With the 2016 Calder Cup Finals completed and 2015-16 adjourned for the AHL, it's time to start looking forward to the 2016-2017 Syracuse Crunch season. Many questions are yet to be answered and in today's entry we will take a look at one important question in particular. When the Crunch take to the ice in October, who will don the "C"?
When the Tampa Bay Lightning came in to Syracuse in the fall of 2012 they brought with them a winning mentality and a boat load of character. The majority of the character lay in the chest of veteran center Mike Angelidis. In the season prior, Angelidis captained his Norfolk Admirals squad on an unprecedented 28 game winning streak en route to a Calder Cup Championship. The very next year in the salt city, Angelidis again helped take his team to the Cup Finals where the Crunch came up just two wins short of the Crunch franchise's first ever league title.
In his four seasons as the leader of Syracuse, Angelidis scored 50 goals to go along with 60 assists, yet Mike's role goes far beyond his on ice statistics. Angelidis has quickly become the face of Syracuse Crunch hockey and has been front and center of every charity event, celebrity bartending night, and meet-and-greet. Most importantly, the Crunch captain established the "Change for Change" program, an incentive for Crunch fans and the Syracuse community as a whole to donate money for the Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital to combat cancer.
Off of the ice, Mikes second to absolutely nobody. However, after a fairly dismal season on the ice, some within the Syracuse fanbase think his time in Syracuse is up.
If Angelidis doesn't return to the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, who are the front runners to earn the "C" for AHL Syracuse? Here's my take:
The 29 year old veteran will be entering his 12th professional season when the puck drops in October. A hockey journeyman, Blunden has produced offensively and defensively everywhere he has suited up. After suffering a season ending ACL injury in the 2014-2015 season, Blunden bounced back and was a catalyst for a Crunch offense that struggled much of this year. The Toronto native hit the back of the net 21 times for the baby Bolts and had 17 helpers for a total of 38 points. Now in his second stint with the Crunch (the first coming with Columbus in 2008) Blunden knows the city well and is always one of the guys at the front and center of every community event. Add that to the fact that he is still one of the best two-way forwards in the league and you have a match made in heaven.
If Mike Angelidis isn't to return in October, I think Witkowski is the overwhelming front-runner to be re-signed by the Bolts/Crunch with the intention of giving him the role as captain. While WItkowski's play is sometimes very inconsistent within his own zone, he plays his role extremely well. The former Western Michigan standout plays a very blue collar game which is something that resonates heavily with the blue collar fan base in the 'Cuse. He steps up for his teammates, blocks shots, and is a perfect fit in head coach Benoit Groulx's gritty and hardworking system.
Perhaps one of the most underrated talents within the organization is third year pro Jake Dotchin. The native of Cambridge Ontario is another guy who will fit exceptionally within the Benoit Groulx system. While Dotchin is always there to drop the gloves to defend his teammates or to spark some energy, his one knock is his short temper. Harnessed and used in the right situations though, the 6-foot-three 207 pound blue-liner has all of the tools necessary to be a leader.
This is just one mans thoughts. What are yours?