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Crunch Wrap: Syracuse Tested, Results Mixed

Syracuse wins one, loses one, and comes back to drop a nailbiter in overtime.

Scott Thomas Photography

This was a measuring stick week for the Syracuse Crunch (6-6-1-2) as they took on the division-leading Toronto Marlies (10-4-1-0) and the AHL league-leading Providence Bruins (10-2-2-2). We are a quarter into the season and the Crunch are starting to find their chemistry as a team. They’ve got two of the hottest teams coming into Syracuse, and they’ve got a 4 game win streak. Let’s see how they fared:

Wednesday Roster

The Crunch have a lot to be thankful for with their captain Gabriel Dumont back. They get a natural center in that spot and then get Alex Barré-Boulet and Félix Robert back in areas where they can be successful. The addition of Dumont dropped Gage Goncalves down to the fourth line with Ilya Usau and Lucas Edmonds. In net Syracuse stuck with the hot hand in Hugo Alnefelt.

In the first period, veteran NHL forward Kyle Clifford skated through the entire team from the Marlies defensive zone to put Toronto up 1-0.

Darren Raddysh, much to the Marlies’ chagrin, continued his tear, skated in from the blueline and rocketed a slapshot into the back of the net to make it 1-1.

The good vibes wouldn’t last much longer for the Crunch as Alnefelt got bumped into by Clifford and went awkwardly into the post. He was laid out on the ice in pain for a few minutes before skating off under his own power. Max Lagace came in to relieve him, and he was tested a few times for the rest of the period. However, the Crunch did a good job keeping the puck at the other end of the ice, and the period ended in a tie.

In the second, a strong forecheck from Gemel Smith led to a bad turnover from Toronto right in front of their net. Smith didn’t miss, and he made it 2-1 Crunch.

Speaking of offensive tears, Daniel Walcott continued his career year in scoring, as he tipped an Usau pass in front of the net to make it 3-1 Crunch. It was his 6th goal of the season, one off his career-high of 7, set back in the 2019-20 season.

Unfortunately, the Marlies scored a couple to tie the game up to end the second period. Going into the third period, the score was 3-3

Despite the opposing team’s goals, the Crunch continued to push the play in the offensive zone. After a strong forecheck and pressure on a Marlies defenceman, Gage Goncalves found a loose puck in the crease and slammed it home to establish a 4-3 Crunch lead.

Just a few minutes later, a great feed from Goncalves across the ice found a wide open Ryan Jones who fired it home to make it 5-3.

Team defense stepped up, and the Crunch kept the Marlies from getting any more real chances. The Marlies did have a power play chance, but the penalty kill for the Crunch held Toronto to just one shot on goal. It was a total team effort that had to learn from some earlier breakdowns in the game.

Coach Benoit Groulx Post Game Thoughts

“For sure, we’re playing with more confidence. I think we’re more on the same page on the ice.”

“Tonight I really liked the line of Goncalves and Usua. I think they did a lot of good things. Gonzo played his best game of the year. Usua is progressing and every game is getting better.”

“Overall, we’re happy; we know we have a big challenge this weekend.”

Friday Night Roster

Before the game, the Lightning recalled Alex Barré-Boulet. With Barré-Boulet recalled Usau slots into his line. With Alnefelt injured, Max Lagace is between the pipes.

To start the first period, Daniel Walcott got the Crunch on the board first. Walcott’s goal was a shot fired straight from the faceoff. The goal gave Walcott a 4 game goal streak and matched his career high after just 17 games this season. It made it 1-0 Crunch.

After that goal, Providence scored twice to make it 2-1.

With the Crunch on a power play, Gemel Smith took a puck that was bouncing around the paint and knocked it in to tie it up 2-2.

In the second period, Darren Raddysh took a shot from an impossible angle to put the Crunch ahead.

During the goal celebration Smith, who was crosschecked in the back by a Providence player, got up and was displeased with this treatment. He went to confront the Bruins player, and somehow, Providence got a power play out of the sequence.

At the beginning of the third, an unfortunate play occurred where Félix Robert was checked into Sean Day, and that took Day out of the play. That left two Bruins in front of the net, and they scored to tie the game 3-3.

A shift later, a bad change by the Crunch led to an odd man rush, and Providence scored to go ahead 4-3.

A notable moment occurred when Trevor Carrick tripped up a Providence forward, and the forward went sliding into Crunch goalie Lagace. Lagace showed off his vertical jump prowess, and avoided any collusion from the opposing player. Looks like the Lightning have more than one big cat in the organization.

