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Syracuse Crunch week 23: An ode to Sunday night

Syracuse Crunch fans weren't expecting much from their team this past Sunday. The Crunch was on the tail end of a three-in-three, during which they had dropped the first two games. Then something unexpected happened.

Syracuse Crunch forward Vladislav Namestnikov celebrates his game-winner on 3/9/2014 over the Binghamton Senators. Syracuse won the game 4-3.
Syracuse Crunch forward Vladislav Namestnikov celebrates his game-winner on 3/9/2014 over the Binghamton Senators. Syracuse won the game 4-3.
Scott Thomas - central New York photographer and used with permission

One of the hallmarks of a Jon Cooper team is never giving up. A lot of people told me about that when Tampa Bay first brought their prospects and developmental players to town. As a Crunch fan, I got to experience that first hand last season, watching the Crunch climb through the standings of the Eastern Conference.

Even when Cooper was promoted to Tampa Bay and then-assistant coach Rob Zettler took over at the end of March last season, elements of that tenacity remained. Cooper's winning attitude and expectations stayed with the guys he left behind in the dressing room, and the team used what they had learned under Cooper to thrust Syracuse into the Calder Cup finals.

Although the final ending to last season wasn't a repeat of the Norfolk fairy tale, Crunch fans absolutely cannot deny that they saw some exciting hockey. The team won close games and the team blew games apart. When they lost, they took it personally and didn't offer any excuses, only expressing the need to get better and/or stay focused.

Due to a variety of reasons, that attitude has not carried over to this season. Roster turn over, injuries at both levels, and additions to the coaching staff from outside the organization could all be listed as reasons. The root of Syracuse's troubles this season is probably a combination of all of that, plus maybe a few more issues (perhaps in the form of personnel problems, for instance).

Whatever the cause, Crunch fans have not been treated to too many great hockey games this year. Syracuse has been dismal at home: out of their 23 wins, only 10 have been won at home. To add insult to injury, one of those "home" wins actually occurred in Washington, DC, where the Crunch was playing as part of the AHL Showcase Hershey puts on every year. The Syracuse home crowd has only seen their team win 9 times on War Memorial ice.

This past Sunday night was, surprisingly, shockingly even, one of those times. And, to be honest, I have absolutely no idea how it occurred. But, what I can say is that it was absolutely awesome.

The odds were stocked against Syracuse from the start of the game. The Crunch was hitting the tale end of their third three-games-in-three-days in a row. Syracuse was facing the Binghamton Senators, a team the Crunch had only beaten once so far this season.

Prior to the game, Syracuse had scratched Andrej Sustr (D), Joey Mormina (D), JP Cote (D), Dmitry Korobov (D), and forward Geoff Walker. All of those players are in various stages of injury recovery. Korobov was a late and unexpected scratch, a move that forced Crunch forward Drew Olson to draw into the game as a defenseman. Olson had played defense in college, but has not done so since joining the Crunch.

Syracuse's lack of healthy defensemen had left the club looking incredibly thin in that area. Nikita Nesterov, Luke Witkowski, and Artem Sergeev were the only original Syracuse defensemen to dress for the game. Recent ECHL call-ups Jordan Henry and Charles Landry drew into the match. Olson was the final sixth defenseman.

By the time the second period of the game was over, Syracuse was staring down a 3-1 deficit. To add to their troubles, Witkowski had left the game with what appeared to be some kind of a cut behind his knee. He tried to come back into the game but his injured leg seemed to be too wobbly for him to play. Crunch forward Tanner Richard had also left the game after going hard into the boards during the first period. He, too, did not return, but was later spotted walking with a definite limp. He clearly had a leg injury, as well.

Crunch fans were pretty desolate at this point in time. The arena was quiet, probably as quiet I've ever heard it this season. Home fans had watched their team lose dismally to the Rochester Americans the night before by a 5-3 final (a score that honestly makes the game sound closer than it was), and were clearly expecting a similar fate.

Then Crunch forward Philippe Paradis scored his third goal of the season about seven minutes into the third. The arena woke up a little. The Crunch was suddenly within one; the tally was 3-2, and a rather unlikely player had just scored. People perked up, and the cheers started again. Five minutes later, Brett Connolly scored his 14th goal of the season (and his first since February 5th) to tie the game.

The crowd then came alive in earnest.

The incredibly improbable comeback was completed with just under three minutes left in the third. Vladislav Namestnikov brought the entire area to its feet with his 17th goal of the season. Two-and-a-half minutes later, the final horn sounded and the good guys saluted their home fans at center ice.

Somehow, despite their depleted roster and all of the other odds stacked against them, the Crunch had won.

I'm honestly still not sure how they managed it.

Thankfully, how they did it doesn't matter right now. What matters is that, for one period, that Cooper team we all loved so much, that no quit, all go, let's get this done team that impressed us and brought us to our feet so many times last season...that team was back. It might have only been for one period, but for that one period it was like things were happening.

For that one period, it was like the impossible was possible again.

And for that, I am thankful. Maybe it's silly to be thankful for one period of hockey after everything this year...but I am thankful nonetheless.

Latest Stats for the Syracuse Crunch:

  • Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 23-26-4-5

  • Place in the conference standings (top 8 make the playoffs): Thirteenth

  • AHL Playoff Primer for 2014
  • Place in division standings: Fifth

  • Top scorer: Jonathan Marchessault, 14-28-42 (0-1-1 since traded to Syracuse)
  • Top scoring defenseman: Dmitry Korobov, 2-18-20

  • Top defenseman, +/-: Jean-Philippe Cote, +7

  • Top rookie: Cedric Paquette, 16-20-36

Other Syracuse Crunch Player notes/transactions:

-It was announced today that The Tampa Bay Lightning have agreed to terms with free agent forward Yanni Gourde. Gourde will be on an AHL contract for the remainder of 2013-14 season and a two-way NHL contract for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. The St. Narcisse, Quebec native has played in 83 career AHL games over three seasons, all with Worcester, collecting 13 goals and 42 points.

-Goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis earned his first AHL point Sunday night, an assist.

-Jonathan Marchessault recorded his first point with the Crunch Sunday with an assist on Vlad Namestnikov's goal

Syracuse Crunch media highlights:

Syracuse Crunch vs. Binghamton Senators (March 9th, 2014) (via Syracuse Crunch)