A lot is said every season about the need for good veterans in an AHL organization. Overall, finding solid guys to share their experience with the young prospects “down on the farm” has been one of the hallmarks of the partnership between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Syracuse Crunch. From Mike Angelidis to Matt Taormina in the past, to Gabriel Dumont and Michael Bournival in the present, finding strong vets to push and encourage the younger guys has been key to much of the Crunch’s success.
Although...it isn’t ever really a surprise when guys like Angelidis, Taormina, Dumont, and Bournvial step up and lead their team. Those kinds of character vets in this league have that expectation set on them for a reason, and they always live up to it. This isn’t meant to diminish what they and players like them do, to be clear. It’s just an acknowledgement of the facts.
It’s a different story for players who are sent down unexpectedly. Though it’s necessary to point out that the AHL isn’t a punishment, that it is a league to be proud of, it’s also not where these guys expected to be. Depending on their contract status, a surprise send down can take quite the bite out of their yearly earnings. It can throw a wrench into their home life, with significant others and children facing either life apart or a potentially complicated move.
It can also be a blow to their ego, one that could be hard to overcome. These guys are human, and have the range of emotions everyone experiences. While it’s certainly true that the AHL is the second-best league in North America, it’s that “second best” that can understandably take the wind out of a player’s sails if they’re sent down without being ready for it.
All of this is why the recent performances of Cory Conacher and Andy Andreoff have been so damn impressive. Any success the Crunch has managed to scrape together can be traced back to the two of them, and fans are incredibly thankful for their performances. They’re definitely deserving of some recognition.
Crunch fans were already well acquainted with Conacher before he was unexpectedly sent down mid-way through this past October. The forward is a veteran of 245 regular season AHL games, and 115 of them were spent in a Syracuse sweater. Conacher basically made a household name for himself around these parts during the Calder Cup playoffs in 2017, where he helped lead the relatively young Syracuse back to the final round.
This season, Mathieu Joseph’s accelerated development pushed Conacher to Syracuse, something that probably wasn’t in his plans this season. The Lightning re-upping him for another year at the same time as his send down probably eased things a bit, but it isn’t unreasonable to imagine that the 28-year-old was disappointed.
Thankfully, Conacher isn’t the type to sit around and pout. He immediately dove right into the middle of the Crunch’s struggles, setting an example and showing off his skills by netting seven points (3g, 4a) in the five games he’s played with Syracuse so far this season. He is second on the Crunch in points. The Crunch’s new top line of Conacher, Alex Volkov, and Andreoff was a big part of the team’s two victories this past weekend, giving the Syracuse faithful something to cheer about for pretty much the first time this season.
If there’s any sting lingering due to being in the AHL, it’s really hard to tell, something that’s certainly a credit to Conacher and his practically trademarked positive attitude.
Andy Andreoff’s part in all of this has probably come as the bigger surprise, although more so because he was an unknown. Added to the Lightning organization in exchange for goalie Peter Budaj this past summer, Andreoff came from the LA Kings organization, so not much was known about him. Although his AHL numbers were fine - at the time he had 72 points in 157 career games - it wasn’t clear in June where Andreoff would slot in come October. He hadn’t even played in the AHL since the 2014-15 season, so he often wasn’t figured on when it came to the Crunch’s depth chart.
Then came the end of September and the surprise news that Andreoff was on waivers. He cleared, was sent to Syracuse, and immediately set up shop as one of Syracuse’s most valuable players.
Andreoff is currently first on the team in points (8), goals (5), and power play goals (3). He was a huge part of Syracuse’s two victories this past weekend, scoring once in each game and chipping in two assists Saturday night. As stated earlier, he, Conacher, and Volkov are kicking butt as the Crunch’s new-look first line.
While the injuries to other veterans piled up, Andreoff took the “A” on his chest seriously, stepping in and leading by example. Although Syracuse probably isn’t where he envisioned himself being when that trade went through in June, he’s making the best of it, and the Crunch is better for having him here.
It’s never known how long these kinds of players will last here, but for everything both these guys have done since arriving, they definitely deserve kudos!