It seems like the Syracuse Crunch have been on a slide forever, but it was only five games spaces out over three weeks. The team is back to winning ways with a 4-3 regulation win over the Rochester Americans on Monday night. John Ludvig’s first career AHL goal was the game-winning goal that snapped the losing streak. Devante Stephens scored against the organization that drafted him. Otto Somppi had two points with a goal and an assist, Boris Katchouk brought home two assists, as Spencer Martin stopped 31 of 34 for the win.
Heartbreaking stat time: When Devante Stephens scored the goal that put the Crunch up 2-1 in the second period against Rochester, it was the Crunch’s first lead since they beat the Utica Comets in the first game of the season on February 6th, nearly one whole month ago. Gabriel Fortier’s first-minute-of-the-season goal was the first and most recent go-ahead goal for the team until Stephens scored his first career AHL goal. The victory was a testament to starting on time, managing the game so leads don’t get out of hand, and the bliss of not having to play from behind and always play catch up.
The win came after a Saturday night loss where the team gave up two more goals early in the game and, despite making it close at one point, couldn’t catch up to the Utica Comets, eventually losing, 4-2. Samuel Montembeault was in net for three goals on 30 shots. He made a fantastic save on a penalty shot from Sven Baertschi. Unfortunately with the good came some bad as Montembeault gifted the Comets a goal by turning the puck over behind the net.
Overall, the Crunch have been improving their team defense, games aren’t getting out of hand nearly as much as they did before. The death by a thousand cuts that had previously been killing them has turned into just a few mistakes with a healthy dose of bad luck. The Utica game was evidence of that, with the Rochester victory showing what can happen when the team gets a second chance.
This team can win games, and now I think we’re going to see more of it in the coming weeks. They may have lost several key players for some reason or another, and have had to rely on youth, but the team has talent and a lot of the players are finally settling into the pro game. Somppi has been fantastic, Cole Schwindt has plugged a big hole, Taylor Raddysh and Katchouk have begun to lead, Jimmy Huntington is being relied upon, and the top prospects for Tampa and Florida in Fortier and Serron Noel are making their way up through the lineup and becoming play-driving forwards.
The WHL has officially begun, so several players on the Crunch have been assigned to their various junior teams. These players were allowed to play in the AHL while the WHL did not have an official start date. Now that there is one, the CHL-NHL agreement means they have to go back. We’ll talk about this more in the Weekly Preview (out tomorrow) but spoiler alert, I don’t like the current agreement for the players.
Game Six: (4-2 L vs. Utica Comets)
Syracuse Crunch Lines
There were a lot of rookies in this lineup on Saturday. Starting with Schwindt, who has quickly solidified himself as a standout performer and as a partner to Raddysh on the first line. Jack Finley and Serron Noel joined Huntington for a very big third line, while Gage Goncalves and Jaydon Dureau made their AHL debuts.
With Riley Stillman recalled back to Florida, and Chase Priskie fighting an injury from practice, Alex Green and Sean Day (affectionately known here as Green Day) got back into the lineup. Brady Keeper moved up to partner Luke Witkowski, Ben Thomas kept an eye on Day, and the third pair had a nice sheltered game. If it wasn’t obvious, this defense didn’t give me much reason for optimism.
Gabriel Fortier - Cole Schwindt - Taylor Raddysh (A)
Boris Katchouk (A) - Otto Somppi - Peter Abbandonato
Jimmy Huntington - Jack Finley - Serron Noel
Gage Goncalves - Ryan Lohin - Jaydon Dureau
Brady Keeper - Luke Witkowski (C)
Sean Day - Ben Thomas
John Ludvig - Alex Green
Katchouk - Finley - Abbandonato - Raddysh - Keeper
Schwindt - Somppi - Noel - Huntington - Day
Somppi - Katchouk - Keeper - Thomas
Fortier - Raddysh - Ludvig - Witkowski
Schwindt mixed in as well.
Vincent Arseneau (2) from Jack Rathbone (4) and Lukas Jasek (5)
Kole Lind (5) from Mitch Reinke (5) and Nolan Stevens (5)
Starts with a shot, ends with a gorgeous tip.— Utica Comets (@UticaComets) February 28, 2021
Take a look at that Kole Lind first period goal ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/Ns8LdciYUQ
Otto Somppi (2), Gage Goncalves* (1) and Ben Thomas (2)
First AHL point! I’m really glad Goncalves got in a game and scored a point before he was sent back to the Everett Silvertips.
