The year that was 2016 seemed to have provided many more low points in Syracuse than it did high ones. Although 2015-16 was another season of mediocrity that left Crunch fans understandably frustrated with their hometown hockey club, things slowly started to look up as the year wore on. Given that, there were a few special moments that fans could cheer about.
Here is our top 5 Syracuse Crunch moments of the year 2016:
5: The return of Cory Conacher
Since the infamous trade in the spring of 2013 that saw the 2012 AHL most valuable player sent to the Ottawa Senators for current Lightning net-minder Ben Bishop, Conacher has had a tough time finding a city to call home for more than just a few months. After bouncing around both the NHL and AHL, Conacher was able to settle down in Utica for a short time, helping the Comets reach the 2015 Calder Cup Finals. In the year that followed, the former Canisius Griff took his talents to SC Bern of the Swiss league where he went on to be a pivotal piece of a Bern team that won the championship.
Once a fan favorite in his abbreviated stint in Syracuse during the 2012 lockout, the 27 year old center returned to the Salt City this past October and has done nothing but produce since. He has not lost a step and has been a big part of the Crunch’s early season success. In 20 games played, he has compiled four goals and 12 assists for a total of 16 points. His strong work ethic and admirable attitude has once again elevated him to the status of fan favorite in the ‘Cuse.
4: Tanner Richard makes NHL debut
Tanner Richard has arguably been the Crunch’s most consistent player on the ice for the last three seasons now. His silky hands, natural playmaking ability and effortless skating has left many questioning why it took so long for the former third round pick to get his shot. Combine his offensive prowess with his gritty demeanor away from the puck and what you have is a hockey player you hate to play against but love to have on your side.
In 24 games this year with the Crunch, the 23 year old Richard has netted seven goals with ten helpers for a total of 17 points. Three of those goals came in a contest that saw the Crunch thrash North Divison rivals Rochester 7-2 on November 12th. It was Richard’s first career professional hat-trick.
Richard impressed enough to earn himself a recall to the big club where he was set to finally make his NHL debut on Decemeber 17th against the Edmonton Oilers. In a heartbreaking turn of events, Richard’s flight was delayed and he was forced back to Syracuse. He wouldn’t have to wait long for another chance at achieving his dream as he was again recalled by the lightning and took the ice for the Bolts on December 20th.
Absolute dream come true playing in my first NHL game. Thank you to everyone that has supported me along the way and helped me get here. pic.twitter.com/Dg20ORJeXf— Tanner Richard (@Trichard71) December 24, 2016
3: Mike Angelidis is an All-Star
(Hey, readers! Did someone say, “Mike Angelidis”? Yup, this is Alex Ackerman, shoving Brandon aside yet again just because he mentioned a certain guy. I’m like the bad penny that won’t go away.)
When the AHL announced that Syracuse would be hosting the league’s All-Star festivities for the first time since 1997, many were more excited than usual to see which players from Syracuse were going to be chosen to participate. In a fitting move, it was announced not long before the event that Mike Angelidis had been chosen as an honorary captain for the Eastern Conference. This meant that he would be able to participate fully in the event even though he was a bit older and less flashy than the league’s traditional selections.
To many in Syracuse, Angelidis had become the ultimate example of an AHL Captain. At the time, he was in his fourth year as Captain of the Crunch, and there were not many before him who had set the example he had. Self-sacrificing to end, Angelidis was a huge component to any success Syracuse saw from the second half of 2012 to the first half of 2016.
Unfortunately, giving such a large part of himself to his team had appeared to dampen Angie’s enthusiasm for the game. It was clear that the stress was wearing on him during the first part of the 2015-2016 season. Hockey just didn’t seem fun for him, and it was sad to see him lose that part of it.
Participating in the AHL All-Star Classic brought some of that fun back to Angelidis. Fans who attended the event got to see him take advantage of every moment. He interacted with fans along the boards during the Skills Competition. He took selfies on the bench with his Crunch teammates:
It was clear that getting the chance to be there meant a lot to him. It meant a lot to the fans in Syracuse, too. Angie’s charity work in Syracuse was showcased in all of the publicity leading up to the event, and it was wonderful to see all of the good he had done for the team and for the Syracuse community front and center. Most of all, the entirety of the event was a fitting tribute to him, especially seeing as that season would be his last with the Crunch.
If there was a Top 5 Syracuse Crunch Moments that Made Alex Cry in 2016, Angie leaving would pretty much fill every space on that countdown. His selection for this special event was certainly a high moment for those that cheered for the Crunch and for him.
2: Groulx hired on as new Crunch head coach
When Jon Cooper was promoted in March of 2012 to take over the head coaching job in Tampa Bay, then Crunch assistant coach Rob Zettler was the guy to take the reins behind the bench in Syracuse. Zettler went on to coach Syracuse to their first ever Calder Cup final appearance where they came up just two wins short of capturing a league title.
In the three seasons that followed, the Crunch missed the playoffs twice and stumbled backwards in to the playoffs in 2015. They were soundly handled in a three game sweep by the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. Crunch fans clamored for the better part of two years for a change and their cries for help were finally heard when Zettler was relieved of his duties in May of 2016.
Zettler’s replacement came in the form of former QMJHL “Coach of the Year” Benoit Groulx. The accomplished Groulx marched in to Syracuse and to this point has taken a Crunch roster that has been depleted by injuries and recalls to the top of the North Division. It was announced by the AHL on Wednesday December 28th that Groulx would be the coach of the division when this year’s All Star festivities head to Lehigh Valley. Groulx has brought a certain swagger to the War Memorial ice this year and has once again turned the Crunch into a winning hockey club. For that, he is number two on our list.
1: Crunch gets off to their best start in four seasons
The eve of a new year is here and the Syracuse Crunch is atop the North Division despite a plethora of long term injuries and recalls. It seems like the depth on this roster has been tested on a weekly basis, and guys have stepped up to fill those vacant roles.
One pleasant surprise is that the “veteran curse” seemed to skip over the Crunch this year. New additions Gabriel Dumont, Michael Bournival, and Mike Halmo have all been very good to this point. In even better news, second year pro goaltender Adam Wilcox has surprisingly launched himself into a category with the league’s best goalies, showing a maturity and a talent for handling pressure that not many expected so soon in his professional career.
All indicators point towards a very successful 2016-2017 campaign for a Crunch team that is still looking for its first league title. The last time the Crunch got off to a start like this, they competed for a Calder Cup. It could be a fun 2017 for Syracuse Crunch fans!