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Syracuse Crunch Wrap: Smiles all around as friendly faces return to winning lineup

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The Crunch welcomed some much needed reinforcements this week.

Syracuse Crunch Daniel Walcott (85) backhands the puck past Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins goalie Emil Larmi (60) for a goal in American Hockey League (AHL) action at the Upstate Medical University Arena in Syracuse, New York on Saturday, March 13, 2021. Syracuse won 3-0.
Credit: Scott Thomas

What a good feeling this Saturday was. Not only did several players return from injury, but the Syracuse Crunch then went out and played a great game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins en route to a 3-0 win. Newly re-signed Daniel Walcott scored in his long-awaited return, his centerman Otto Somppi also lit the lamp, while Ben Thomas finished off the three-goal win. Samuel Montembeault got his first shutout of the season after an incredible 37-save performance.

Along with Wally, Captain Luke Witkowski, Brady Keeper, and Ben Thomas returned to the lineup. Gemel Smith and Christopher Gibson also dressed after coming over from the Tampa Bay Lightning, with Smith notching an assist in his first game of the season.

Game 10*: Rescheduled

The Crunch were initially supposed to play the Utica Comets on Friday, but due to a outbreak in the North Division that affected up to five teams, this game was rescheduled to Monday, April 5th. As the Comets had played the Rochester Americans earlier in the week and that team was in quarantine, it was important to make sure all the players and staff on the Comets were safe before the Crunch traveled to play them. Because the schedule is so sparse every week, it was relatively easy to move the game to April. That week will now include a stretch of four games in eight days against Rochester and Utica on alternate days.

Game 10: (3-0 W vs. WBS Penguins)

Syracuse Crunch Lines

Walcott, Somppi, and Serron Noel came together to make a dynamic second line, while Smith centered a mature first line with Scott Wilson and Jimmy Huntington that was able to shut down the Penguins to great effect. The bottom six was a bottom five with the rookies finding themselves in more comfortable positions on the ice while the more experienced players led by example.

The team ran seven defensemen with Witkowski, Keeper, and Thomas filling out the right side. Devante Stephens retained his first pair role after a well-earned stint without half the defense currently around him.

This is (mostly) how the team is supposed to look and it was really refreshing to see after weeks of losses. The two wins were lovely, but the Crunch didn’t dominate the way they did in this game. Having a complete performance like this was another level. I’m sure the team feels the same way.

Forwards

Scott Wilson - Gemel Smith (A) - Jimmy Huntington
Daniel Walcott (A) - Otto Somppi - Serron Noel
Gabe Fortier - Nikita Pavlychev - Peter Abbandonato
Dmitry Semykin - Greg Meireles

Defense

Devante Stephens - Ben Thomas
Sean Day - Brady Keeper
John Ludvig - Luke Witkowski (C)
Alex Green

Goalies

Samuel Montembeault
Christopher Gibson

Power Play

Somppi - Smith - Meireles - Wilson - Day
Abbandonato - Pavlychev - Noel - Huntington - Thomas

Penalty Kill

Walcott - Somppi - Stephens - Keeper
Wilson - Smith - Ludvig - Witkowski
Fortier and Green also mixed in.

First Period

This was the first game in a while where the team came out and started on time. Most games this season have seen the Crunch hemmed in their own zone a lot and usually give up a goal or two early, but independent of the score, the Crunch came out fast, aggressive, and they seemed to be able to connect passes through the defensive, neutral, and offensive zones a lot better. While the Crunch started down in shots, it wasn’t for a lack of chances on their end as some of their shots had gone wide or passes had not quite connected. They were close to breaking through, and in the second period they did.

Second Period

The game opened up in the second after some of the penalties cleared, with Somppi getting a chance at one end before the Penguins got one on the other. Noel had a chance as well that looked dangerous.

1-0

Goal! After killing off a couple penalties, Daniel Walcott deflected a point shot from Ben Thomas after Serron Noel got it to him from the point. Walcott was left alone in the middle of the slot and tracked the puck off his stick right through Emil Larmi and into the back of the net. Penguins defenseman Cam Lee got lost going up the wall following his teammate, leaving his partner Billy Sweezey to try and cover both Somppi and Walcott. As a result, Walcott was left wide open and took full advantage.

2-0

Five minutes later, Otto Somppi got his own goal after being sprung on a partial breakaway by John Ludvig. Noel got his second secondary assist of the game on the goal. Somppi made a great move after breaking past the defense. He was initially stopped by Larmi, but he stayed in the area long enough to grab his own rebound and stuff it past the goaltender. Cam Lee was once again slow to react and didn’t do much to impede Somppi. Cheers!

3-0

Less than a minute later, Ben Thomas completed the trifecta with a blast from the right faceoff circle. Jimmy Huntington and Gemel Smith both got the assists on the goal after recovering a fought-over puck in the corner. The Crunch were flying high at this point and felt several steps ahead of the Penguins at this point. Smith was strong on the puck and found a seam to get the puck to the point. Huntington was quick to move it over to Thomas, who stepped up and laid into a shot that beat Larmi cleanly on the blocker side.

Third Period

Witkowski took three of the six penalties the Crunch got called for in this game. All of them were stick infractions in the defensive zone. Thankfully, the Crunch were perfect on the penalty kill, with Montembeault not having to do too much until the third period when the Penguins got genuinely desperate.

Montembeault was really good in this game. He was tracking the puck well and always seemed prepared for any rebounds or deflections. He stayed upright and it helped him fight on those second chances. The Crunch also did a really exceptional job blocking up the slot and keeping shots from having second and third chances. They had sticks in the lanes and bodies in the way all night.

This Week in Thoughts

Ben Groulx talked about Walcott’s return and what it meant for the team. He mentioned how they seem to have more life and enthusiasm when he’s on the ice with them.

With a fresh contract in hand, Daniel Walcott started practicing fully with the Crunch last week, lining up with Otto Somppi and Serron Noel. They seemed to jive really quickly it showed on the ice. They were electric as a trio and on special teams.