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Crunch Wrap: A mostly successful opening weekend

The Crunch took three out of four points, but suffered some injuries.

Scott Thomas Photography

The Syracuse Crunch opened their season in Cleveland last weekend with two games and took three out of four points after winning their opener and then losing in overtime on Saturday. The offense was cracking as they recorded ten goals, but the defense could use a little work as they surrendered nine.

Perhaps the most worrisome part of the weekend was that they were hit kind of hard in the injury department. In the first game they lost starting goaltender Max Lagace to a leg injury while Otto Somppi and Charles Hudon suffered from some collisions with the boards. All three would miss the Saturday rematch. Following Saturday’s warm-up skate Daniel Walcott joined them on the sidelines with an undisclosed injury.

Hugo Alnefelt played a lot more than he was expecting with some mixed results. He looked good at times, but also allowed a few soft goals. He’ll probably take most of the reps as the number one goalie this week in practice with Amir Miftakhov as his back-up.

On to the games...

Game One

Syracuse 6, Cleveland 4

Starting Lines:

Forwards

Charles Hudon - Gabriel Dumont - Cole Koepke

Gabriel Fortier - Otto Somppi - Daniel Walcott

Shawn Element - Simon Ryfors - Antonie Morand

Gage Goncalves - Jimmy Huntington - Max Cajkovic

Defense

Fredrik Claesson - Darren Raddysh

Sean Day - Ryan Jones

Brandon Crawley - Alex Green

Goaltender

Maxim Lagace

Hugo Alnefelt

Igor did a nice job of recapping the game in Saturday’s Lightning Round, so there really isn’t a need to do another one here. Instead, here are my general impressions from the first game of the season.

The goaltending - Lagace was getting into his groove a bit before leaving the game in the second period after twisting awkwardly on his left knee trying to keep the puck out of the net on the Monsters’ third goal. He probably would have liked to have the first one back as Tim Berni beat him clean on the short side without a screen, but the other two were hard luck goals, the second on a 5-on-3 after Tyler Angle set up Jake Christiansen with a nifty pass. The third came on a scramble after Simon Ryfors lost out on an icing and the Crunch defense never really got set.

With Lagace leaving the game, Hugo Alnefelt was thrust into action somewhat unexpectedly and looked pretty solid. Perhaps the relief effort was the best way for him to get his first taste of action as he didn’t have time to get nervous about it. He ended up making 14 saves on 15 shots to pick up his first win, including this one while the Crunch were shorthanded:

While there is no official word on Lagace’s status, chances are Alnefelt is probably going to be the starter for the near future. If it’s a long term issue for Lagace, general manager Stacey Roest is likely burning up the phone lines looking for a veteran to bring in to help out.

Gabriel Dumont

The returning veteran finished the game with a goal and an assist, which is pretty impressive considering he missed most of the second period after picking up the instigator-fighting-misconduct penalty trifecta early in the second period. In short, it was a vintage Dumont game.

Late in the first period, with the Crunch trailing 2-0, Dumont goaded Cole Cassels into an unsportsmanlike penalty that changed the momentum of the game. Not only did they score on the power play, they outshot the Monsters 5-1 the rest of the period and tied things up with just over a minute to go.

As usual he was heavily involved on the forecheck and on the penalty kill (when he wasn’t serving his own) and was out on the ice at the game with the Crunch protecting the two-goal lead. That’s the type of play Crunch fans were used to seeing from him during his previous stint with Syracuse from 2016-2019.

The Prospects

There were a lot of debuts in the game on Friday as 10 players suited up for the Crunch for the first time. There also a couple of players like Gage Goncalves and Cole Koepke who just had a handful of games with Syracuse last season. For the most part, solid debuts all around. With so much special teams play, there were long stretches where some players didn’t see the ice so it’s hard to judge their play. That being said, a few players did stand out.

The number one star of the game as voted by the media was Max Cajkovic, and it was well deserved. The rookie had a goal and an assist and paced the Crunch with four shots on net. He probably should have had two goals, but Cleveland goaltender Daniil Tarasov robbed him of one in the first period. Cajkovic put himself in open spots and got his shot off quickly.

His linemate Goncalves also acquitted himself well picking up his first AHL goal. Overage Gage was also noticeable when dishing the puck off, setting up his teammates. He makes his decisions quickly and the puck doesn’t stay on his stick very long.

Cole Koepke, Simon Ryfors, and Gabriel Fortier were all a little less noticeable on the ice, but aside from Ryfors losing an icing race that led to the Monsters’ third goal, they didn’t look completely overmatched.

The Goals

Jimmy Huntington first goal of the season for the Syracuse Crunch. Assisted by Shawn Element.

Charles Hudon scores his first goal in a Syracuse sweater. Assisted by Ryan Jones and Antoine Morand.

Max Cajkovic nets his first AHL goal. Nice shot off the far pad by Element to set up the juicy rebound. Sean Day also had an assist.

Sean Day scored his first career shorthanded goal. Cole Koepke recorded the assist.

Gage Goncalves heads to the net and is rewarded with his first AHL goal. Nice pass by Cajkovic in front of the net while Dumont picked up the other helper.

