2017 was undoubtedly one of the most memorable seasons in the 23 years that the Syracuse Crunch have called the War Memorial Arena home. It wasn't always pretty but a plethora of different players contributed to the team’s success.
We had goal scorers, playmakers, grinders, agitators, and just about every other role player one could imagine. They all brought something different to the team that eventually pushed them to the brink of a Calder Cup Championship. Now that the dust has settled on the season and blood pressures have returned to a normal state, it’s time to hand out the 2017 year-end awards.
While I don’t disagree that Crunch defenseman Jake Dotchin had a stellar season, I believe that Swiss winger Joel Vermin improved his game and elevated his play more than any other player on the Crunch roster in 2017. It really took awhile for the 25 year old third year pro to come into his own in the AHL, but down the stretch, was there anybody better than Joel Vermin?
This past season he matched a career high in goals tallying 13 to go along with 19 helpers for a solid 32 points. It was in the post-season that the 2013 seventh round pick of the Lightning really began to shine though. In 22 games played, Vermin dented the back of the net an impressive nine times which was good for second on the team behind only Cory Conacher. Without Joel Vermin, I don’t see the Crunch playing until June. A year ago, Vermin wasn’t the offensive threat that he is today and for that, he is given the nod for most improved player.
Defenseman of the year:
In all 92 games that Crunch blueliner Matt Taormina appeared in this past season, he was the team’s rock. At 30 years of age, the former Providence college alum and Crunch mainstay, put together his best season of professional hockey to date. In the regular season he put up a mind-blowing 15 goals and 45 assists to capture the Eddie Shore award for the best defenseman in the league.
The savvy veteran was far from done however as he contributed another 20 points in the playoffs which was good for third on the Crunch roster. Taormina brings much more than what you see on the ice night in and night out. He’s highly respected in the locker room and has been a staple in the Syracuse community all four years he has been in the salt city. His play on the ice, his leadership, and his commitment to giving back to the fans, has earned Matt Taormina the label of best Crunch defenseman for 2017.
This category was very hard to narrow down to just one player in particular because so many guys fit this description perfectly. Gritty and hardworking players Like Daniel Walcott, Kevin Lynch, and Michael Bournival come to mind almost immediately. For me however, nobody was more consistent than 6-foot-5 and 215 pound defenseman Mathieu Brodeur.
Brodeur isn’t a guy that is going to light up the boxscore but you do know exactly what you’re going to get every single time he steps onto the ice. A 2008 third round pick by the Arizona Coyotes, Brodeur has been the epitome of a minor league journeymen. After an impactful start to the campaign with the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL, the Crunch, who were hurting on the back-end due to injuries and call-ups decided to give the big man a chance.
Syracuse inked the stay-at-home D-man to what seemed like a quick PTO. Roughly one month later, Syracuse signed Brodeur to an AHL contract for the remainder of the season. In 56 regular season games with the Crunch, Brodeur scored three goals to go along with 10 assists. He skated in all 22 game of the Calder Cup playoffs for Syracuse notching a goal and three assists. Not too shabby for a guy brought in on a whim eh? Mathieu Brodeur’s story is almost as awe-inspiring as the Syracuse Cinderella story season as a whole.
I don’t feel as if much really needs to be said about the way Mike McKenna played throughout the playoffs. It was a tough transition for the 34 year old veteran netminder after being shipped to Syracuse at the trade deadline but any skepticism anyone had of the deal was quickly drowned out by the chants of “Mike McKenna” throughout the ‘ol barn in Syracuse.
The St. Louis Missouri native put the team on his back for much of the playoffs and instantly became a huge fan favorite in a city that is traditionally hard to please. McKenna started all 22 games for the Crunch in the post-season compiling a record of 13 wins and 9 losses, a 2.68 GAA and a save percentage north of 91 percent. He came up a mere two wins short of bringing the Calder Cup back to Syracuse but despite the loss, fans are already clamoring for McKenna to don the Crunch uniform in 2017-2018. Without Mike McKenna between the pipes, Syracuse doesn’t get a chance to play for the championship. Plain and simple.
Regular season MVP:
There is a reason that all three times Cory Conacher has played in the American Hockey League, he has gone to the Calder Cup finals. It’s because he is damn good. After being signed to a one-way contract by the Lightning last July, Conacher slid through waivers in the fall to become ideally, the Crunch’s premier sniper and play-maker. He didn’t mope, he didn’t complain in post-game pressers, and his effort never dwindled.
Conacher kept his chin up and became one of the many leaders on the ice and in the locker-room. In 56 regular season games with the Crunch, the former Canisius College Griffin (irony) scored 17 goals to go along with 43 assists. The five-foot-eight bundle of energy carried that play into the post-season where he decimated the competition.
Conacher’s 28 points in the playoffs was top in the league and let’s be honest, despite the loss, he or Mike McKenna should have walked away with the MVP trophy instead of Tyler Bertuzzi. Conacher has already said that he doesn’t wish to play another year in the AHL so this season was likely the last time we will ever see him in Syracuse. If that holds true... what a way to go out.
And with that, we conclude the 2016-2017 Syracuse Crunch season. It was a wild one but boy was it a fun one. Thank you all for a memorable year.