Syracuse Crunch hockey has officially returned to the salt city for the 2016-2017 season having swept the weekend in impressive fashion against the Utica Comets. Saturday nights contest at the War Memorial Arena in downtown Syracuse marked the beginning of a new era in Crunch history. For the first time in four years, Syracuse took to the ice without Mike Angelidis as their captain. Instead, a plethora of new faces donned the Crunch sweater under the guidance of newly hired head coach Benoit Groulx. After a three to one victory Saturday night and a two to one win Sunday at the Utica Auditorium, here's what we can take away from the weekends preseason action:
New faces are producing early:
The primary focus of the Tampa Bay Lightning this off-season (after signing Steven Stamkos) was acquiring depth that could be top contributors in Syracuse and were capable of helping the big club if their number was called upon. That depth came in the form of NHL vets Jeremy Morin, Gabriel Dumont, Mike Halmo and Michael Bournival.
The welcome to town party for the new "Crunchers" began early in the first period on Saturday night when Michael Bournival got the secondary assist on Adam Erne's first tally of preseason play. For Bournival, the fun wasn't over just yet. Later on in the first period former St. John's IceCaps captain Gabriel Dumont accepted a beautiful feed out in front from his old teammate and made no mistake about it burying a backhand shot past Utica goaltender Thatcher Demko. Auburn New York native Jeremy Morin was fairly silent on Saturday but that all changed on Sunday when he netted the first goal of the game with an assist coming from former New York Islanders prospect Mike Halmo. Together, the group combined for two goals and four assists for a weekend total of seven points. Not shabby eh?
The Crunch have two #1 goalies:
Let's first start off by establishing the fact that even though some will disagree, Kristers Gudlevskis was a much better goaltender last season than his statistics may suggest. With that said, Gudlevskis began his season between the pipes for the Crunch on Sunday and although he didn't face an overwhelming amount of shots, the fourth year pro looked sharp when tested. His rebound control was solid, he seemed to have a good read on the puck through traffic, and he didn't fold in tough situations having single-handedly kept the puck out of his net when the Comets came down on a three on nothing. Gudlevskis backstopped the Crunch to a two to one victory stopping 18 out of 19 Comets shots. He is a clear cut number one goaltender at the AHL level that is knocking on the door of full time NHL backup duty.
Second year pro Adam Wilcox was beyond impressive in his start Saturday night at the ol' barn. The Crunch scored three goals within the first seven minutes of the contest to give the former Minnesota Golden Gophers standout a cushion and it was a lead that was never relinquished. Wilcox looked sharp all night long making a number of difficult saves and not giving up a goal until halfway through the third period. Vancouver Canucks prospect Jordan Subban snuck one through traffic on the power play from the left circle and ended Wilcox's shutout bid. Wilcox finished the evening stopping 29 out of 30 shots en route to a Crunch victory.
Crunch defensive core is back and looking poised, but for how long? :
The crunch return seven of eight blue-liners this year and some could argue that it may not be a good thing for the club. It's no secret that the team has struggled to keep the puck out of their own net, move the puck effectively on the break out, and limit grade 'A' chances for the other team over the course of the past two seasons. This weekend however, the team (behind stellar goaltending) only surrendered two goals to a talented Utica team. Guys like Matt Taormina, Jake Dotchin, and Dylan Blujus looked solid on the man advantage moving the puck crisply and putting shots on net when there was a lane to shoot. It's a small sampling size but it is certainly a promising sign for the rest of the 2017-2017 campaign.
The next time the Crunch are in action it will be for real. Opening night is set for Saturday October 15th as the Crunch host the Rochester Americans to begin their 23rd season in the American Hockey League.