Crunch fans packed the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, New York last October to welcome their 2015-2016 Syracuse Crunch into town. The dust had finally settled on what had been a disastrous collapse just six months prior at the War Memorial Arena. Fans had heard all of the hype of rookie prospects Matthew Peca, Anthony DeAngelo, and Adam Erne. They knew the offensive capabilities and leadership that veteran free agent signees Tye McGinn, Mike Blunden, and Jeff Tambellini brought to the table. Add those factors to an already young and talented team and what you have is a group that should be able to compete at a high level night in and night out.
That wasn't the case though. Why? Who is to blame? What do Crunch fans have to look forward to next season? Here are four things we learned this season.
Syracuse Head Coach Rob Zettler has been highly scrutinized by Crunch fans over the course of the past two seasons. Now coming off of his third full season as the Crunch leader, Zettler has compiled a record of 104 wins, 86 regulation loses, and 38 overtime/shootout losses. In his three full years, he has led the Crunch to the playoffs once which resulted in being swept by Wilkes Barre Scranton Penguins in three games during the 2014-2015 campaign. Is he to blame for the recent lull in the salt city?
Personally, I don't know. I do know that I'm willing to give him another chance. Whether it be under performing veterans (ie. Jerome Samson), late blooming prospects, injuries, or Tampa's ignorance of said injuries, I do not think Zettler has ever been dealt a real fair hand. It's difficult for a head coach to ice a winning hockey team when he is forced to have an entire starting lineup comprised almost entirely of defensmen. Don't believe me? Trust me, it happened. Just ask Hershey.
Don't get me wrong though, I do question a lot of Zettler's lines and in-game coaching decisions, but I am willing to give him one more season to right the ship in Syracuse. Let's see what the team looks like at the 2017 AHL All Star Break and if you don't like what you see, it's time to pull the trigger.
Syracuse GM Julien BriseBois certainly did a good job in the off-season acquiring proven AHL and NHL talent so I cannot discredit him there. It's the lack of adjustments in the midst of the season that bewilders me and every other Crunch fan I have come across. As mentioned above, it's ludicrous to have to put three defensemen up front once, but it happened for at least three or four games in a row. It's professional hockey. There are players everywhere that are looking to get signed to a PTO and yet when the Crunch were in trouble, nothing happened. Deal with it.
The Crunch played on and struggled for most of the season and when the trade deadline came along, again, nothing. BriseBois remained adamant that the team he had put together was in the hunt for the playoffs, nothing happened. I fondly recall this organization stating that the best development is winning. Over the past two seasons that motto has been forgotten.
The Hype Is Real:
Now I don't want to be all negative. There were a few bright spots in the season. The skinny? The rookies are good. Very good. Rookie pros Matt Peca, Adam Erne, Anthony DeAngelo, and Adam Wilcox stormed on to the scene and made an immediate impact.
Matt Peca despite a long term injury was able to put together quite an impressive season tallying 43 points in 65 games played (8g, 35a). He will likely be the number one guy down the middle for Syracuse next season.
Adam Erne, like Peca, suffered a long term injury at the beginning of the year and as a result it took him a while to get going. He has a pretty good shot and is not afraid to use his size and mix it up in the blue paint. In 59 games he compiled 29 points (14g, 15a). Look for the power forward to have his breakout season in 2016-2017.
Anthony DeAngelo, a first round pick by Tampa in 2014, had an interesting rookie campaign. DeAngelo got off to a quick start scoring early and often but quickly came to a screeching halt. Inconsistent play and rumored off ice issues earned him multiple healthy scratches. In 69 games played, the 19 year old New Jersey native scored 43 points (6g, 37a). He has a ridiculous skill set and has the ability to be a star at the next level someday. The 2016-2017 season should be a very telling one for the man they call Tony Dee.
Adam Wilcox played his first full professional season with the Crunch this year and didn't disappoint. He played much better than his 3.34 GAA would suggest. I think he has a legitimate shot at the number one goaltender spot with the Crunch next year.
The Curse Is Broken:
Two good things in a row? This just can't be! Anybody who has followed Syracuse hockey within the last few year knows of their woes when it comes to proven AHL scorers being signed in the off-season. It seems like just yesterday Crunch fans were jumping for joy when minor league sniper Jerome Samson was brought in to be an offensive leader. He then went on to score just once in his first 26 games. Or better yet, remember when it was announced back in 2010-2011 that Jason Jaffray had been inked to a deal and then magically somehow ended up in Manitoba before even donning a Crunch jersey?
For the first time in recent memory, veteran scorers came to the War Memorial and produced at a very high level. I wont bore you with words, I'll let the numbers do the talking for me:
- Jeff Tambellini: 29g + 20a = 49pts
- Tye McGinn: 20g + 24a = 44pts
- Matt Taormina: 13g + 28a = 41pts
There ya have it folks, my four big takeaways from this past season. A lot of questions will be answered in the coming months as far as the roster makeup for next season. Does Mike Angelidis return? Who will be brought back? Does Tanner Richard and Slater Koekkoek make Tampa out of camp? It should be a fun summer and it will all be covered right here on Raw Charge!