Vincent Arseneau (3) from Robby Jackson (1)
Ryan Lohin (2) from Brady Keeper (1) and Taylor Raddysh (3)
Sven Baertschi (2) from Kole Lind (2) and Lukas Jasek (6)
Game Seven: (4-3 W vs. Rochester Americans)
Syracuse Crunch Lines
After quarantining following his reassignment by the Florida Panthers, forward Scott Wilson made his Crunch debut on the first line with Schwindt and Raddysh. Serron Noel has made the steady progression from the fourth line to the second line, in this game he skated with Somppi and Katchouk (I have a lot to say about Somppi). Nikita Pavlychev made his AHL debut centering the fourth line. The 6’7” forward has spent his first pro season in Orlando since coming from Penn State.
The Crunch have created something like an energy line with Fortier, Huntington, and Peter Abbandonato. That trio worked really well and mixed in with the top six throughout the game when the team needed different looks. Three high-energy guys really helped pick up the pace and they were genuinely productive. The modern era version is far from the energy lines of the past that just meant going out to hit and punch guys.
Luke Witkowski was a late scratch after reportedly suffering an injury before the game. As a result, call-up Devante Stephens and partner Ben Thomas were promoted to the first pair and Sean Day dressed next to Brady Keeper (Witkowski’s partner from last game).
Scott Wilson - Cole Schwindt - Taylor Raddysh (A)
Boris Katchouk (A) - Otto Somppi - Serron Noel
Gabriel Fortier - Jimmy Huntington - Peter Abbandonato
Ryan Lohin - Nikita Pavlychev - Declan McDonnell
Devante Stephens - Ben Thomas
John Ludvig - Alex Green
Sean Day - Brady Keeper
Katchouk - Schwindt - Somppi - Raddysh - Day
Wilson - Abbandonato - Noel - Huntington - Thomas
Somppi - Katchouk - Ludvig - Keeper
Wilson - Raddysh - Stephens - Green
Fortier and Schwindt also mixed in.
Ryan Scarfo (2) from Ryan Jones (4) and Oskari Laaksonen (6)
Peter Abbandonato (1) from Gabriel Fortier (1) and Devante Stephens (1)
A first for everyone on this goal! Abbandonato got his first of the season on a tap in from Gabe Fortier (can’t believe this was only his first assist of the season), and defenseman Devante Stephens with his first assist of the year.
A wide open for Abbandonato! pic.twitter.com/EkbR0zuxYB— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) March 1, 2021
Devante Stephens (1) from Boris Katchouk (3) and Otto Somppi (2)
Stephens’ first AHL goal after four seasons between Syracuse and Rochester — the team he scored the goal against. Not only was this his first goal, but also the team’s first lead in such a very long time.
Otto Somppi (3) from Boris Katchouk (4) and Sean Day (2)
That makes 3️⃣ consecutive for the Crunch! pic.twitter.com/ezcYlgvjNQ— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) March 1, 2021
Michael Mersch (1) from Jean-Sebastien Dea (5) and Casey Fitzgerald (1)
Andrew Oglevie (2) from Brett Murray (3) and Arttu Ruotsalainen (4)
John Ludvig (1) from Ryan Lohin (2) and Nikita Pavlychev (1)
Ludvig’s first goal was at the very tail end of a power play for the Crunch. It ended up being an even-strength goal but in spirit it was the team’s first power play goal in nine tries dating back to Grigori Denisenko’s snipe last Saturday against the same Americans.
FIRST PRO GOAL!— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) March 1, 2021
Congratulations, Johnny! pic.twitter.com/zhQ9Mcxlbr
This Week in Thoughts
Injured, but I thought he’s been very poor this season. My patience with him reached a breaking point when he left his post trying to run a guy at the Utica bench, gifting his opponent a breakaway. It was only thanks to rookie Gabriel Fortier’s back check that saved the Crunch from a goal against. All season he’s visibly struggled to move the puck either with passes or skating, causing his partner to circle back and get hemmed in. He’s missed checks in front of the net. All of this has become too much for me to think they’re innocent mistakes. It’s been tough to watch. I hope the injury can have a silver lining and he comes back a more effective defenseman.
Somppi has taken on the Ross Colton role of doing everything necessary to make his teammates’ jobs easier. He’s been vital to the team, taking lots of faceoffs, being a primary member on the penalty killing, and he’s filled the void of puck transition through the neutral zone.
You’ll remember when Colton and Alex Barre-Boulet were called up and Aleksi Heponiemi’s injury happened, that the team looked really devoid of puck carriers and players who can turn defense into offense. Somppi has become that player for the Crunch and this game was a prime example of that.
He has improved his effort in the defensive zone to win battles and get on top of guys. He’s very quick and comfortable with the puck on his stick and with opponents around him. In the offensive zone he battles hard and is really good at finding players for opportunities. I don’t know where the Lightning keep finding guys, but this was expected to be a big year for Somppi and he is absolutely delivering. Put him back on your radar if you ever took him off.