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Syracuse Crunch team preview: The coaches

We take our last look at the Crunch before the regular season starts.

Syracuse Crunch Head Coach Benoit Groulx spoke to the Press after the Crunch defeated the Utica Comets in American Hockey League (AHL) action at the War Memorial Arena in Syracuse, New York on Saturday, March 24, 2018. Syracuse won 2-0.
Scott Thomas Photography

So far, Justin and I have made our best guesses as to who is going to make an impact with the Syracuse Crunch this upcoming season. Two entries about the forwards (part 1, part 2), and one each about the defense (here) and the goalies (here) have just about covered everyone.

Everyone, that is, except for the guys behind bench.

With a few changes over the past few seasons in Syracuse, I thought it would be a good idea to do a brief rundown of the coaching staff charged with winning and development “down on the farm.”

Head coach Ben Groulx

Benoit Groulx took over as coach of the Crunch in May of 2016, replacing Rob Zettler. Groulx immediately established himself as a very different head coach than Zettler, who always seemed like more of a friend to the players than a coach. Where Zettler was, perhaps, a bit too focused on guys staying healthy and ready for their call up, Groulx focused on establishing a competitive AHL team that would naturally foster development through a winning environment. His mantra “playing with pace” became well known around the Onondaga County War Memorial, among both the fans and the players.

Groulx took Syracuse back to the Calder Cup finals during his first year with the team, pushing a group of young rookies and veterans to within two wins of that prized championship in the spring of 2017. Last season, he again made waves when his team that was regularly touted as the youngest in the AHL crawled out of a basement-worthy start and tumbled into the playoffs. Hurt by injuries and a lack of reinforcements, that team ultimately fell in the second round, but they still gave the fans plenty of memories and delights along the way.

In his two years with Syracuse, his team has amassed a regular season record of 84-46-10-12. It’s assumed that Groulx will soon be receiving an NHL call up himself, so Crunch fans would be well advised to enjoy having his leadership around while they can.

Assistant Coach Ken Klee

Ken Klee was hired last summer by the Lightning organization, replacing departing assistant coach Trent Cull. Cull received a job offer to coach the Utica Comets, AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, necessitating the hiring of Klee.

Not much was known of Klee when he entered the organization. Before he came to Syracuse, he spent two seasons as head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team. The U.S. women won two consecutive world championships in 2015 and 2016 with Klee as their head coach. Klee also had 14 years of experience as an NHL defenseman.

It seems as though Klee and Groulx have meshed well together. Last season, the Crunch’s defensemen were one of the season’s success stories, with Dominik Masin and Erik Cernak often taking the spotlight. Cernak especially seems to have flourished under Klee’s coaching, and is still a darkhorse in the fight for a coveted spot on the Lightning’s opening night roster. It will be really interesting to see what Klee does with the likes of Cal Foote this upcoming season.

Assistant Coach Gilles Bouchard

Early this past summer, the promotion of Jeff Halpern to the Lightning’s coaching staff left a hole behind Syracuse’s bench. The Lightning filled it with Gilles Bouchard. Before being hired, Bouchard, 47, was the general manager and head coach of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was also an assistant coach and head coach once for Canadian Teams at the U17 level.

One of the biggest challenges for Bouchard right off the bat was a language barrier. At the time of his hire, Bouchard knew very little English. He spent the summer learning the language, and did well enough that he was able to interact with Crunch season ticket holders at an organization event in August. A few weeks ago, he spoke to Crunch broadcaster Lukas Favale about settling into Syracuse.

Goalie Coach and Video Coach Karl Goehring

(Okay, so, no joke, when I pitched this article idea to Alan, I promised that it wasn’t just another excuse to gush about Karl. Given that, I’ve intentionally kept this part short. For a longer gushing session, check out my article from last summer when he was hired.)

Karl Goehring has only been with the Lightning organization for a year, but he’s been with the Crunch for much longer than that. During his career, he suited up for over 180 games with Syracuse, and also helped coach them for a season in 2009-10. Already a well-known face in Syracuse, the excitement when Goehring was hired during the summer of 2017 was great.

Going into the 2017-18 season, it seemed like Goehring’s biggest challenge was going to be helping rookie Connor Ingram adjust to the pro game. Assisting with that was supposed to be AHL veteran Michael Leighton. Well, everyone pretty much knows how that turned out. By the end of the season, the Crunch’s crease had been well-trampled: seven different netminders suited up for Syracuse at some point during the season.

Thankfully, Goehring is someone who is already rather experienced with AHL roster juggling. He seemed to take it all in stride, and his goalies followed suit. Ingram achieved one of the most impressive Crunch rookie goalie campaigns to date, finishing the regular season with a 20-11-2-4 record. He had a 2.33 goals against average and a .914 save percentage. Veterans Louis Domingue and Eddie Pasquale also played extreamly well for Syracuse during the regular season, going 13-5-0-2 and 10-1-3-1 respectively.

Going into this season, Goehring will continue to mentor Ingram and Pasquale while also continuing his duties as video coach for the team.