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Crunch Wrap: Syracuse comes close, but drop both games in Cleveland

Crunch pick up a pair of points in their opening weekend.

Scott Thomas Photography

The Syracuse Crunch lost both games this weekend in a shootout both literally and figuratively to the Cleveland Monsters. There was no lack of action in the games as both teams came out of the gate scoring goals back and forth like a title fight between two heavyweights. The Monsters would score, and the resilient Crunch would find a way to tie it. Even though the results didn’t turn out the way the Crunch had hoped, there were a few firsts for Crunch players, a milestone eclipsed, and some positive aspects of play for the team to build off of moving forward.

Friday Night’s Game

Cleveland’s Kirill Marchenko kicked off the AHL season by being the first player in the league to score. Just 26 seconds into the game, Marchenko took a pass off the rush and fired a wrister past Crunch goalie Max Lagace.

The Crunch showed their resiliency by keeping the pressure on, and eventually Captain Gabriel Dumont opened Syracuse’s goal-scoring season by tying the game up 1-1 at 17:23. The top line of Felix Robert, Dumont, and Alex Barré-Boulet worked together to find the back of the net. For most of Friday’s game this was a line that was buzzing offensively.

For the goal, Barré-Boulet took the puck behind the net, found Robert near the front of the net who sent a pass to Dumont on the doorstep to bury one home. It must be noted, the secondary assist from Barré-Boulet gave him 200 points in his career with the Syracuse Crunch, but more on that later.

Cleveland came right back to tally a couple more goals to take a 3-1 lead. Carson Myer scored with assists by Marchenko and Marcus Bjork to make it 2-1 at 9:43, and Trey Fix-Wolansky score to make it 3-1 at 1:26 with an assist from Emil Bemstrom.

Still, the Crunch persisted, and Simon Ryfors scored his first goal of the night at 18:36 of the second period. Gage Goncalves made a cross ice pass to Ryfors who one-timed a bullet into the back of the net.

Then the Monsters took advantage of some sloppy play from the Crunch and came right back to make it a two goal lead again to make it 4-2 at 15:22.

For much of the weekend, the Crunch’s saving grace was their special teams. With 19 seconds left in the third, the Crunch narrowed the lead to 4-3 by scoring on a powerplay. Ryfors was able to tap in his second goal of the night with a beautiful cross-ice passing play from Darren Raddysh and Barré-Boulet.

In the third period, with 4:41 left in the game, the Crunch went on a power play. They looked a little sloppy at first, and a broken play led to an odd man rush for Cleveland. Fortunately, Barré-Boulet made a tremendous back check, where he intercepted a pass, and sent the puck up the ice into the offensive zone. A few seconds later, Goncalves took a shot in close, Jack Finley created chaos with his big body, and Robert snuck in all alone and untouched to be there to clean things up and make it a tied game. Robert’s effort to clean up a puck from the paint was his first goal as a member of the Crunch.

Cleveland’s Captain Dillon Simpson put the Monsters ahead at 11:32 in the game. For the Crunch, it was the inability to get the puck out of their own zone that hurt them. Lagace had a mask malfunction, and didn’t get a whistle, but ultimately, no one cleared the rebound. Simpson’s goal made it 5-4 Monsters.

With 8:23 left in the game Ryan Jones of the Crunch took a holding penalty. Barré-Boulet made an amazing toe drag play that left the Monster’s goalie, Jet Greaves, hanging out to dry and left Barré-Boulet with a wide open net, but he shot it wide.

The tenacious Crunch pressed on, and with 3:33 left in the game, and just seconds after he drew a penalty, Gemel Smith tied the game with a powerplay goal that sent it into overtime.

Overtime started when Marchenko ran over Smith, who didn’t have a puck, and took a well deserved interference call. Unfortunately, the Crunch weren’t able to convert, and it felt like the period ended as soon as it began.

For the shootout, Lagace wasn’t able to hold off Marchenko, Fix-Wolansky, and Cole Fonstad, and the Monsters secured the victory. Of the Crunch skaters, only Smith and Goncalves were able to find the back of the net.

Final Score: Cleveland 6, Syracuse 5 (SO)

Final Thoughts on Friday’s Game

The story of the night for the Crunch was their inconsistency. Coach Ben Groulx liked the chemistry leading up to this game, and he seemed optimistic that it would carry over into the season. When players were clicking, the Crunch looked like they were in midseason form, and the pucks just followed them around the ice. Things went the worst for them when Cleveland sent the puck in deep, forechecked, and kept the puck down low. One minute the Crunch would have sustained pressure in the offensive zone, and the next shift they wouldn’t be able to get it out of their zone.

That said, Max Lagace did some really good work keeping the Crunch within reach throughout this game. Whenever there was a lapse in defense, Lagace bailed them out on multiple occasions.

Coach Ben Groulx told Crunch play-by-play announcer Lukas Favale on KROCK CNY, “I liked the fact that we never went away. We found a way to get back and managed a point.” He talked about chemistry again, but said moving forward he’d like the Crunch to be a, “second effort hockey club with more consistency.”

Someone that Groulx really thought did a tremendous job on the ice was Simon Ryfors, “I thought he was our best forward, he skated well, shot the puck, the biggest thing for me is his confidence.” He went on to add about Ryfors, “Learning how to play with less space [in North America] on the ice is one thing, having confidence going into battle and driving the net, what I like about his game is he does everything with authority, and that’s a sign of confidence.”

