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Syracuse Crunch week 7: The cupboard is bare, but Crunch push on

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Syracuse manages three out of a possible six points during a week that saw their roster grow more and more thin as it went on.

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Scott Thomas

Throw everything--including the kitchen sink--at the other team's goalie, and good things will happen.

That seems to be the lesson the Syracuse Crunch should take away from this past week.

Wednesday night, Syracuse played the last of their six-game homestand versus the Portland Pirates. The Pirates were making their first and only visit to the Onondaga County War Memorial. Syracuse will visit Portland in March, and hopefully by then the first game against them will be nothing but a small footnote in the Crunch's review.

Syracuse was probably hoping to continue to ride the wave of confidence they gained by coming off of a strong weekend where the Crunch's goaltending shined. Unfortunately, an early goal by Portland's Connor Brickley rather deflated the team and they never seemed to recover. The Crunch was lacking three offensive weapons and two dressing room leaders with Joel Vermin, Jonathan Marchessault and Mike Blunden recalled to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and their absence was clearly felt on the ice. The Pirates would score three consecutive goals before Crunch forward Philippe Paradis broke up the scoring party at the 7:59 mark of the third. The Crunch's offense was silenced again from there, and Portland would seal the game with an empty netter with less than a minute left in the game. Kristers Gudlevskis would end the night with 21 saves on 25 shots.

About the only thing really worth noting from that game was that, in the absence of alternate captains Marchessault and Blunden, defenseman Luke Witkowski got his first letter of his Crunch career. Witkowski has been an obvious leader within the Crunch's D core for a few seasons now, so the "A" was certainly well deserved. Leadership positions are not new to him; he was the captain of his team at Western Michigan University during his senior year. It really wouldn't be a surprise to see him with that "A" on his sweater again this season, should he return to the Crunch.

Of course, in the hours following Wednesday's game, a two major things happened: one, the Crunch left for St. John's, and, two, Syracuse's already thin roster took two more huge hits. Captain Mike Angelidis and newly-appointed alternate captain Witkowski were recalled to the Lightning. Although defenseman Matt Taormina was returned to Syracuse - continuing the interesting pattern of Tampa plugging one Syracuse defenseman after another into their roster - many were mystified by the decision to leave the Crunch with only ten forwards and very few dressing room leaders.

Going into their first game against the IceCaps this season, Syracuse had five major role players on recall (four of whom were forwards) - Marchessault, Mike Blunden, Vermin, Angelidis, and Witkowski. With no relief coming, not even in the form of signing a random forward out of the ECHL to a professional tryout, Syracuse was presented with precious few options to fill out their ranks in time for their game. The Crunch ended up dressing defenseman Daniel Walcott as a forward.

However, Syracuse seemed determined to put up as good of a showing as they could despite their decimated roster. The Crunch put up 46 shots on goal throughout regulation, and managed to come from behind twice throughout the course of the game. Henri Ikonen scored his first of the season, while Tye McGinn and Yanni Gourde chipped in with their own tallies. Gourde's goal would tie the game with less than four minutes remaining in the third, while goalie Adam Wilcox staved off St. John's for the rest of the period to force overtime.

Sadly for Syracuse and Wilcox, St. John's Sven Andrighetto would score 50 seconds into the overtime frame to end the game. Wilcox ended with 24 saves on 28 shots. Syracuse put up a season-high 48 shots on goal, a total greatly bolstered by 21 shots during the third period.

The Crunch continued the theme of just putting pucks on net Saturday night. Syracuse flung 14 shots on goal during the first period, doubling up on St. John's seven. Neither team would break through, however - Gudlevskis stayed strong for Syracuse, while Zachary Fucale stopped all of the Crunch's tries.

St. John's would score early in the second with Gabriel Dumont getting one past Gudlevskis, but the Crunch would strike back not long after with forward Jeff Tambellini scoring his fifth of the season. Matthew Peca and Slater Koekkoek earned the assists on Tambellini's tally. Syracuse put up 13 shots during the second period.

Gudlevskis started strong at the start of the third, making a flurry of saves to keep the score tied. Syracuse was fairly impressive during an early penalty kill, a situation created when the team was whistled for too many men on the ice at the 3:21 mark. Of particular note was a shot blocked by defenseman Dylan Blujus mid-way through the penalty, a moment that pretty much saved the kill. Gudlevskis had a strong period throughout the third, which was needed as Syracuse's offense withered. With five minutes remaining in the period, the IceCaps had nine shots on goal, while the Crunch only had three.

After a 12-shot flurry during the third, St. John's ended regulation with 28 shots on goal, while the Crunch finished with 30. For the second time in as many nights, Syracuse found themselves going to overtime against the IceCaps. Gudlevskis continued his strong game, stonewalling the IceCaps three different times during the first minute of overtime.

That performance allowed defenseman Taormina to end the game with less than two minutes remaining in the extra frame. Here's a GIF of his game-winning goal:

The win meant that Syracuse managed three out of a possible six points during a week that saw their roster grow more and more thin as it went on. The Crunch play in Rochester on Wednesday before hosting Toronto Friday, and to say that many are hoping for some reinforcements before those games is probably an understatement. But, the fact that Syracuse worked with what they had this past weekend with a measure of success is commendable for sure.

If they keep that "throw everything" at the goalie philosophy that they seemed to develop this past weekend...imagine how dangerous they could be once they get some personnel back.

Latest Stats for the Syracuse Crunch:

  • Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 8-5-1-1

  • This past week's results: A 4-1 loss to Portland Wednesday, a 4-3 OT loss to St. John's Friday, and a 2-1 OT win at St. John's Saturday.

  • Place in Eastern Conference: 7th

  • Place in North Division: 4th

  • Top scorer: Anthony DeAngelo (3-8-11)
  • Top scoring defenseman: Anthony DeAngelo (3-8-11)

  • Top defenseman, +/-Matt Taormina (+5)

  • Top scoring rookie: Anthony DeAngelo (3-8-11)
A rundown of the AHL's new standings system can be found over at Syracuse.com.

Other transactions, player, and organizational news:

-Friday night's game marked the first time ex-organizational players Mark Barberio and Eric Neilson, both currently with the IceCaps, played in the AHL against their former team. Dustin Tokarski, also an ex-organizational player with the IceCaps, backed up Saturday.

-Wolcott earned his first professional point Friday night with an assist on McGinn's goal.

-Cameron Darcy earned his first professional point Saturday night with the assist on Taormina's game winner.

-Crunch Forward Adam Erne, still out with an upper body injury, said on Saturday that his timetable to return at this point is the weekend after next.

-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 week: