It may have taken longer than most Syracuse fans would have liked, but one thing was clear Saturday night: It's finally Crunch time.
After an overseas pre-season which saw the Crunch go 1-1 against the Utica Comets and 1-0 against the Les Lions, a fully stocked Syracuse charged into Allentown, Pennsylvania and took a 4-3 victory in their first regular season outing. Mike Blunden, Jonathan Marchessault (2 goals), and Philippe Paradis all scored for the Crunch, while goalie Kristers Gudlevskis stopped 26 of the 29 shots he faced.
Mike Angelidis, who was named team Captain for the 4th season in a row this past week, earned a helper on Blunden's goal, as did Henri Ikonen. Joel Vermin and Dylan Blujus each got a point on Marchessault's first goal, while Tanner Richard and Anthony DeAngelo (with his first professional assist) got helpers on Paradis' tally. Blujus got a second point from Marchessault's second of the night, and Jeff Tambellini got his first point in a Crunch uniform with the secondary helper on that goal.
All in all, it was a solid night for an extremely solid Crunch line up. For perhaps the first time since that legendary 2012-2013 team, Syracuse appears to have a roster with the right balance of speedy talent, savvy veterans, and deep defensive depth to really make a splash. If that balance can be maintained throughout the season--which can be challenging at this level--Syracuse may be poised for a season both similar and as special as the one that took the Crunch all the way to the Calder Cup final in 2013.
There were a lot of different story lines woven throughout the evening, but the most encouraging was probably the strong return of both Blunden and Paradis. Both forwards were with the Crunch last year, and both were having banner seasons up until one fateful weekend in January where first Blunden and then Paradis were both sidelined by the same season-ending injury in successive nights. The Crunch never recovered from their loss. Although they both only played half a season, Tampa saw enough to bring them both back, and it was extremely encouraging to see them do so well in the first game of the season.
On the other side of the ice, Syracuse has found itself so stacked on defense that it healthy scratched not one but two defensemen in its first game. Veteran Joey Mormina and newbie Daniel Walcott sat out Saturday, while Luke Witkowski, Slater Koekkoek, Matt Taormina, Jake Dotchin, Blujus and DeAngelo got playing time. How the coaching staff will juggle the Crunch's crowded blueline will be interesting to watch in the coming weeks, but expect Witkowski and Koekkoek, who spent the majority of last season paired together and who were reunited as the Crunch's top pairing Saturday, to eat up as many minutes as they can before the Tampa Bay Lightning needs them.
Having that much insurance on D is certainly not a negative thing at all, and one can't forget that the Crunch also has Charlie Dodero on an AHL contract in addition to the eight guys currently in Syracuse. Dodero is biding his time playing with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits of the ECHL at the moment, but he was a role player with Syracuse last season who filled in on D when the Crunch needed him. His performance was good to enough to earn himself an AHL contract with the organization this past summer. If needed, he's another guy who has proven that he can play at this level.
The Crunch has a nice break this week and doesn't play again until Saturday, when they host the Binghamton Senators at the Onondaga County War Memorial. Syracuse will be looking to win its 22nd opening night as an organization. There's a lot going on in CrunchTown that night, so here's a quick rundown:
- Prior to the game, the Crunch and ESPN Radio and TK99 will host a Party on the Plaza from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Everson Museum Plaza, which is right across the street from the War Memorial. Fans will have the opportunity to get autographs and take photos with scratched Crunch players, play some street hockey, sample some local food trucks, and listen to Brent Axe, who will be on-air live from 5 to 7 p.m.
- ESPY Award winner and former NFL player Devon Still will participate in an opening puck drop ceremony, further cementing his ties to the organization. The Crunch wore No. 75 Devon Still Cincinnati Bengals jerseys during warmups at the Toyota Frozen Dome Classic on Nov. 21, 2014 in tribute to Stills' daughter Leah, who was diagnosed with cancer.
- Oswego Community Night (something near and dear to this blogger's heart, as an Oswego native) will also be this night. Many Oswego businesses have signed up to participate, and raffles will be held to benefit the Oswego YMCA. The Y has come under recent financial stress due to building concerns, and stands to benefit greatly from this kind of event.
Latest Stats for the Syracuse Crunch:
- It was announced earlier this week that Mormina, Blunden, Marchessault and Tambellini will alternate wearing A's this season.
- Gudlevskis has a new mask:
Hello, beautiful here's a closer look at Gudlevskis's new mask, making its pro debut tonight pic.twitter.com/WjVK2ynkAF— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) October 11, 2015