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Syracuse Crunch Weekly: American Penguins on the horizon

The Syracuse Crunch are set to face Rochester and Wilkes/Barre-Scranton this week.

Syracuse Crunch Daniel Walcott (85) battles for position with Utica Comets Kole Lind (13) in American Hockey League (AHL) action at the Upstate Medical University Arena in Syracuse, New York on Saturday, February 6, 2021. Syracuse won 6-1.
Scott Thomas Photography

The undefeated, first-place-in-the-North-Division Syracuse Crunch will look to keep this sprint of a season going in the right direction. After opening the season with a 6-1 win over Utica on Saturday, the Crunch have the Rochester Americans [Buffalo Sabres] and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins [Pittsburgh Penguins] on Wednesday and Saturday respectively.

While they are only one game into the season, each game carries the weight of about 2.4 games in a normal 76-game season. Each win will matter at the end of the day. That said, the Crunch have made it clear that their season is meant for development and playing the right way over results. Hopefully if the first two go well, the results follow.

The Crunch have a whopping 35 players on their roster at the moment. Only 19 got to play the first game of the season so I wonder if we see a completely different lineup for Game Two. They might as well, there are some quality players who were scratched in the first game (Boo Nieves, Serron Noel, and Brady Keeper to name just three). Plus, new faces in Aleksi Heponiemi and Scott Wilson will probably get into the lineup too.

Games this Week

Game #2: Syracuse Crunch at Rochester Americans (Wed, Feb 10, 7pm)

  • The Crunch will play their first road game tonight in Rochester, New York.
  • This game will be broadcast on AHL.tv
  • This will be the first of 12 meetings between the teams.
  • The Americans actually played the Utica Comets the day before the Vancouver affiliate came to Syracuse. Utica won that game 3-2 in regulation, out-shooting the Americans 34-29.
  • The Americans had former Crunch goalie Dustin Tokarski in net for Game #1 of their season on Friday, so the Crunch probably won’t see him with Ukko Pekka-Luukkonen the likely starter.

Game #3: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at Syracuse Crunch (Sat, Feb 13, 7pm)

  • The Crunch will then head back home to play the WBS Penguins on Saturday.
  • This game will be on AHL.tv as well as on CW6 locally.
  • This will be the first of six meetings between the teams.
  • The Penguins lost their first game of the season to the Binghamton Devils on Saturday by the score of 4-3 in overtime — former Lightning prospect Nolan Foote scored in his AHL debut for the B-Devils as did old friend Danick Martel.
  • The Penguins are going to stay at home to play the Hershey Bears before travelling to Syracuse for the game on Saturday.

Quotes from the Crunch

Coach Ben Groulx was honest in saying his goalie, Samuel Montembeault, had to make a lot of good saves in the season debut, plus production from the fourth line isn’t always going to be a nightly occurrence, so getting everyone going and playing each shift consistently is the key.

Crunch Captain Luke Witkowski gave a really lovely line about the mentorship and culture passed down by the player leadership on the Crunch going all the way back to Mike Angelidis.

Gabe Fortier talked about how, now at 21, he’s more prepared to play against pros in the AHL than he did back when he was 19. When it comes to the speed, physicality, and lack of time or space, he was ready.

Alex Green talked about his shaky AHL debut. I was a little hard on his pairing with Sean Day in my recap but he has the ability to improve for sure. A lot of it was getting up to speed and making quicker decisions. A more mature partner would definitely help as well, in case my two cents are worth anything.

Recent Transactions

You might have seen Lightning prospect Maxim Cajkovic on the Crunch’s opening night roster on Saturday. It seems he was here for the weekend on his way from Slovakia to Val-d’Or of the QMJHL. Cajkovic was on an ATO so I assume he spent some time at practice and got time with development staff. Whether he got a chance to speak with Stacy Roest is above my pay grade.

Remember Scott Wilson? I mentioned him in my season preview, noting that his name wasn’t anywhere to be found on NHL, taxi, AHL, ECHL, or European rosters anywhere. And when you have a name like “Scott Wilson” it’s really hard to look! Well it seems the Florida Panthers noticed I was stalking their player and activated him from the NHL to the Crunch for me. Wilson has been a very good AHL winger and in fact has played for both Rochester and WBS!

Around the AHL

The AHL announced the first games for the Canadian Division. Belleville, four games, and Toronto, eight games, will be starting on the road as they have yet to be granted permission to play games at home in Ontario.

Toronto will be in Winnipeg and Calgary to play the Manitoba Moose and Stockton Heat, while Belleville will be rooming with Laval in Montreal. Games start February 12th and for the moment go as far as February 27th.

While the Moose have always played in the same arena as their NHL team, this will become reality for the other two AHL teams in Canada. Stockton has moved to Calgary for the season (talk about a change in winter weather) and Laval will be leaving the Montreal suburbs to play at the Bell Centre downtown.

This announcement seems to indicate that an end-date for this “exile” from Ontario is on the horizon. I expect we’ll see the Marlies move into Scotiabank Arena, where the Leafs play, while Belleville will be the only AHL team in Canada to stay in their barn.