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Crunch Wrap: Syracuse picks up their first win of the season

Amidst a bevy of goals they split the weekend series with Rochester

Scott Thomas Photography

After dropping a pair of games last weekend the Syracuse Crunch found themselves wanting to get into the win column to start the weekend. Offense and special teams have been a strength, but they were lacking in other aspects of their game. The team got a boost for Friday’s game with Gabriel Fortier back in a Crunch jersey, he was recently reassigned from Tampa Bay.

Of note, Lucas Edmonds, 2022 Lightning third round draft pick, was also in the lineup and it marked his first AHL game. When ESPN Syracuse’s Lukas Favale asked about Fortier, Coach Ben Groulx saw an opportunity to improve the product on the ice, “Speed, grit, competitiveness, he’s a big add to our team this year in terms of bringing depth and bringing speed to our club.”

Going into the weekend, Felix Robert was interviewed and he was optimistic about the Crunch’s chances based on last week’s play, “We came back in both games, It’s nice to have a character team early in the season.” Even with all of that character, the Crunch have a bit of growing pains to navigate.

Coach Groulx described his team as, “A young team, we have 10 rookies this year, many of them need time, we adjusted our work schedule, we have morning sessions and we have afternoon sessions. It’s a 2-3 month investment.” There is a delicate balance of patience and process with players. On the one hand they need ice time, but on the other they need the team to remain competitive to play meaningful games and give players meaningful minutes.

Coach Groulx knows it takes patience and purpose with players to properly assess the team moving forward. As Groulx put it when asked what the young players need to do to help the team win, “Consistency in everything we’re doing. Whether it’s collectively or individually, you can’t be a good offensive player only and expect to play in the NHL. You have to be a three zone player. In all areas. You gotta be a three zone hockey player.” It seemed to begin the game Friday night, the Crunch looked to do just that, and control all three zones of the ice.

To start the game, both the Crunch and the Amerks struggled to gain entry into the offensive zone in the first period. While the Crunch weren’t bringing a ton of offensive zone pressure, they were doing a much better job of keeping the puck out of their defensive zone and clogging up the neutral zone. Even though they had a goal to make things difficult for Rochester, the Amerks found the back of the net first. It was Tyson Kozak’s first ever AHL goal.

The shift after showed that character that Robert was talking about because Gemel Smith and Simon Ryfors immediately applied pressure in the offensive zone. Eventually that urgency in the offensive zone led to the Crunch drawing a penalty toward the end of the period, and the special teams worked their magic. A feed from Alex Barré-Boulet to Darren Raddysh who one timed a laser from the point.

That point from Barré-Boulet tied him with Cory Conacher for the most by a Crunch player during the TampaCuse affiliation.

The second period began and the Crunch seemed to be gaining momentum. Daniel Walcott took off on a break, dragged the goaltender and a defender with him, and flipped a perfect back pass to a trailing Smith who shot the puck into a wide open net.

Last week, the Crunch seemed to get hemmed into their zone during long periods of play, but this time trouble came from letting the Rochester forwards get in behind the defense. This led to some dangerous plays in front of Max Lagace, but he stood tall and bailed out the Crunch defenders whenever these situations arose.

Speaking of Crunch defenders, Raddysh was flying all over the ice this period. He was jumping into the offensive play, and on one rush he narrowly missed scoring a goal. At one point during a powerplay chance, Raddysh dove along the blueline to keep the puck from leaving the zone. He was playing with an urgency that was absolutely noticeable.

Despite all of their effort, whatever momentum the Crunch had built up was wiped away in the third period when Amerk’s Linus Weissbach scored a pair of goals to put Rochester up on top 3-2.

And yet, the fight never went out of the character Crunch. They continued to try to claw back into the game, and once again Darren Raddysh showed great vision by sending a nifty pass across the ice from the half boards to a perfectly positioned Fortier who redirected the puck into the net.

It was Raddysh’s second point of the night. Barré-Boulet also picked up a helper and he surpassed Cory Conacher in points with 206, giving him sole possession of fourth place all time for the Crunch.

With that goal, the game seemed to be heading toward the third straight Crunch overtime, and then the most bizarre of sequences took place.

