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Crunch Wrap: Two out of three ain’t bad

Crunch win a couple against division rivals

Scott Thomas Photography

The Crunch’s season seems to be about cycles and finding balance. The season started with embracing the ebb and flow of a lengthy season. Coach Benoit Groulx’s history with early season woes has been categorically documented, but it’s the way his teams seem unphased by the lows of the game that are intriguing.

Just when you think the tide has washed away and the play of the Crunch has left them too far gone to be a contender, on comes a massive wave of success that brings with it wins, personal acolytes, and a renewed sense of team identity.

It’s the way this team oscillates between offensive juggernaut and defensive mediocrity. The Crunch may start a game battering the opposing team goalie like the ocean on a shore. The shots barrage from every angle, and the opposing team just digs in their skates and waits it out. Ultimately, succumbing to their own forces and being pulled back into a style of play that benefits the opposing team.

Wednesday Night’s Game

Phillipe Myers made his debut with the Crunch. He played 11 games with the Lightning where he had 1 goal, 2 assists, and had a +/- of 0. Last year he played 27 games for the Nashville Predators, and 16 games for the Toronto Marlies. The addition of Myers means that Declan Carlile becomes the odd man out of the lineup. This was the only lineup change for the Crunch from Saturday.

In the first period, both teams exchanged chances, and the Crunch had some dangerous, lengthy possessions in the offensive zone. Then the Crunch took a too many men minor, and that seemed to deflate their game. Rochester took the control of the game and pressed. Fortunately, the Crunch penalty kill bent, but didn’t break and they killed the penalty. Even still, eventually, the momentum the Amerks had led to a goal.

The Crunch came right back and tried to establish their aggressive style of the game, but it went too far and Daniel Walcott went to the box for cross-checking. Once again, the Crunch penalty kill did their job, and they ended up getting an offsetting penalty to reward their efforts. At 4-on-4 the Crunch found their offensive game again, and they applied pressure. They eventually got an abbreviated power play, but were incapable of cashing in on. The momentum was still in their favor though, and seconds after the expiration of the power play Gemel Smith threw a no look shot pass to Gabriel Dumont who redirected the puck into the net. A secondary assist was given to Simon Ryfors.

In the second period, just like their play has had to endure a pendulum-like style, it would seem roster replacements have had a similar impact on the team. Recently, it’s been the injuries in net, and this game was no different as Hugo Alnefelt replaced Max Lagace to start this period. Previously, it was Alnefelt that took an awkward hit that sidelined him for a few games.

The Crunch spent the entire first 6 minutes of this period on attack, and when Rochester finally got the puck in the Crunch’s zone Gage Goncalves took a penalty. It was the Crunch’s fourth penalty of the game. The penalty kill looked poised, and Alnefelt was tested but stood tall and turned away anything that came his way.

Later on in the period, Smith curled around with the puck and found Ilya Usau in the middle of the ice. As the Amerks players converged on Usau, Usau saw an opening for Ryan Jones who was waiting at the hash marks and he fired the puck into the back of the net to make it 2-1 Crunch.

In the 3rd period, the penalties continued to pile up for the Crunch as Félix Robert took a hooking call on an Amerks skater. The Crunch special teams stepped up again and killed off the penalty without much danger.

About midway through the period, the Crunch took over and the back and forth play swung in Syracuse’s favor. Gabe Fortier deflected a shot from Darren Raddysh to make it 3-1.

A few minutes later, from almost the same exact area, Darren Raddysh threw the puck on net and found Goncalves this time to deflect the puck into the net to make it 4-1.

There was no pendulum swing this time in favor of Rochester, and eventually Simon Ryfors got an empty net goal from a long feed from Alex Barré-Boulet.

The story of this game had to be the tremendous play of the special teams. The offense continues to put up numbers, but the penalty kill did everything they could to keep Rochester from staying in this game. Alenfelt played a huge part in that coming in relief of Lagace.

Friday Night’s Game

The major changes in Friday’s lineup were Trevor Carrick came out of this game and Declan Carlile took his spot. Goncalves and Shawn Element flip-flopped spots on the lines. Jack Lafontaine, who was recalled from Orlando, took over as the backup goaltender and Alnefelt was in as the starter.

The Crunch opened the scoring as Alex Barré-Boulet scored his 6th goal of the season on a nifty little inside out move that got around Toronto’s goaltender Keith Petruzzelli’s skate. The Crunch were ahead 1-0.

A few minutes later Toronto would tie it, and then toward the end of the period take the lead and would not relinquish it. The period would end 2-1 Toronto.

The second period seemed to be the game-defining period for the Crunch. They outshot Toronto 12-6, but through a combination of Petruzzelli’s play and bad puck luck, they just couldn’t find the back of the net. Eventually, the period ended, and the score remained 2-1. The Crunch’s power play couldn’t come up with an equalizer.

For the third period, the Crunch once again went on the power play, and again their power play woes continued and it was an uneventful two minutes. Immediately after the power play ended, the Marlies took control of the game and scored to make it 3-1.

It seemed like it was just that kind of night for the Crunch, and Coach Groulx decided an unorthodox tactic, first it was sending out four forwards. Then it was pulling Alnefelt with 5 minutes to go. The Crunch, only down two goals on paper, seemed to be miles away from scoring on Petruzzelli who was not making it easy for the Crunch to get back in the game. At first, the move seemed to spark some offensive zone pressure, but eventually a few turnovers led to Toronto getting an easy tap in to make it 4-1.

A few minutes later, with Alnefelt pulled again, Smith scored his 8th goal of the season to make it 4-2. The goal extended Smith’s scoring streak to 9 straight games with a point.

The next shift saw the Crunch once again pulling Alnefelt, but this time Marlies player Joseph Blandisi had a breakaway toward an empty net. Declan Carlile made a herculean effort to keep Blandisi from scoring. Carlile went careening into the net, but he was able to keep the Crunch in the game for a few more minutes.

About a minute later, Blandisi once again missed the empty net, and threw the puck out for another Marlies player who also missed the net. No matter, time was dwindling down on the Crunch who weren’t able to even up the score despite the efforts of the skaters and the open net.

Final Thoughts

Where Wednesday night’s game had the Crunch’s penalty kill flourish, Friday night’s game against the Marlies saw the power play flounder. They had five opportunities and weren’t able to capitalize. It wasn’t as if this game was out of reach, it just seemed like one of those things where the puck didn’t want to go into the net. At least for the Crunch, they could blame that fact on the play of Petruzzelli.

Saturday Night’s Game

Despite the importance of the game between the division rivals, the most anticipated event had to be Syracuse’s Tired Teddy Toss. The Tired Teddy Toss is where fans bring gently used stuffed animals to the game, and when the Crunch score their first goal they throw them onto the ice. The organization then collects up all of the stuffed animals and gets them cleaned and donated to children in the community.

While the roster remained the same, the lines and pairings saw some juggling. The only constant was that Huge Alnefelt remained in net.

The game started pretty chippy. Shawn Element and Comet’s forward Jack Dugan were jostling before the puck was even dropped. The Comet’s sent the puck into the Crunch zone and collided with Alnefelt, and Element and Dugan decided to drop the gloves.

On the scoreboard, Utica struck first and made it 1-0 about 4 minutes into the game.

The Crunch were threatening to score after that, and the push was on to get those teddy bears thrown on the ice.

It didn’t take much longer after Utica scored for Syracuse to respond, and Gemel Smith found Shawn Element all alone in front of the net and he buried it. The assist from Smith continued his point streak, and he’s now at 10 games straight with a point.

The teddy bears rained down, and it took a while to get all of the bears onto the ice and then cleaned up. It was also really neat to see Crunch players get into the action cleaning the bears off the ice. They were seen helping pile up the bears, working with the ice staff to corral them, and even picking them up to place in bags for storage. They did all this with huge grins on their faces. It was a really well executed event, and everyone on the ice didn’t seem to mind the stoppage in play all that much.

Overall, the Syracuse community donated over 7,689 stuffed animals.

Later on in the period, Cole Koepke scored to put the Crunch ahead 2-1. The goal was a snipe from the top of the circle, but it has to be noted that Smith had an amazing no-look backhanded assist to get the puck to Koepke who was all alone.

About 5 minutes into the second period, Darren Raddysh absolutely rifled a shot from the blueline to make it 3-1 Crunch. He continues his career year by setting a career high in goals, and he continues to lead the AHL in points by all skaters.

A few minutes later, after an icing, there was an eruption of activity as Utica’s Mason Geertsen poked at Cole Koepke’s skate. He seemed to not like where it was placed during the face-off. Koepke took exception and slashed Geertsen across the shin pads. Gabriel Dumont and Gemel Smith came to the defense of Koepke as Geertsen appeared to want to fight Koepke.

It was Smith that continued to tussle with Geertsen as the linesmen were immediately between them. It didn’t seem to matter much to Geertsen or Smith because they continued to fight and hit each other, and the linesmen, while being separated. Both players took game misconducts, and the game continued on.

About midway through the period, Goncalves pressured the Comet’s goalies, and then found Félix Robert in front of an empty net who scored to make it 4-1.

With about 5 minutes left in the game, the Comets decided to pull their goalie in a Hail Mary effort to get back in the game. After a miss earlier, Gage Goncalves hit the empty net to make it 5-1.

The rest of the game was Utica realizing they couldn’t beat Syracuse on the scoreboard, and they tried to beat Syracuse with their fists. First, a disgruntled Comet forward wanted to send a message, and he sent that message by leaving his skates to hit Daniel Walcott with an open ice hit. Shawn Element, who was right near the hit, took exception and for the second time in the night he dropped the gloves and fought. Second, a Comet player didn’t appreciate Phillipe Myers sticking up for his goalie, and they fought.

Ultimately, the generosity of the Syracuse community was rewarded with a generous hockey club that scored 5 goals, and entertained with 4 fights.

The win put them one win away from second place in the division, and the Crunch are now only six points back from first place.

Coming Up

The Crunch play the Springfield Thunderbirds at home Friday night, and they play Bridgeport Tigers at home Saturday Night.

Friday’s game should be a memorable one because it will mark the 335th game played for Crunch forward Daniel Walcott. This will put him in sole possession as most played games in a Crunch uniform.