miracle at the War Memorial. While several hundred stunned Utica fans who had made the trip looked on, the Crunch faithful who had stayed celebrated and carried on in a way that hasn't been seen since the playoffs last season.
To be honest, this victory felt like a playoff win. It was gutsy, it was improbable, it was incredible. The glow of that win will certainly help to get Crunch fans through the long off season that's just a short two weeks away.
Sadly, Syracuse was officially eliminated from the playoffs this past weekend. The numbers game that determines seeding finally doomed this team, a team that never really had much of a chance to begin with. The reality that last year's Eastern Conference champions will not see that "X" next to their name in the league's standings this season ended up making the weekend a little bittersweet.
However, even seeing that (rather unavoidable) eventuality come to fruition can't take away from what the Crunch did this past Saturday. They gave the home fans a show, the likes of which hasn't been seen since the end of last season. To say it was most appreciated would be an understatement.
Honestly, it wasn't just appreciated. It was truly glorious.
Latest Stats for the Syracuse Crunch:
Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 29-30-4-7
Place in the conference standings (top 8 make the playoffs): 12th
- AHL Playoff Primer for 2014
Place in division standings: 5th
- Top scorer: Brett Connolly (19-31-50)
Top scoring defenseman: Dmitry Korobov, 3-22-25
Top defenseman, +/-: Jean-Philippe Cote, +8
- Top rookie: Cedric Paquette, 20-24-44
Other Syracuse Crunch Player notes/transactions:
-Defensemen Andrej Sustr was recalled to Tampa Bay from Syracuse.
-Forwards Geoff Walker and Maxime Langelier-Parent were assigned to Florida of the ECHL.
-Forward Adam Erne was signed to an ATO with the Crunch
-Forward Joel Vermin was assigned to the Crunch
Syracuse Crunch media highlights:
Syracuse Crunch SoundCloud: hear from Saturday's OT hero, Brett Connolly. Also features a new interview with Crunch owner Howard Dolgon, as well as soundbites from Vermin, Marchessaul, and coach Rob Zettler.