The Syracuse Crunch are heating up. Benoit Groulx’s slow and steady reputation is carrying the narrative for another season. It’s hard to deny the body of success Coach Groulx has staying patient with teams as they look to have some regular season success. As this weekend showed, a Groulx-coached team can win, and they can win in a variety of ways.
For Friday’s game Ilya Usau slotted into the lineup in place of P.C. Labrie. Max Lagace started in net.
Our class attendance this morning ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/9ETfdAN7eL— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 16, 2022
The Crunch started out very aggressive, and pushing the play offensively. After 9 minutes of play they were outshooting the Thunderbirds 7-1. Continuing their aggressive forecheck, Jack Finley took a boarding call. After losing the face-off, a puck was flung into a group, it pinballed around, and Lagace couldn’t find it. Which allowed Springfield to score first. Syracuse scored next, as Gemel Smith scored with assists from Ryan Jones and Declan Carlile.
Smitty gets an A+ on that assignment pic.twitter.com/ySs8bQgKce— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 16, 2022
With 5 minutes left to go in the first period, the Crunch looked to be in control of the game. They had a 12 shots to 2 lead, and they were doing a good job of hemming Springfield in their own zone. Jack Finley then took another penalty off the face-off with a hand pass.
This time the Crunch made a better effort in the kill, Gabriel Fortier even had a shorthanded breakaway, and it took an amazing save by the Thunderbirds goalie to keep it tied. Still, with seconds to go on the power play the Thunderbirds scored with what looked like a kicked in goal. The play was reviewed, but the refs concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to prove a kicking motion. The Thunderbirds took the lead 2-1.
That goal seemed to give Springfield life, and the ice tilted toward their zone. They were buzzing and they drew a penalty in the waning seconds of the period, and again, they won the face-off and scored a second consecutive power play goal.
At the beginning of the second period Hugo Alnefelt came in to replace Lagace. The Crunch had a power play and had some chances, but at the end the Thunderbirds made a push. It caused Declan Carlile to take a penalty. Immediately, following that the Crunch lost the face-off, and it didn’t seem to matter who was in net because the Crunch couldn’t stop the Springfield power play and the Thunderbirds scored again to make it 4-1.
It was looking like this just wasn’t the Crunch’s game. No matter all of the positive things they were doing they kept shooting themselves in the foot. The undisciplined play were leading to power plays for Springfield and they weren’t missing.
The Crunch stuck with the process. They continued their style of play, and they didn’t seem to let the penalties, bad breaks, and questionable officiating take them off their game.
Midway through the third, still down 4-1, the Crunch got their own power play. Coach Groulx got creative and pulled Alnefelt to make it a 6 on 4. It didn’t pay off, but there was a comical moment when the Thunderbirds sent a puck close to the net. Meanwhile, Alnefelt was charging to get back into the net on the fly.
With 8 minutes left, and an offensive zone draw, Groulx pulled the goalie again. This time, Darren Raddysh scored with a point slapshot. This narrowed the lead to 4-2. It was assisted by Alex Barré-Boulet and Ilya Usua
Raddy just rifles it! pic.twitter.com/9PWjfMe8e0— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 16, 2022
The next shift, Ryan Jones took a high stick that went uncalled, he crosschecked the Springfield player and that drew the attention of the referee. That made it 4-on-4 hockey, and once it was clear the Crunch had control of the puck, Groulx pulled Alnefelt. That gutsy decision paid off. Raddysh had an amazing keep that send the puck in low, and Simon Ryfors scored with assists from Ilya Usua and Gemel Smith. The Crunch were within one, at 4-3.
Another weird turn of events, the Crunch for a power play, and this time about halfway through the advantage Ben Groulx pulled the goalie once more. The play was in the offensive zone when Alnefelt came off the ice, but the refs blew the whistle for what seems like a “too many men” call. They must have blew the play dead in error because no one went to the penalty box. Instead they dropped the puck at center ice, and the Crunch had to once again pull Alnefelt to get their 6 -on-4 advantage. That confusion definitely messed with their timing and flow and the Thunderbird killed the penalty after.
Declan Carlile tied it up and it was 4-4. He got assists from Gage Goncalves and Jack Finley.
