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Syracuse Crunch week six: Rivalries abound

The Syracuse Crunch played two major rivalry and divisional games this past weekend, and the goalies were the talk of the town.

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Scott Thomas

One of the major things that's been missing from the Syracuse Crunch's crease for the past few seasons is a good, old fashioned competition for the number one goalie on the team. Ideally, AHL tandems contain an element of friendly competition between two competent netminders. The presence of that competition not only points to great organizational depth, but it also creates an atmosphere that can push and steer player development to higher heights than what might have been managed without it.

In 2013-2014, what could have been a good, friendly fight between fan favorite Cedrick Desjardins and goalie Riku Helenius turned into an awkward situation that was eventually resolved with the termination of Helenius' contract. In Helenius' place, Kristers Gudlevskis rose quickly within the organization. His magical season catapulted him to a top-3 position in the overall organizational depth chart with little competition.

Last season could have featured a close competition between Gudlevskis and Andrei Vasilevskiy, but Vasilevskiy quickly showed that he was beyond a need for AHL seasoning. He eclipsed an uncharacteristically stagnant Gudlevskis and was with the Tampa Bay Lightning by February. Syracuse was then left with a choice between Gudlevskis and Allen York, the latter of whom is mostly in the organization for insurance purposes only. York only played eight games with the Crunch once Vasilevskiy went up, and was never really considered as serious competition for the number one spot in Syracuse.

Going into this season, Crunch fans knew that their main tandem would be Gudlevskis and rookie Adam Wilcox, but that's about all that was known for sure. For Gudlevskis, this season was predicted as his "put up or shut up" season from the very start, especially as Wilcox's learning curve was tested for the first time professionally. Whether either player would rise to the occasion was unknown, but if this past weekend was any indication, the Crunch might just finally have a little competition on their hands.

Syracuse played two major rivalry and divisional games this past weekend, and the goalies were definitely the talk of the town. Wilcox started Friday night against the Binghamton Senators, allowing three goals on 36 shots. Those three goals came during the first and second periods, and were, perhaps, more due to the play of the team in front of him than anything Wilcox was or wasn't doing. Syracuse put up a rather anemic 11 shots through two periods, scoring only one goal (thanks to Matthew Peca), and didn't exactly play its best.

However, a visibly renewed Crunch appeared during the third period, and shone from top to bottom. Wilcox made nine saves on nine shots, and pretty much every save was a game-saver. The Crunch scored twice on the power play during the period, with goals from Joel Vermin and Tye McGinn. The new energy on the ice pushed the game to overtime, and the Crunch would win with less than two minutes remaining. Jeff Tambellini would get the tally, and Wilcox would get the number one star of the game.

The Utica Comets rolled into town on Saturday, and although Wilcox had the hot hand, Gudlevskis was tapped to start the game. The netminder would go on to turn in his best performance in the AHL in recent memory, looking much like his old, cool, calm self. Gudlevskis made 47 saves on 48 shots, plucking the Crunch from the fire several times while keeping the game within reach for his teammates. Vermin and Peca would score for Syracuse, who won the night by a final score of 2-1.

The first star of the game would go to Gudlevskis, who was especially sharp during a pivotal penalty kill at the start of the third. Yanni Gourde was already in the box for a high-sticking double-minor when defenseman Nikita Nesterov was whistled for two minutes, also for high sticking. The timing of the penalties left Syracuse down two players for a whopping two full minutes of time. Once that was done, the Crunch then had to waste the rest of Gourde's double-minor. In what turned out to be a beautiful showing of how to kill a penalty, the Comets were kept off the board by a combination of Gudlevskis and PK warriors like Captain Mike Angelidis and defenseman Luke Witkowski.

All in all, to say this past weekend was an encouraging one would be an understatement. It was great for all to feel confident regardless of who was in net. The Crunch plays at home on Wednesday against Portland before flying out to St. John's for two back-to-back games this weekend, and to be able to bring that kind of feeling with them will be a boon indeed.

Latest Stats for the Syracuse Crunch:

  • Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 7-4-0-1

  • This past week's results: A 4-3 OT win Friday night vs. Binghamton and a 2-1 regulation win Saturday night vs. Utica.

  • Place in Eastern Conference: 5th

  • Place in North Division: 3rd

  • Top scorer: Anthony DeAngelo (3-7-10)
  • Top scoring defenseman: Anthony DeAngelo (3-7-10)

  • Top defenseman, +/-Matt Taormina (+4)

  • Top scoring rookie: Anthony DeAngelo (3-7-10)
A rundown of the AHL's new standings system can be found over at Syracuse.com.

Other transactions, player, and organizational news:

-Defenseman Matt Taormina was recalled to the Tampa Bay Lightning this past week, while defenseman Nesterov made a return to the Crunch for the second time in as many weeks.

-Witkowski had a multi-point game this past Friday, earning two assists against Binghamton.

-Wilcox got his first professional point Friday, an assist on Vermin's goal.

-The Syracuse Crunch are holding a Movember Mustache Challenge throughout the month of November to raise funds for prostate cancer research at Upstate University Hopsital and spread awareness of the disease, which affects about one in seven men. See their website for more information, pictures, and donation links.

-The Crunch are again participating in a Change for Change initiative this season, and are hoping to raise even more than last season with an extended campaign. Change for Change is an initiative created by Crunch captain Mike Angelidis and his teammates that aims to raise money for pediatric cancer research at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital and help improve the odds for children with cancer. All TampaCuse fans can help out by donating through their Go Fund Me page.

Syracuse Crunch media highlights:

  • The Crunch's SoundCloud has been updated with broadcasts and player interviews from the past week.
  • A rundown of the Crunch's promotional schedule so far can be found on their website.
  • Be sure to use the hashtags #SyrCrunch, #BelieveInBlue, and #TampaCuse when tweeting about the team.
  • Video highlights from Syracuse's games this past weekend: