This season, the schedule for the Crunch has been set to be very regular. A mid-week game on the road, Saturday night game at home. A schedule like this gave lots of time and space for practices, but also for rescheduled games due to COVID-19 postponements.
This week we got our first postponement and rescheduling after “league COVID-19 protocols affecting the Crunch” forced Wednesday’s road game against the Rochester Americans to be moved to Monday, five days from now. The Crunch’s Saturday game against the Utica Comets has not been affected.
What we know about this news is that it has come from the Syracuse Crunch side, this is per the press release. Some situation with or around the team has made the league and both teams consider a different date.
One small positive I can glean from this situation is that the Crunch/AHL engineered lots of free spaces in the schedule so that even a relatively small red flag can be handled in such a way that reduces the risk for everyone involved. A critique I had with the NHL schedule was how closely packed the games were and how much travel was required. It wasn’t very efficient at all. Fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers can both attest to this after glancing at the remaining schedule for both teams. There are lots of games to be played in not that much time.
So with the schedule as it is, let’s break down the next two games, talk a couple key Panthers transactions with Syracuse, and give an update on Florida Crunch centre Aleksi Heponiemi. Also, we have some news around the AHL that we can talk about!
Games this Week
Game #6: Utica Comets at Syracuse Crunch (Sat, Feb 27, 7pm)
The Crunch start this week with the Saturday game against the Utica Comets. The two teams last played a week ago on Wednesday, the Comets beating the Crunch 5-2 after a confounding defensive performance. Heponiemi was injured in this game, we’ll get to his status in a minute.
Since last Wednesday, the Comets lost to the Amerks on that Thursday and play them again this Friday. The Crunch will catch them on the second half of a back-to-back instead of on the front end this time.
Game #7: Rochester Americans at Syracuse Crunch (Mon, Mar 1, 4pm)
Welcome to March! Have you finished processing last March? Yeah, me neither.
The Amerks will finished a three game “road trip” against Utica and Syracuse on Monday with a 4pm matinee against the Crunch. The only game they’ll have placed since they beat the Crunch 3-2 on Saturday is the Utica game above.
This week is really crucial for the Crunch. They need to show their growth on both the defensive side of the game and having a more consistent effort, and also finding some players to generate offense. Right now up front, this team has a lot of players doing their best and doing their job well, but without basically a line and a half at the top, everyone is having to take on that much more responsibility. There’s a vacuum in the space where some high-end offensive players should be and no one’s been able to fill it.
Maybe a rookie like Cole Schwindt, Gabriel Fortier, or Declan McDonnell can find a spark and find the offense they had in junior for even a short while. Or perhaps a more established player like Taylor Raddysh, Otto Somppi, or Boris Katchouk can piece together some consistency and give the defense a bit of a break.
I mentioned in my last article on Monday that less time with the puck had led to more times in the defensive zone without the puck. The Crunch just need to identify some players who can find the puck and keep it.
Congrats on your debut, ABB, we miss you!
Couldn't be happier for ya, BB!— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) February 23, 2021
The Crunch have lost one of their better defensemen since the start of the season in Riley Stillman, he heads back to Florida to join the Panthers Taxi Squad. In a corresponding move, the Panthers have sent for Scott Wilson to the Crunch. Wilson, a center, is a very good veteran forward that would be a big boost to the offense if/when he is able to get in games following a quarantine. I’m not certain on a timeline for him, but I hope it’s sooner than later. I rate him very highly.
With a move like this, expect someone like Sean Day, Alex Green, or Dmitry Semykin to join the defense group this week.
In a second move that doesn’t really affect the Crunch, the Panthers have loaned defenseman Max Gildon to the Bakersfield Condors through the Crunch. Gildon has been with the Crunch since early January when the agreement was signed and has presumably been sent to Bakersfield for playing time.
The official injury update on Aleksi Heponiemi is that he is out with a lower body injury. Currently there is no timetable for his return. He joins Boo Nieves, Daniel Walcott, and Henry Bowlby on the shelf.
There is hope Alex Barre-Boulet and Ross Colton will be back on the Crunch in the near future as they were assigned to the Lightning’s Taxi Squad on Tuesday. Whether they get on a plane to Dallas with the Lightning before Saturday or up north to New York is still anyone’s guess.
Quotes from the Crunch
Ben Groulx needs more from his guys and he needs it now. “Now, tomorrow is too late. 7 to 10 at night.” This comes on the back of multiple games of poor starts and multiple-goal deficits early. He’s mentioned rookies like Schwindt, Finley, and McDonnell have been excellent, but too many of the players he expected to rely on have not shown up. The message is clear, now or never.
“Some guys are making the best of their opportunity. Some of the guys are looking at the train. They’re waiting at the train station and the train is passing in front of them.”— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) February 21, 2021
Ben Groulx on players getting their opportunity to make the lineup. pic.twitter.com/gpQt2qtXDN
Chase Priskie also praised the rookies for their adaptability and willingness to learn and execute those lessons on the ice. It is now on the rest of the team to learn from the young guys, find their hunger and determination, and play better. Who’d have thought that.
“They just have the hunger to get better."— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) February 21, 2021
Chase Priskie on the junior guys getting playing time at the AHL level. pic.twitter.com/mccSprwnTM