The Syracuse Crunch will be represented by two players at the 2019 AHL All-Star Classic in Springfield, Massachusetts on January 26th and 27th. They will join head coach Benoit Groulx, who was appointed the AHL North Division Coach earlier in the week.
The paths to the honor couldn’t have been more different for the two honorees.
Connor Ingram is in just his second year of professional hockey. The 21-year-old was drafted in the third round of 2016 and is looked at as one of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s top prospects. He got his first taste of life in the AHL last year and responded with a 20-win season.
He’s continuing the success in his second season. He is currently 7th in the league in goals against at 2.44, 4th in save percentage with a .920 SV%, and is tied for the league lead with 4 shutouts. He didn’t lose a game in the entire month of November as he was the backbone of the Crunch’s 13-game point streak. Personally, he had a 7-game win streak that featured 3 of his 4 shutouts.
His signature win of the year (yes even more so than his back-to-back shutouts) was in Lehigh Valley on December 21st. He made 40 saves on 42 shots and turned aside four of the five shootout attempts from the Phantoms. He played half of the third period, all of the overtime (4 saves), and the shootout with a leg injury bothering to the point where he staggered to get up after almost every save. He hasn’t appeared in a game since then.
There may be a little bit of doubt on if he will be fully healed by the time the game is scheduled to be played. The Crunch have been cagey about the timeline for his recovery, stating last week that it could be 2-4 weeks but that they should know more when he is reevaluated. Hopefully, he is back on the ice and ready to represent the Crunch at the end of the month.
For Cory Conacher, the path to Springfield was rather different. Where Ingram is a young, highly-regarded prospect, Conacher is an older, highly-regarded veteran. Signed out of college by the Lightning in 2011, he’s played in over 260 AHL games, almost 200 NHL games, and 48 games in Europe. He’s been the prospect before, garnering Calder Trophy talk after his 24-point-in-35-games debut for the Lightning back in 2012. He’s also been the journeyman, bouncing around from Ottawa to Buffalo to the Islanders before returning home to the Lightning organization as a depth forward.
He started the season in Tampa this year, but was sent to Syracuse in late October partially due to the emergence of Mathieu Joseph and Adam Erne as solid players in the NHL. Conacher didn’t sulk, he embraced the role as veteran leader for a young AHL squad and has lit up the league. In 27 games he has 13 goals and 23 assists. The bulk of those points came in November when he recorded 23 points (8 goals, 15 assists) in 11 games. At one point he had a seven-game streak where he recorded at least two points.
He cooled off a bit in December as he was held to just 3 goals and 5 assists. However, it looks like he is warming up a bit again as he is currently riding a 3-game point streak and is a staple on the top line with Andy Andreoff and Boris Katchouk. Conacher is also one of the Crunch’s top penalty killers and has two shorthanded goals on the season. On the power play he is often the triggerman from the right circle and his deceptively hard slapshot has helped him score three goals on the man advantage.
With 36 points, he is tied for the team lead with Carter Verhaeghe. The teammates are tied for fourth among league leaders, and are the top pointgetters in the North Division. For Conacher, this is the third time he’s been named to the AHL All-Star team having received the honor in 2012 when he was with the Norfolk Admirals and in 2017 with Syracuse.
Last season, Mitchell Stephens represented the Crunch at the All-Star Classic as he replaced Matthew Peca who was originally named, but was recalled by the Lightning prior to the game being played.