It was rivalry night in Syracuse as the Crunch hosted the Utica Comets at the Onondaga War Memorial Arena. When the two teams met just a few weeks ago in pre-season action the end result favored the hometown team. Tonight, though, not so much as Utica picked apart the Crunch's blueliners en route to a 5-4 victory
Utica got the offense going early in the opening period when Utica defenseman Chad Billins sent a knuckle-puck from the blueline through traffic and past Crunch net-minder Kristers Gudlevskis. That power-play tally came at the 1:58 mark of the first frame.
Just two minutes later the Comets offense struck again when Utica center Michael Chaput won a face-off straight back to Alexandre Grenier who then one-timed it past Gudlevskis to take the early 2-0 lead.
"When you start the game and you’re down by two goals as quick as tonight, it’s tough." Said Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx.
Syracuse was able to get one back three minutes later when Slater Koekkoek found a wide-open Gabriel Dumont in the slot. Dumont wristed it past the low stick side of Comets goaltender Richard Bachman. Dumont’s tally cut the Comets lead to 2-1.
At the 8:35 mark of the first period, the French Canadian duo of Michael Bournival and newly-named alternate captain Dumont struck gold for Syracuse yet again. The chemistry between the former IceCaps teammates has been on showcase since the Crunch took to the ice in the preseason. Even though Syracuse was shorthanded, Bournival attacked the Comets hard on the forecheck before creating a turnover in the right corner and feeding Dumont in the left circle. Somehow, Dumont's wide shot ricocheted off of Bournival and into the back of the Comets net. This knotted the contest at two. The goal was Bournival’s third in as many games.
"I’ve played with him for the last three years, most of the time he’s on a line with me," Bournival said. "We’re playing in our structure and we’re playing a certain way, and it’s easy to read."
Utica was quick to answer back as just 32 seconds later Michael Carcone and Jayson Megna played pitch and catch on an odd-man rush before easily sliding the puck past a sprawling Gudlevskis to retake a 3-2 lead.
The first period scoring ended the same way it started as Utica cashed in once more off of a turnover. Grenier pick-pocketed a Crunch defenseman and sauced a pass in the direction of Curtis Valk. Valk crushed a shot past the glove side of Gudlevskis.
That would be all of the action that Gudlevskis would see after being pulled by head coach Benoit Groulx to start the second period. Gudlevskis allowed four goals on just eight Utica shots. But, according to Groulx, Gudlevskis really didn’t have much of a chance.
"I don’t want to blame Gudlevskis for this game because I think the team was not playing well in the first period," Groulx said. "It’s too easy to put the blame on the goalie."
The Crunch swung a little bit of momentum in their favor at the beginning of the middle frame when Dumont scored a beauty of a goal for his second marker of the game. The puck found itself on his stick, even though he had his back facing the Utica goaltender. He swung around, sending a blind back-handed shot into the top right corner of the cage.
Megna extended the Comets lead to 5-3 at the 12:35 mark of the regulation period. The Crunch were able to ignite one last spark of hope in the Crunch faithful via a tip in front by Bournival on the power play, with Dylan Blujus and Cory Conacher getting the assists on the goal. The comeback was not to be, however, with Megna's goal standing as the final nail in the coffin. The Crunch's effort ultimately came up short with the team falling 5-4.
"We have the guys in the room to win," Crunch captain Luke Witkowski said. "I think the biggest difference tonight was the first period. I know we have the ability and we have the grit to win hockey games."
Dumont finished the game with three points and was named the number one star of the contest. The resiliency of the team this early in the season earned praise from head coach Benoit Groulx.
"I’m happy with the way we bounced back," Groulx said. "Our first period was difficult, but we battled hard and we were there to the end."
The Crunch are back in action Saturday at Wilkes-Barre Scranton.