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Some honesty: Looking towards the Syracuse Crunch’s new season

Time to truly say goodbye to last season.

Scott Thomas

I wasn’t ready.

I had all summer to prepare myself, yet I just wasn’t ready.

I wasn’t ready for someone to look at me, smile, and say, “Last season was certainly exciting for you guys, wasn’t?”

I wanted to be ready. I wanted to be ready to agree with the enthusiasm I know is within me. I wanted to be ready to spout off like I normally do, to bubble over with the love I have for this team and for the guys who ground themselves down to the bone for it - for us - last season.

But I couldn’t, because somehow, some way, I wasn’t ready.

Instead, I fumbled over my answer, desperately searching for words while my mind flashed back to standing in Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids on that hot night last June. I was completely stuck in my head for the rest of the conversation, reliving the memories of seeing the hearts of the players on my team break while my friends and I worked to hold ourselves together (with varying degrees of success).

What I did eventually manage to say was true: this time, enjoying the ride to the championship round was easier than it was in 2013, when the heady elixir of excitement and pee-your-pants anxiety combined to turn me into a sobbing mess after our first Conference championship win. Yes, I know; I was the one who spilled about discussing my anxiety and potential to vomit regularly on Twitter just this past May. Still, I meant it when I said that last season’s run was, in general, more enjoyable.

As a fan base, we knew what to expect, win or lose. Yes, the end result for us in 2017 certainly wasn’t desirable. But the run to get there was so unexpected and exhilarating that it’s almost difficult to compare it to the one we practically predicted in 2013. It was different. It was magical.

If I know all of that, you might find yourself asking, why then was I so unprepared for that seemingly appropriate question? Well, you see, I sort of spent all summer avoiding absolutely any negative emotion about what happened at all.

In hindsight, that was not the best plan.

When “Believer” by Imagine Dragons would come on the radio, I forced myself to smile and remember the amazing moments. When the team started to be assembled and so much change came sweeping through, I attached any overall sadness and/or frustration to the overarching scheme of things and not to the loss of the championship. Not to the loss of the family that had fought so hard for it. I did what I felt that family deserved.

I realize now that was foolish. That team was a family, and the fans were their extended family, and it ****ing hurts for such a family to lose a league championship. It’s okay to admit that, and it’s okay to take time to acknowledge that hurt. If you’re a Crunch fan and you haven’t done that yet, I urge you to. This is important. Really important.

It’s important because it’s time to move on, whether we’re ready or not.

It’s opening weekend in Syracuse. The 2017-18 Crunch played their first regular season game last night in Rochester, and will play their second tonight at home in their cozy Onondaga County War Memorial. Fans in attendance will be treated to a miniature banner honoring the Crunch’s second Eastern Conference championship. What will surely be a touching and professional highlight reel from last season will be shown. The real version of that miniature banner will be raised. Then the puck will drop and everything last season’s family accomplished will truly be nothing but a memory.

And that’s okay.

Really.

Yes, we’ve had a lot of change. Yes, what happened last June still hurts a little—or maybe a lot, or maybe somewhere in between—and that’s okay, too. But tonight is a night to celebrate the good in what happened and to look to the future, a future that looks so bright.

Syracuse is poised to have a potentially potent mix of young, raw, eager talent and experienced and motivated veterans. Yes, the Crunch is going to be young...

...But those youngsters will be bolstered by a crop of players ready to help guide and lead.

The Crunch released the list of players who have been honored with a letter this season Thursday, a list that is truly representative of the team’s past and its future. Seven Crunch players are going to rotate as the team’s alternate captains this season:

The number is unusually large for an AHL team. Having that many alternate captains is certainly unprecedented in the Crunch’s history. When asked about the number, Syracuse head coach Ben Groulx had the following to say to Syracuse.com:

We think that those guys are veterans in the league, veterans on our team. We could have had more, but at one point you've got to limit yourself. I think five, six is a good number. We went to seven because we think that we had to go to seven. We have so many new guys. We've got to get to know each other. So for us, it's a good opportunity to share the leadership among those guys and see how they do, how they lead the team, how they react.

Looking at that logic, all of those players are certainly deserving of the letter. Matthew Peca has 142 AHL games under his belt, all with the Crunch. He also has 25 playoff games. Tye McGinn has played in 257 total AHL games over the course of his career, 94 of which have been with Syracuse. He’s also played in 22 playoff games, all with the Crunch last season. Daniel Walcott has 118 regular season games and 13 playoff games with Syracuse.

Cory Conacher has played in 223 AHL games, 93 of which were with Syracuse. He also has 70 games of AHL playoff experience under his belt, including a Calder Cup win with Norfolk in 2012. Reid McNeill has played in 237 AHL regular season contests and 31 AHL playoff games. Mat Bodie has notched 214 games and 15 playoff games. Jamie McBain has 150 regular season AHL games and 8 playoff games.

All of these guys are well qualified to be alternate captains in this league, and it’s a comfort to know that our dressing room leadership is covered when the inevitable parade of call-ups begin. It is assumed by all that Erik Condra will wear the C again for the Crunch once he finishes rehabbing and clears waivers. His experience and calm professionalism is invaluable on a team so young.

This season has much potential. Win or lose, one thing is certain: it’s time to embrace a new season with new opportunities and new memories just waiting to be made.

It’s Crunch Time, friends.

Have fun tonight.