Aside from the circus-like theatrics of the Syracuse goalie, the Crunch battled through the tough checking Bruins, poor officiating, and bad puck luck for the rest of the game. Providence was able to ice the game with an empty net goal with 1:26 left in the third.

It was a worthy effort from the Crunch. They were missing their star player, they were down a goalie, and they battled through all of the nuanced obstacles in a game against the league leading Bruins. If nothing else, it gave the team even more motivation to come out in Saturday’s World Cup Night and give the fans something to root for.

Saturday Night Roster

The coaching staff decided to swap Goncalves and Félix Robert, while Lucas Edmonds came out and Bennett MacArthur came in. Max Lagace was back in the net.

In the first, the Bruins continued their scoring onslaught from the night before, and they jumped out to a two-goal lead.

The Crunch’s power play was able to get them on the board with a sweet set play to make it 2-1.

In the second period, the Bruins continued to lean on the Crunch, and they scored two more goals to push their lead to 4-1. After the third period from the other night, and the beginning of this game, no one would have blamed the Crunch if they would have just mailed it in at this point. Once again, the Crunch, would not say die. Toward the end of the period, Simon Ryfors was able to fire one home, and the deficit was back down to two goals.

In the third period, the Crunch were able to get on the power play again. This time Gemel Smith sent a feed through the Providence defense that went to Ilya Usau’s stick. He was able to one time the pass into a wide open net to make it 4-3.

The Bruins would not be deterred by a one goal lead, and they added an insurance goal to make it 5-3.

The feisty Crunch just wouldn’t go away though, and Sean Day skated in and fired a shot off of Gabriel Fortier to make it 5-4.

Once again, immediately after the goal, the Bruins wouldn’t let the Crunch celebrate because they picked a fight with Fortier and Day. This time both teams had sets of players go into the box, and fortunately for the Crunch they didn’t have to kill off a penalty directly after a goal.

The Crunch continued to claw their way back into the game, and at the 7-minute mark it seemed they had done just that. After a battle along the boards, Dumont got the puck back to Carrick at the blueline who slid the puck over to Jack Thompson. Thompson fired into a cluster of Crunch and Bruins players in front of the net, and the puck found its way into the back of the net. The celebration ended as soon as it began because the on ice official waved it off and motioned for goalie interference.

At first, it seemed as if a Crunch player was not only going to get a goal waived off, but was going to the box for a penalty. However, after conferring with the other officials, they deemed the contact in the crease to be “incidental” and just disallowed the goal without a penalty. Upon further inspection, it would seem that a Bruins defender had a skate that collided with the 6’5” rookie goalie Brandon Bussi, and an unfortunate call brings the Crunch back to being down by one goal.

It was a worthy effort by a gritty Crunch team. It seemed like they would need to be content with “nice try”. They weren’t getting any benefit of the doubt in calls again, and they were up against the hottest team in the AHL. Yet, they would not relent, they would not give up, and they believed in their abilities to tie the game.

They continued to push the pace of play, and eventually they earned a power play. This was the first game since the first game of the season they had scored more than one power play goal. The powe rplay gave them a shot, but ultimately wasn’t able to find the back of the net.

The Bruins kept firing the puck back into the Crunch’s zone Just as it seemed the Bruins were going to run the clock out, the Crunch got the puck into the offensive zone with an extra attacker with less than a minute to go. Darren Raddysh found Usau by the half wall, and he fired it into a mass of players in front of the net. Ryfors whiffed on the puck, but got just enough that it found Robert all alone with a wide open net. Just like that, with 43 seconds left, it was a tie game.

The game went to overtime. The second minute into overtime, Chris Wagner of the Bruins skated around the back of the net for a wraparound, and Lagace wasn’t able to find the other side of the net in time. It was over, and Providence had won.

Takeaways

The Crunch went into this week toward the middle of the pack in their division and toward the bottom of the standings in the league. They were trending upward with a 4 game win streak, but they had a lot of work ahead of them to climb back up into the standings. This week saw them go 1-1-1-0. They were able to get 3 points out of a possible 6 points, and they were able to do it against two of the better teams in the league. If nothing else, this younger team showed they belong, and they’re not going anywhere.

Coming Up

The Crunch are off until Friday where they will travel to Belleville to take on the Senators. Syracuse is 2-0 against Belleville so far this season. The day they will have a quick turnaround where they will play Toronto at 4:00 P.M. The Crunch are 1-2 against the North Division leaders.