Saturday Afternoon’s Game

Whether it was the lack of consistency from his club, or he just wanted some more defensive minded forwards mixed in with some of the scoring forwards. Ben Groulx looked for a different kind of chemistry by mixing some of the lines prior to the game. This game found veteran Daniel Walcott playing alongside Dumont and Barré-Boulet. Robert slotted in as a center on the second line between Smith and Ryfors. Bennett MacArthur made his AHL debut, and he played left wing next to Jack Finley and P.C. Labrie. Huge Alnefelt made his first start of the season with the Crunch coming off a back-to-back.

Right from puck drop, this game had a more physical tone. At the 19:00 minute mark Captain Dumont took a crushing hit into the boards from Cleveland’s Marchenko. The defensive zone exits were much better throughout this game, at one point Declan Carlile sent Smith and Robert on a 2 on 1. In another solid defensive zone exit, Darren Raddysh sent a cross ice pass to Robert who carried it across the blue line and lofted a touch pass to Ryfors to get his third goal of the weekend and give the Crunch their first lead of the weekend.

Unfortunately, the Monsters answered right back. Kirill Marchenko scored again to continue his monster North American debut weekend by putting the Monsters on the board at 11:00 in the first.

To start the second period, Goncalves and Robert found their way playing with Barré-Boulet. This line combination was more than likely a result of Gabriel Dumont’s absence from the bench for the rest of the game.

Then, Emil Bemstrom scored at 10:55 to make it 2-1 Cleveland.

Syracuse would not be deterred, as Walcott and Goncalves came right back to provide pressure and some physicality. A few shifts later, Gemel Smith continued adding pressure as he turned on a burst of speed and split a pair of Cleveland defenders to get a shot at the goal all by himself. He wasn’t able to get a clean shot off, but he did draw a penalty.

Then the Crunch continued their textbook special teams play. In what looked like a set play, the Crunch won the faceoff, Smith passed the puck across the ice to Barré-Boulet who found Felix Robert all alone for a doorstep tap-in to make it 2-2.

Late in the second period, Jack Finley drove the net and carried with him a few defenders, Barré-Boulet took a pass and found a trailing Raddysh who buried a one timer from the hashmarks.

With the third period underway, sloppy play started to creep back into the Crunch’s game. Robert took a holding penalty in the offensive zone at 16:00. The Crunch were able to kill off most of the penalty before the Monsters took a penalty of their own for playing the puck with a glove off a faceoff.

Later, with the fourth line on the ice, the Crunch made an errant pass that led to an icing. Cleveland sent out their top line, and Marchenko scored his second goal of the game and third of the weekend.

Things started to get even more heated after that. The Crunch came right back to sustain pressure in the offensive zone. As Greaves, the Monsters goalie, was freezing the puck Smith and defenseman David Jiricek started grappling. Smith body slammed Jiricek to the ice. This gave both players matching minor penalties, and eventually, it led to the Monsters scoring to make it 4-3.

Once again, the Crunch showed their resolve, and the leadership on the ice carried them to keep them in it. Labrie drew a penalty at 4:34. The powerplay didn’t convert, but they were able to get the puck in the offensive zone for a faceoff. At this point, Giroulx pulled Alnefelt for the extra skater. The Monsters were able to get the puck out of the zone and make an offensive rush, but Darren Raddysh made an amazing play by blocking a puck with his back and keeping it a one goal game. Then with less than 30 seconds left, Robert made a pass to Barré-Boulet who shot the puck off the post, but it ricocheted to Jack Finley who was able to tip it in for the first professional goal of his career with 11 seconds left.

The game went into an uneventful overtime, and once again the Crunch found themselves in a shootout. This time no one was able to score on Greaves, and for the Monsters, Bemstrom was able to sneak one past Alnefelt.

Final Score: Cleveland 5, Syracuse 4 (SO)

Final Thoughts on Saturday’s Game

It was a much better effort from the Crunch on the defensive side of things. They also did a tremendous job of filling in for the loss of their captain after he exited the game. It wasn’t the outcome they were expecting from their first few games of the season, but there’s plenty of positives to build off of moving forward. They were able to come away with two points from a North Division opponent.

Milestones

As for Alex Barré-Boulet’s milestone reaching weekend, he is one of only 6 players in Crunch franchise history to eclipse the 200 point mark. He ended the weekend with 4 points (0 goals and 4 assists), and he’s now at 203 career points with the Crunch. He’s one point shy of tying 5th place on the Crunch’s all time list which is currently filled by former Crunch Forward Joe Motzko, and he’s two points shy of tying Cory Conacher with 205 points. Conacher holds the most points with Syracuse since they’ve been partnered with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The TampaCuse record is definitely under threat of being broken by next weekend’s home opener.

For the curious, Forward Brad Moran holds the all-time record for points in Crunch history with 241 points. Barré-Boulet is currently 4th in goals and 6th in assists. That is something to keep an eye on this season. Similarly, Daniel Walcott is 3rd in games played with the Crunch at 311 games.

Notable news

Defenceman Trevor Carrick was called up by the Tampa Bay Lightning prior to Friday Night’s game. He didn’t play in either games for the Bolts. However, on Sunday he was reassigned back to Syracuse.

Upcoming Schedule

The Crunch have a home-and-home with their old friends, the Rochester Americans. They finish up their three-game road trip on Friday before returning to Syracuse for the home opener on Saturday.

Friday October 21st at Rochester Americans, 7:05 PM EST

Saturday October 22nd vs. Rochester Americans, 7:00 PM EST