At the 50 second mark, former Syracuse Crunch defenseman Chase Priskie sent the most beautiful stretch saucer pass to a streaking Kozak. Kozak seemed to be impeded by Declan Carlile and fell to the ice, and the Rochester faithful clamored for a call. Carlile went to play the puck in the corner and took a shoulder or elbow to the head and he fell to the ice in obvious discomfort. When he finally came to, he skated toward the bench and he was talking to the ref about a non-call. This led to an out of position defender for the Crunch and an odd man rush for the Amerks. The Amerks threw the puck on net, and just when it looked like Lagace had covered it, a stick poked the puck through his five hole and into the net with just 3 seconds to go.

Despite the loss the Crunch played more systematically. They looked to control the possession, they did a much better job getting the puck out of the defensive zone, and they didn’t let themselves get caught out of position much. Yet the few mental lapses in the most inopportune time cost them the game.

The result was the Crunch’s third straight loss, and it was the worst start of any Crunch team since the Tampa Bay affiliation. The last time the Crunch had lost three straight games top open a a season was in the 2010-2011 season.

Saturday’s game

This was the Syracuse home opener. It was another game they had to play without their captain, but for alternate captain Daniel Walcott it was a special night. The game moved Walcott into a tie with Jeremy Reich for second place all time in games played as a member of the Crunch. When talking to Favale before this game, Walcott sounded excited to get in front of the crowd at the War Memorial Arena, “It’s gonna be my first one in a few years I’ve been injured in every home opener.” When asked what it will take to take a win tonight Walcott mentioned, “It won’t be lack of energy on our part because we have the fans behind us.”

Still, Walcott seemed to be on the same page as his coach and added, “Stay physical, they’re a team that’s highly skilled and they want that easy game. We have to be a lot more structured defensively and sound.”

For this game Jaydon Dureau came into the lineup, and Shawn Element came out of the lineup.

Felix Robert kicked off the scoring with a power play goal. Robert talked on Friday about making a good first impression with the team, “I’m new here, but I want to have a good role for the team. I put my energy in the team and give the team a chance to win every night.” Positioning has been a strength for Robert, and once again he was in the perfect spot on the power play to bury a chance. Notice how he’s all alone, unwatched, and he moved his feet to find a seam for the pass and a sweeping goal.

The Crunch protected the lead halfway into the second, but a couple of back-to-back penalties cost them. It allowed the Amerks to tie the game up 1-1.

A few minutes later, Robert scored his second goal of the game. This time he helped dump the puck in deep to Walcott who stick-handled through two Amerk defenders, found Simon Ryfors who then passed it to a wide open Robert.

Just a sneaky good goal, Robert threw it in deep, watched the play develop, and skated around the only Amerk player skating up high in the defensive zone. He found the space to sit alone in front of the net and wait for a pass to materialize. When the pass came to him it’s only a matter of getting the stick on the puck to score.

Going into the second intermission, the Crunch were once again in the lead.

More impressive than how many the Crunch scored in this game were how many they kept out. There was a concerted effort to backcheck from the forwards. Robert threw a stick on a puck at the last second that prevented a goal when an Amerk player came in all alone on Lagace. Barré-Boulet’s game has been noticeably more defensive, and he’s been making some tremendous defensive plays and working hard to get back into the neutral zone. Lagace kept things calm and made a flurry of saves at times.

To start the third period, that hard work, physicality, and structured play started to pay off for the Crunch. Walcott was in line to redirect a shot from Jack Thompson.

The goals kept coming for the Crunch, and this time it was Robert who was dishing them off to Walcott for his second goal of the game. Strong on the puck, Robert stole the puck in the corner and found Walcott all alone in front of the net for the fourth Crunch goal of the night.

The Amerks didn’t look to give up easily and they answered to get within two.

The next shift proved just what kind of energy the Crunch had throughout the night because Trevor Carrick immediately answered 23 seconds later with a snipe from the far left boards. That goal made it 5-2 Crunch. It was Carrick’s first goal as a member of the team.

That momentum-killing goal was scored with 6:27 left on the clock. There would be no comeback for the Amerks, and in the final few minutes pulled their goalie to close the gap. However, the strong backchecking of Felix Robert in the neutral zone earned him a hat trick. He came in behind the Amerk’s player stole the puck from center ice and turned around and found the empty net for his third goal of the game.

The offense is there for the Crunch as they’re averaging over 4 goals a game, but the defensive play in the neutral zone and the defensive zone from all skaters is what led to their first win of the season.

Coming Up

The Crunch play their first midweek game taking on the Toronto Marlies Wednesday in Toronto. On Friday, the Crunch come back home for the second half of a home and away series with the Marlies. The follow that up with a Saturday game where they look to get some revenge on the Cleveland Monsters.