The Syracuse Crunch resumed play after their own all-star break with a couple of games against Utica. The break came at a good time for the Crunch, who have been dealing with a few injuries. With the North Division standings as compressed as they are (at least for the second-fourth spots) having as many healthy bodies available will be key to making a final push at the playoffs.
Due to the All Star break, there wasn’t much action this week for the Crunch. There were just two games on the calendar, a home-and-home with the Utica Comets on Friday and Saturday. It was a big two game series, though, as Syracuse entered the weekend with just a three-point lead over Utica for third place in the North Division. Unfortunately, that led would disappear by Saturday night as the Comets took both games and leapfrogged the Crunch in the standings.
Despite the bad results, there was some good news for the Crunch as they are starting to get some of their wounded forwards back into the line-up. Adam Erne (out since 1/15/18), Carter Verhaeghe (out since 1/20/18) and Dennis Yan (out since 1/24/18) all returned to action against Utica.
Hopefully, with the return of several key players, the Crunch can get some stability in the line-up as they make a push for the playoffs over the last few months of the season. With the return of a few veterans, hopefully some of the pressure will be removed from the rookies who are currently carrying the team.
Friday 2/2/18 - Syracuse 1, Utica 3
The good news is that Dennis Yan found the back of the net. The bad news is that it wasn’t enough as Yan and his teammates fell 3-1 to Utica at the Adirondack Bank Center on Friday. Rookie netminder Connor Ingram was solid stopping 34 Comets shots, but it wasn’t enough as Utica’s Richard Bachman stopped 27 of 28 that he say.
The first Utica goal was the definition of a fluke goal. Comets defenseman Guillaume Brisebois pitchforked the puck into the Syracuse zone. It landed in front of Ingram who went to poke check it, but it ricocheted off of Utica’s Alexis D’Aoust’s stick and popped up and over Ingram’s glove and into the net. A bad break for a goalie who was playing well up to that point. The Comets second goal was a bit more traditional. Nikolay Goldobin wristed a shot through a screen on the power play that popped the water bottle behind Ingram.
Yan cut the lead in half with under a minute to play in the second. Mitchell Stephens won a face off in the Utica end and Yan scrambled after the puck and blasted it by Bachman. It wasn’t enough and Dylan Blujus sealed the game with an empty netter with seconds left in the game.
Saturday 2/3/18 - Utica 4, Syracuse 2
The Crunch came out strong back on home ice. With the exception of two penalties (both taken in the offensive zone), they dominated possession of the puck. The line of Carter Verhaeghe, Adam Erne and Anthony Cirelli was especially noticeable around the Utica net. The play of Comets’ netminder Richard Bachman kept the game scoreless until Olivier Archambault was able to tuck a shot between the pad and the post late in the period to give the Crunch a 1-0 lead.
The second period was completely owned by the Crunch except for 16 seconds. Unfortunately, they were 16 very bad seconds. Things started off well as Syracuse directed shot after shot at Bachman. He was in fine form turning away 21 of the 22 shots directed at him in the middle frame. Alex Volkov was the only member of the home team that was able to put one past him as he connected on a spin-a-round shot from just in front of the net to give the Crunch a seemingly comfortable 2-0 lead.
With time winding down in the period, Syracuse Crunch goaltender Connor Ingram finally saw some action. Unfortunately, it involved him digging the puck out of the back of his net on consecutive shots. First Philip Holm beat him from in front of the net and then, just seconds later, former Crunch blueliner Dylan Blujus fired another puck past Ingram. Just like that the game was tied.
Utica pressed the play in the third period and converted on a power play after the Crunch were whistled for a bad line change halfway through the period. Bachman made the lead stand up, turning aside 7 Crunch shots in the third before Wacey Hamilton added an empty netter to put the game out of reach.
A minor league equipment manager’s job is never dull. This week saw the departure of Nick Riopel and Ty Loney, two players that had split their time between Syracuse and Adirondack, and the addition of new goaltender Eddie Pasquale. The former Atlanta Thrasher draft pick gives the Crunch an experienced AHL netminder to share the crease with youngster Connor Ingram. It also signals that Louis Domingue will most likely be with the Lightning for a little while longer.
1/2 I would like to take a moment to thanks the @TBLightning organization and the @SyracuseCrunch for the past 2 years. It was an honor for me to be part of this amazing family.— Nick Riopel (@Riopel_N) February 4, 2018
Special thanks to all the #SyrCrunch and @ECHLThunder fans! You were great I will miss you! pic.twitter.com/O2dD0clTTA
Shane Conacher was also recalled from Adirondack once again to help fill the depth at the forward position. The younger Conacher has been recalled a few times throughout the season and has appeared in six games with Syracuse without registering a point. In 33 games with the Thunder he has 37 points.
Award Winning All-Star
First year player Mitchell Stephens was named the CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month for January. The 20-year-old forward recorded 8 goals and 14 points in 12 games for the Crunch. Despite this being only his first season in professional hockey the 2015 second-round pick leads the team with 16 goals on the season.
Stephens also appeared in his first AHL All-Star Game on Monday. He made the most of his appearance by potting two goals for the North Division team as they powered their way to victory. The rookie added 3 assists on the day for a total of 5 points during the four game, 3-on-3 tournament.
Friday February 9th - home vs. Hartford
Saturday February 10th - home vs. Laval
Sunday February 11th - away vs. Bridgeport