The season opening home-and-home series with the Rochester Americans didn’t quite go as planned for Ben Groulx and his Syracuse Crunch. After a 3-to-1 loss on Friday at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, the Crunch returned back to the Salt City to kick off the 24th consecutive season of hockey in the ‘ol barn.
The Crunch is a young and inexperienced team that is still searching for cohesiveness with their line pairings as the players simultaneously learn a whole new offensive and defensive system. What does this mean? It means that in the early going of the season the Crunch are going to have to help themselves as much as possible if they want to win hockey games. Staying out of the penalty box, going to the dirty areas, and getting bounces will all be important for a team that has yet to gel and find their identity.
The bad news? On Saturday night, everything that could go wrong for the home team did. Things looked promising off the jump as Syracuse flew out of the gate behind a loud chorus of “Lets go Crunch” chants that seemed to fuel their fire in the early going. The Amerks were held without a shot for the first ten minutes of the period. Syracuse hit the post twice but ultimately couldn’t get one past Americans goaltender Adam Wilcox.
In the midst of the Crunch buzzing and creating pressure, Syracuse blue-liner Ben Thomas was whistled for a tripping penalty that sent the still shot-less Amerks to the man advantage. Just 25 ticks into the power play, the bad guys lit the lamp to take a 1-to-0 lead on their first official shot of the game against Crunch rookie goalie Connor Ingram,
Roughly six minutes later, a familiar face would send a jolt of energy through the War Memorial Arena that hadn’t been heard since the 2016-2017 division and conference banners had been raised before puck drop. Ben Thomas collected a drop-off pass from Matthew Peca deep in the left wing circle and seamlessly threaded the puck through traffic to a wide open Cory Conacher who notched what is likely just one of many goals to come this season. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that the first goal of the night was executed by three returning players.
After 20 minutes of play, the score could have easily been 3-to-1 in favor of the Crunch but two shots off the post and five penalties halted a lot of their momentum. A penalty assessed late in the first period to Crunch defenseman Jamie McBain carried over into the middle stanza. While Syracuse was able to kill it off, but the Amerks found the twine again just after the penalty expired. Former Grand Rapids Griffin Kyle Criscuolo scored to regain the lead for the Amerks and give Crunch fans a sour taste of deja vu: Criscuolo was part of the Griffins squad that won the Calder Cup against Syracuse last season.
The one real good takeaway from the contest was the resiliency of the team, a characteristic that is becoming synonymous with teams coached by Ben Groulx. Just past the mid-way point of the third period, Crunch forward Mitchell Stephens back-handed a pass to Kevin Lynch who was all alone just outside the blue paint for an easy tap-in. With the game tied at two, the Crunch and the Amerks headed to OT.
All alone on the backdoor. pic.twitter.com/fOV702o1Zf— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) October 8, 2017
The overtime period wouldn’t take long at all. Groulx sent out the three-man line of Anthony Cirelli, Conacher, and McBain to try and get the job done but after an ill-advised shot from Conacher, Mcbain struggled to get back on defense and Rochester forward Kevin Porter buried the game winning goal just 39 seconds into the extra frame. Ingram ended the game having stopped 16 out of just 18 Rochester shots while Wilcox turned aside 24 out of the 26 shots he faced.
Syracuse returns to the War Memorial next Friday for their first matchup against the Belleville Senators.