Game Two

Cleveland 5, Syracuse 4 (OT)

The Lines

Look, the lines were jumbled up pretty good so here is who played:

Simon Ryfors, Gabriel Fortier, Jimmy Huntington, Shawn Element, Alexey Lipanov, Gage Goncalves, Gabriel Dumont, Cole Koepke, Max Cajkovic, Dmitry Semykin (!), Antoine Morand

Defensive Pairs:

Fredrik Claesson - Darren Raddysh

Sean Day - Ryan Jones

Brandon Crawley - Alex Green

Goaltender:

Hugo Alnefelt

So, here’s the deal. The Crunch were quite banged up following their first game on Friday. Three forwards - Charles Hudon, Otto Somppi, and Daniel Walcott - who played in the first game were out. Hudon and Somppi took big hits in Friday’s game while Walcott was a late scratch after warm-ups. That allowed Alexey Lipanov and Dmitry Semykin to see their first action of the year. Semykin, who is normally a defenseman, took shifts as a left wing.

Despite the changes, the Crunch were off to a pretty good start, outshooting the Monsters 8-2 through the first half. The only problem was that Cleveland scored on both of their shots while Syracuse wasn’t able to sneak anything past J.F. Berube.

Alnefelt was a victim of a bit of bad play in front of him. On the first goal, Sean Day was outmuscled by Carson Meyer on a rush. Meyer had enough space to center the puck past a sliding Crunch player and Justin Scott jammed the puck home.

On the second goal, Darren Raddysh had the puck behind the Crunch net, but was dispossessed by a big hit. Cleveland was able to work the puck around to Jake Christansen who launched a shot at the net that Meyer tipped past a screened Alnefelt.

Syracuse played well, and probably deserved better than a 2-0 deficit, but a lot of their 11 shots were wide open without traffic in front of Berube. Their best chance came from a snap shot by Jimmy Huntington right between the circles.

The second period was actually a little better for the Crunch despite the fact they were outshot 11-0 by the Monsters. Gabriel Fortier had a solid chance early as he scampered in on the left wing and whistled a shot that Berube snatched out of the air. Still, it was Cleveland scoring next.

Max Cajkovic was a little careless skating the puck out of his zone and it skittered off of his stick in the neutral zone. Cleveland recovered it and quickly transitioned it the other way. The puck ended up on Yegor Chinakov’s stick and the KHL Rookie of the Year flicked a shot past Alnefelt to make it 3-0. Chinakov has a heck of a shot and was recalled by the Columbus Blue Jackets after the game.

Trailing 3-0, the Crunch started to play with a little more sustained pressure in the offensive zone and it led to their first goal. Huntington won on offensive zone face-off to Antoine Morand. The winger bumped the puck back to Huntington who pitchforked it on his backhand past Berube for the Crunch’s first goal.

As the period wore on, the Crunch spent more of it in Cleveland’s zone, but weren’t able to capitalize. They did pick up their first power play in the dying seconds as Adam Helwka tackled Simon Ryfors off of a neutral zone face-off.

The power play connected at the end when Antoine Morand beat his checker along the right boards and centered the puck to Huntington who chipped it past Berube to cut the Cleveland lead to just one goal.

For most of the first ten minutes of the period the Crunch were pushing the play and pinning the Monsters back into their own zone. The pressure would pay off just a minute or so later when Gabriel Dumont won a puck battle behind the Cleveland net. He passed it out to Gabriel Fortier, who one-touched it over to Huntington at the far post. Jimmy slammed it home for the game-tying goal that completed his natural hat trick.

The pressure stayed on and the Crunch kept getting their chances. Six minutes into the period they took the lead off of a bit of of a broken play. Syracuse brought the puck in the zone, but Fredrik Claesson and Alexey Lipanov kind of came together in the center of the ice and lost control of the puck. Luckily it went to Cole Koepke who did what a good forwards does - he shot it. It went in. Syracuse with the 4-3 lead!

After that, Cleveland was able to work their way back into the game. The agressive forecheck from Syracuse was dialed back a little and it was easier for the Monsters to break out. They also kept things in the Crunch zone and it almost paid off when Gavin Bayreuther rang one off the post. Alnefelt was able to fall on the puck and keep it out.

With under two minutes to go, it looked like the Crunch had sealed the game when Tim Berni tripped up Simon Ryfors at the Cleveland blueline. It was a game-saving penalty because if it hadn’t happened, chances are Ryfors would have completed a pass to Shawn Element who could have banged it into an empty net.

Cleveland was able to get the puck into the Crunch zone and pull Berube to bring it to five-on-five. Carson Meyer took a shot from just inside the blueline that...well...Alnefelt simply missed. Still a little worried about his glove hand.

Overtime almost ended when Sean Day broke in on net and sent a backhander on goal. Berube made the save, but lost track of where the puck went. Day still had it and centered it to Fortier who was denied.

Thirty seconds later Liam Foudy was sprung on a two-on-one and he ended the game with a shot that just barely made it through Alnefelt. Foudy did a good job of selling pass before snapping home the shot.

The Goals

Jimmy Huntington starts the comeback

Jimmy Huntington with his second of the night and third on the year

It’s the hat trick for Huntington!

Cole Koepke is the most recent Crunch player to pick up his first AHL goal

Some quick thoughts

  • Gabriel Fortier only had one assist, but had a pretty good game. He was really good on the forecheck and it he’s paired with Dumont that could be a really annoying line to play against.
  • For the most part Alnefelt had a pretty solid game. The game-tying goal was not great, and he was visibly frustrated by it, as he slammed his stick on the ice after letting it in.
  • Despite giving up two goals in the first period, the Crunch played pretty well. Their main problem was that the shots they were getting on net weren’t coming from dangerous areas and Berube had a pretty easy time making the saves.
  • Dmitri Semykin made his season debut. The tall defenseman lined up as a forward and didn’t embarres himself in the limited time he was on the ice.

Upcoming Schedule

Friday, October 22nd at Rochester Americans, 7:05 P.M.

Saturday, October 23rd vs. Utica Comets, 7:00 P.M. (Home Opener)