It's always wonderful to be able to give credit where credit is due, especially after having to tear your beloved team apart just a week ago. It's really difficult for me to watch a talented group perform far below where they should be, whether they are winning or losing. It is nearly impossible to stay silent when I'm hearing flimsy excuses from the coaching staff and worrying comments coming from players.
The fact is, it doesn't matter what level the Crunch happens to play at. It doesn't matter that Syracuse is a farm team. As a fan, I fully expect, and I fully deserve, effort, if not results. Always. That's what any fan expects, and my expectation is just as valid as a Lightning fan expecting that of Tampa Bay.
For the past six years, blogging is what I've done when situations with the Crunch aren't ideal. In fact, I got started in this crazy business during a season of struggle with a lame-duck parent club. I will never, ever stop demanding that the fans in Syracuse get the competitive hockey they deserve, and it's amazing to have a blogging team here at Raw Charge that understands, supports, and encourages my viewpoint.
Given all of this, it's really good to come here now and be able to say a lot of positive things about the Crunch and their efforts. For the most part, Syracuse played solid, simple, back-to-basics hockey this past week, and were rewarded with six points in three games and an extension of their point streak to seven games.
Wednesday night at Albany saw some frightening glimpses of the Syracuse fans saw last weekend: the Crunch got down by a goal one minute into the game, then allowed a 2-1 lead slip through their fingers in the third period. But Syracuse got back to work, survived overtime, and then won the contest in the shootout. Yanni Gourde and Joel Vermin scored in regulation, while Gourde and Tanner Richard potted two goals during the skills competition. Crunch starting goalie Kristers Gudlevskis stopped two of the three Albany shooters during the shootout, and stopped 20 of 22 regulation/OT shots. Holding the opposing team to just 22 shots on goal was a season low for Syracuse.
Friday night, Crunch fans again got a little agitated when the game started off much like Wednesday, with the opposing team scoring first. The Hershey Bears got on the board first for the 11th time in 14 games. Hershey has proven to be dangerous when scoring first so far this season, as the Bears had won six of their first ten games when potting the first tally.
Thankfully, after that initial goal, the game was all Syracuse. The Crunch denied the Bears' 4 power play chances and had five different players score. Syracuse captain Mike Angelidis got the Boys in Blue on the board first, and then forward Kevin Lynch, signed to a PTO last week out of ECHL Florida, scored his first career AHL goal. Henri Ikonen, Nikita Nesterov (on the power play, no less!), and Jonathan Marchessault also scored for the Crunch. Marchessault's tally was a beauty of an empty-netter that brought the crowd to its feet before the puck even hit the twine.
For us fans who had wrung our hands over the Crunch's sloppy, scrambling playing style, seeing them dominate another team like that for almost a full sixty minutes made for an exciting night. It was also thrilling to see goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy play with confidence and surety in front of the home crowd. He made 21 stops on Hershey's 22 shots, and although the Crunch's defense again held their opponent to a low shot total, Vasilevskiy was clutch in some of the saves he made.
Syracuse completed their week with another come-from-behind win at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Saturday night. The Crunch was down 2-0 going into the second period, but then Gourde came alive again and scored two goals in a row, one in the second and another in the third. Angelidis sealed the game for the Crunch mid-way through the third, and Gudlevskis was able to hold down the fort for the rest of the period. The Crunch's 7 game point streak has helped to catapult them in the standings from outside of the playoff picture to 4th in the AHL's Eastern Conference.
The Crunch has another busy week coming up. They start at Hartford on Wednesday, and then move onto Adirondack Friday. Saturday, the Crunch will take part in their biggest event of the season, the Toyota Frozen Dome Classic. The game will be played at the Carrier Dome, home to Syracuse University athletics, and has already broken the AHL attendance record of 23,000. The Crunch is now shooting for the professional hockey indoor attendance record of over 28,000. This event is slated to be one of the highlight's of both the Crunch's season and the AHL's season.
Syracuse will be playing the Utica Comets in the main event, but several other hockey games will happen that day, as well. The SUNY Oswego Lakers will play Utica College, and the Syracuse City fire and police departments will face off for charity. Both of those games will happen sometime that morning/afternoon, with the Crunch vs. Comets game starting at 7:00 EST that night.
The guest list for the event is already quite long, and among the highlights is former Crunch captain Zenon Konopka. Konopka, who was also a member of the Lightning organization at one point, is fondly remembered in Syracuse for his direct, no-nonsense leadership style. Jon "Nasty" Mirasty, a fan favorite who played the better part of four seasons here, will also be making an appearance. Konopka and Mirasty played together during the 2007-2008 season, and were the main components of a group of players fondly remembered as The Nasty Boys. Current NHL'ers Derek Dorsett and Tom Sestito were also Nasty Boys. During his tenure in Syracuse, Mirasty totaled 751 penalty minutes with the Crunch, third most in franchise history.
Stuntman Steve-O, singer Janine Strange, football player Joe Morris, and Hockey Hall of Fame member Glenn Anderson will also be guests at the event. Tampa Bay Lightning assistant general manager and two-time NHL All-Star Pat Verbeek is also going to attend. Verbeek won a Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999. He joined the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010 as director of professional scouting and assumed the role of assistant general manager and director of player personnel in 2011. He oversees all of the team's professional scouting operations, aids in player procurement and reports directly to the general manager.