With nothing doing in overtime, the game went to a shootout. The Crunch had been 0-2 in games that have gone to a shootout, but they ended that streak as Gage Goncalves and Gemel Smith converted while Will Bitten was the only Thunderbird to beat Alnefelt.
What Does It Mean
Don’t ever count out the Crunch. They have the most goals in any period of any AHL team, and luckily for them, it happens to be the third period. They may be a slow starting team, but they know how to finish strong.
For this game, Hugo Alnefelt got the start in net, Ilya Usua got a line promotion, Gemel Smith was out of the lineup, and defenseman Tyson Feist was a forward. Got it? Got it.
Our projected lineup on this Saturday night ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/PyWqQBNbSl— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 19, 2022
A game after getting his first AHL point, Usua rewards the coaching staff’s decision to promote him with his first goal of his AHL career to make it 1-0 Crunch. His first goal of the season came with assists from Barré-Boulet and Raddysh.
There's the first one for Ilya! pic.twitter.com/ZVKzkJmyC0— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 20, 2022
Jack Finley followed that goal with one of his own to make it 2-0 Syracuse. Daniel Walcott and Shawn Element get assists.
Wally with the move, Finley with the finish pic.twitter.com/tG15fUVmmV— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 20, 2022
Trevor Carrick makes it 3-0 on the power play. Assists by Declan Carlile and Alex Barré-Boulet.
Carrick with the one-timer pic.twitter.com/0nkDbKtyZ5— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 20, 2022
Shawn Element gets a feed from Raddysh and Carrick to make it 4-0. This is not the slow starting Crunch that fans have been used to. All four goals in the first period were scored within the first 9 minutes of the game.
Element out here sneaking behind everyone pic.twitter.com/AgCoKWORtX— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 20, 2022
Belleville scored one to hang around and that made it 4-1. After a failed penalty shot from Trevor Carrick the Crunch went into the dressing room with a three goal lead.
In the 2nd period Belleville scored to cut the lead in half. It’s now 4-2 Crunch.
Daniel Walcott scores from Félix Robert to bring the lead back to three and it’s now 5-2 Crunch.
Despite that goal, Senators just wouldn’t go away. In the middle of the second, the officiating seemed content with letting them play, and Belleville were doing just that. The Crunch were fighting through holds, hooks, and hacks, but they couldn’t do enough to quell the onslaught. The Senators kept sending the puck into the offensive zone, and while the Crunch were doing all the could to stem the tide, even appealing to the officials, the Senators found a loose puck, wide open in the slot, and slapped it in to make it 5-3.
Later on in the second period, there were a few back-to-back penalties against the Crunch. The last one ended up with a power play goal against, and the Crunch ended the second leading by one goal.
The third period was marked by some remarkable saves. Antoine Bibeau of the Senators made a midair glove save on a shot by Robert that was so close it involved a lengthy video review. Hugo Alnefelt, not to be outdone, made a few of his own saves to keep the Crunch in the lead.
Ultimately, the third was marked by some questionable officiating. The Crunch, doing their own version of game management, seemed content with just running time off the clock. With about two minutes left in the game, the Crunch were given a power play, and they just sat on the puck. It was a “trust the process” style of play where they wanted to do more to win the game than score the next goal.
That shows a team that’s maturing, and a team willing to do what it can to learn how to win. The Crunch scored four of their five goals in the first 10 minutes of the game, and the rest of the time it was trying to keep the puck out of dangerous areas defensively, pushing the play offensively, and managing their emotions when calls weren’t going their way.
With the win, Syracuse now has 1,000 franchise wins. It also gave coach Ben Groulx 300 career AHL wins. They sit squarely in 4th place in the North Division with 15 points. They have a .500 record, and they’ll need to build on that if they want to remain in striking distance of the playoffs. They’re second in the league in goals for, but they’re 6th to last in goals against.
Saturday’s game snapped a 5 point streak for Gage Goncalves.
Daniel Walcott is now 8 games away from the record for most games played in a Crunch uniform.
Alex Barré-Boulet is 8 points from tying second place for the franchise record in points.
This Wednesday the Crunch will look for their first win against the Toronto Marlies. Friday they will play the first of a back to back against the Providence Bruins. Saturday’s game against the Bruins will be a World Cup Night. As a way of acknowledging the FIFA World Cup, fans are encouraged to dress up in the kits of their favorite football club or home country. There will also be other events and activities that will be soccer centered.