The turnover that AHL teams experience is well documented. With new prospects flowing in, older prospects making the jump the the NHL, and AHL veterans rotating out seasonally, no AHL roster is unchanged at the start of a new season. Among forwards and defensemen especially, the constant adjustments team juggle can be dizzying. Sometimes though, if AHL teams are lucky, players stay with them for a bit longer than usual, allowing fans to get to know them and, perhaps, see a surprising side to them.
Such was the story of Kristers Gudlevskis’ time in Syracuse.
Gudlevskis played the better part of four seasons with the Crunch, totaling 74-47-19-10 with a .902 save percentage in the 150 games played there. He hit with a splash in 2013-14, fresh off that legendary Olympic quarterfinal game between Canada and Latvia, and surprised most in TampaCuse land with how ready he was to to contribute to Syracuse. He was the first player ever to appear in the ECHL, AHL, NHL, and Olympics in the same season. Honestly, Crunch fans were lucky to get to see him so soon in his professional career.
Gudlevskis was voted an AHL All-Star in 2016, the same year the event was held in Syracuse. He was clearly honored to have been chosen, and joked with Jeremy Houghtaling of Bolt Prospects about swiping one of the jerseys used during the weekend.
As his seasons with the Crunch continued, his developmental path seemed to shift a bit. There was no doubt, though, that he always gave Syracuse his best. He played with passion every game, and was often so ecstatic with his victories that it was infectious.
That passion was what made it difficult to see him apparently struggling with his place within the Lightning organization. Not long into last season, some started to wonder if he might be happier with a fresh start elsewhere. A goalie’s developmental path can be tricky, something that’s actually been discussed a lot lately with Tampa Bay Lightning starter Andrei Vasilevskiy. As Vasilevskiy’s star rose quicker than Gudlevskis, it became clear that Gudlevskis’ path lie elsewhere.
Traded to the New York Islanders organization this past summer, Gudlevskis is still fondly remembered by many in Syracuse. His relationship with the fans on the ice was love/hate, with the fans alternately praising him and calling for his head several times a season. This is fairly normal for goalies, though, and Gudlevskis seemed to take it mostly in stride.
In his final season with Syracuse, Crunch fans got a bit of a peak at the man behind the mask, and it was probably one of the most enjoyable and surprising reveals in Crunch history. In a sudden turn of events, Gudlevskis was the unexpected star of one of the Crunch’s lip sync videos.
The song was “Born to be Alive,” and as Raw Charge found out when discussing the series with the staff of Fully Focused Media, Gudlevskis was definitely one of the most memorable characters to take the stage.
I asked both Cahill and DeRosa who the most pleasantly surprising performance was across all the music videos. Both instantly answered Kristers Gudlevskis.
“Being part of the front office, we know his personality,” said Cahill. “ I think he may be one of the guys that fans just don’t really know personality-wise. He was a little tentative at first during the video, then he just went right in. We talked to his wife when she was in town. She was like, ‘Yeah. That’s just how he is at home. It made sense that he was going to be like that.’ We had a feeling going into it he’d be pretty good, and then he blew it out of the water. I think he was definitely a big surprise.”
“I think Kristers Gudlevskis was definitely a surprise,” said DeRosa. “He’s always fun to work with. He’s got a good personality. He’s always willing; it’s just not his thing usually. I thought he did an awesome job. When we got the list of players that wanted to be in each video, sometimes I’d think, ‘Interesting, we’ll see how this one turns out.’ It always turned out better than we thought. Kristers was one specifically that I remember doing a great job.”
Gudlevskis returns to Syracuse tonight with his current AHL team, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He has started the last six games the Sound Tigers have played, and the assumption is that the coaching staff will give him the chance to start tonight in the place he called home for four seasons. He did not play the only other time Bridgeport faced Syracuse this season. Bridgeport is currently on the outside of the AHL playoffs, 5th in the Atlantic Division, so they need every point they can get. Calling on Gudlevskis’ expertise would be opportune for them.
Syracuse fans are well known for giving returning players an enthusiastic “boooooooooooooooo” or two. They are also well known for putting a little put more relish into their goalie chants if and when they get the opportunity (something current goalie and video coach Karl Goehring could probably speak to). Hopefully Gudlevskis knows better than to take it too personal.
For those who have missed his presence in Syracuse, it will be great to welcome him back tonight.