It’s only been three days since the Syracuse Crunch last took to the ice, but it seems a lot has changed roster-wise. Due to some injuries of their own and with the the Lightning, several roster moves, hopefully temporary, have gone down in the last day or so. These changes are part and parcel for teams in the American Hockey League. It’s one of the main reasons Coach Ben Groulx speaks so much to the need for depth, for players to be able to pop into any role in the line-up and succeed.
This week will test the limits of the Crunch’s depth. A quick recap of what has happened to the roster so far:
Cameron Gaunce was suspended for two games for an elbowing incident in the game against Providence. The veteran will miss Wednesday’s game against Belleville and, more importantly, Friday’s game against Rochester. The incident came with under eight minutes to go in the game. Gaunce had the puck in the Crunch’s zone along the boards. He chipped it up the ice just as the Bruins’ Austin Fyten came in on the forecheck. Gaunce raised his arm in an attempt to absorb the check and in the process clipped Fyten in the head with his elbow. So, that’s one defender the Crunch are down.
The Crunch might also be without their newest defender, Jan Rutta. The big defenseman was recalled to Tampa on Tuesday to provide some depth due to Erik Cernak’s injury. In order for there to be room on the Lightning roster for Rutta, Mathieu Joseph was loaned to Syracuse from Tampa Bay. This was purely a paper transaction, however, as the rookie forward physically stayed with the NHL club and never left Tampa. It was confirmed earlier this afternoon that Joseph is still with the Lightning and practiced with them today.
With Cernak and Joseph practicing today, it is assumed that Rutta will be returned to Syracuse. He was apparently not at the Lightning’s practice this afternoon, although it is not yet known whether he will make it up to Belleville in time to play tonight. In 7 games with the Crunch so far, Rutta has provided 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists). If he isn’t back in time for the game, the Crunch will be left with six active players on defense.
So, that means they called up a defenseman to help out, right? Not exactly. The Crunch did recall a player from Orlando on Tuesday, but it wasn’t a blueliner. Instead it was forward Jonne Tammela. Why? Because they’re dealing with some beat-up players up front. Troy Bourke, Dennis Yan and Taylor Raddysh are all day-to-day with minor injuries according to General Manager Julien BriseBois.
As usual, the Crunch are cagey as to how much time, if any, those players will miss. However, BriseBois also confirmed that Kevin Lynch suffered a setback in his recovery and will likely be out of action for another five weeks. This has been pretty much a lost season for the forward who was excited to sign to his first NHL contract and looking forward to building on the success from last year.
Tammela returns to the Crunch after spending almost three months in Orlando. He appeared in 8 games with Syracuse and picked up 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists) before his assignment to the ECHL. He’s done everything he could with the Solar Bears to be recalled, picking up 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in 23 games.
It was a tough move for the young Finn to be sent down earlier this year, but it was probably the right one. He wasn’t playing poorly for the Crunch, but with the depth at forward he wouldn’t have been guaranteed a spot in the line-up every night. Getting into one game and then sitting for two or three wouldn’t have helped his development. It’s better that he went to Orlando and played every game. If he plays well during this recall he may force BriseBois to send someone else down when the healthy forwards return.
What does this all mean for the Crunch in their game against the Senators? A lot of line-shuffling, that’s for sure. Bourke and Yan have provided a lot of depth on the bottom two lines for the Crunch this season and their loss will give Ross Colton and Brady Brassart a chance to get back into the line-up. Raddysh has had a strong rookie season, putting up 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in 45 games. He’s had his highs (5 assists against Utica) and his lows (12 game goalless streak), but overall has been “as advertised” as a player.
While the offense is deep enough to absorb the loss of those three players, the defense could be tested over the next couple of games. Gaunce and Rutta are two of the Crunch’s top defenders and will be hard to replace. Expect Dominik Masin and Cal Foote to be on the ice a lot along with Hubert Labrie and Ben Thomas. Oleg Sosunov returned to action against the Bruins and will most likely slot in against Belleville. It also wouldn’t be shocking to see the Crunch recall Matthew Spencer again, as he has a bit more experience Sosunov.
Bellevue is a hot team that has won four of their last five games while scoring 24 goals in those five games. They’re going to test the Crunch’s defense. Syracuse may have to rely on their goaltending duo a little more than normal over the next few games. The good news is that the Crunch have enjoyed a bit of success against the Senators over the last two seasons, with a record of 9-0-1-1, including a 3-0 record this season. Hopefully, despite all of the changes, they can keep that success going.