Look out North Division, here come the Syracuse Crunch. Imagine being the Toronto Marlies and Rochester Americans, content to battle each other for the number one spot in the division, and suddenly spotting a glimpse of something in your side view mirror. You hesitate for a second, and look and see the, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear” warning, and Crunchman is smiling back as he’s racing to catch up [I would be absolutely terrified to see Crunchman in any mirror—JG]. The Crunch have their foot on the gas as they were able to secure two wins this weekend against Springfield and Bridgeport.
Let’s take a look back at Friday and Saturday’s game, and recap how this team was able to continue their acceleration forward toward the top of the standings.
Friday Night’s Lineup
Most notable lineup scratches for Syracuse were defenceman Trevor Carrick and goaltender Max Lagace.
Tonight's projected lines against the Thunderbirds ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/O4C2hQUrEq— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) December 16, 2022
Syracuse celebrated forward Daniel Walcott for playing the most games in a Crunch uniform.
When Crunch play by play commentator Lukas Favale spoke with Walcott, he asked what the record meant to him, “It’s a great way to be remembered,” Walcott responded. He spoke about his love for the Syracuse community, and why he loved playing there so much. Favale asked what he liked most about playing for Syracuse and Walcott stated, “The way they embraced me from the get go, I like to be gritty on the ice. The fans, if I miss a hit, are just as loud as if I connect on a hit.” He followed that up by mentioning he had some friends and family in attendance, and he had extra motivation to give them a good show to bring the energy up to give Syracuse the win. Walcott delivered too.
In honor of Hockey Fights Cancer, Syracuse played in purple home jerseys. It was a fitting theme for the night because the first period was filled with physical play, lots of friendly scuffling after whistles, and a lot of poking and prodding of former Captain Luke WItkowski. It was a lot of antagonizing that was escalating, and eventually that slightly chippy play would boil over into other periods. That said, as entertaining of a first period as it was, both teams remained scoreless.
In the second period, Shawn Element continued his career offensive year and he tipped a shot from the point, grabbed the rebound, and snuck it into the back of the net. Walcott even had a Bobby Orr style dive in front to help establish even more chaos in front of the net.
Shawner sure knows how to get a party started pic.twitter.com/IeTqbEoc1Z— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) December 17, 2022
Springfield was able to draw a couple of penalties, and as one of the penalties was expiring scored on an unfortunate deflection off of Ryan Jones.
The play started to get a bit chippy after that. Daniel Walcott, who wanted to bring his physicality to the game, took down a Thunderbirds player behind the net in the offensive zone. The Thunderbirds took exception and went after him.
Springfield skaters were not unnerved by the physical play because they capitalized off the momentum and scored another goal briefly after the fighting to make it 2-1 in favor of the visiting team.
The fight continued for the Crunch, and a few minutes later Shawn Element dropped the gloves with Springfield forward Anthony Angello. It was a spirited bout for both skaters, and after a few punches landed they gave each other a nice little stick tap to the pads to show respect.
The physical play inspired players from Syracuse because they immediately regained momentum and took the puck down into the offensive zone and started firing it on net.
As a result of two forwards being off the ice for fighting, the French Connection 2.0 line was reunited. With 2 minutes left in the period, Alex Barré-Boulet, Gabriel Dumont, and Félix Robert bobbed and weaved their way into the offensive zone. The tricky, sneaky play of Barré-Boulet dragged two Springfield skaters with him along the board and he was able to flip a perfect backhand pass to Darren Raddysh who fired it on net and Robert was there for the tip in.
In the third, the physical play continued, and Walcott was, of course, in the middle of a post whistle scuffle. Walcott tried to get to a loose puck in the crease, and the Thunderbirds players tried to intimidate the Crunch player. After a lot of hugging, Walcott and Springfield forward Tyler Tucker were sent to the box with matching roughing minors.
This level of physical engagement seemed to energize the Crunch skaters. The very next shift both teams were skating 4 on 4, and the Crunch won the face-off. Barré-Boulet was an absolute nightmare for the Thunderbirds defense. He refused to let them get the puck out of the zone, and he had three takeaways alone on this one shift. On the third steal, Barré-Boulet flipped a pass over to a waiting Simon Ryfors who fired the shot past Thunderbirds goalie Vadim Zherenko.
Ryfors goal was pretty much the nail in the coffin for the Crunch. The Thunderbirds never really threatened after that. Even when Barré-Boulet took a penalty, the Crunch penalty kill cruised through the two minute penalty and didn’t give Springfield a chance to get any good shots on goal.
A few minutes after the penalty kill, the Thunderbirds pulled Zherenko, and Gemel Smith made an exceptional play to steal the puck and outrace two Thunderbirds players to get the empty net goal
It was fitting that the night was Hockey Fights Cancer. The night was the epitome of Daniel Walcott’s career thus far. It was physical, gritty, and all of that engagement fired up the skill players to make plays. Leading the way with 11 penalty minutes, every single one of those minutes earned the Crunch space on the ice, it drew the attention away from the other skaters, and it manufactured the energy needed to get a home victory.
The game-winning goal specifically comes to mind. Walcott tried to make something happen offensively, and it immediately put a bullseye on him for Thunderbirds players to antagonize him. Despite getting a penalty, the even up 4 on 4 call gave a player like Barré-Boulet the space to be creative, tenacious, and take over a shift as only he can and his creativity gave way for Ryfors ability to finish.
Gabriel Fortier wasn’t on the Crunch bench in the last half of the third period of Friday Night’s game, and he wasn’t in the lineup Saturday. That’s something to keep an eye on moving forward.Felix Robert moved up to take Fortier’s spot, and Lucas Edmonds came into the lineup. Ilya Usau comes out of the lineup and P.C. Labrie took his place on the fourth line.
Our projected Jedi Order tonight ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/PrOt5jkrmy— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) December 17, 2022
About halfway into the first period, Phillipe Myers sent a stretch tape to tape pass to Captain Gabriel Dumont who streaked into the zone and beat the goaltender cleanly. Gage Goncalves did a fantastic job off of the puck to push both defenders and free up space for The Captain.
In the second period at the 5:19 mark, Dumont scored his second of the night. Gage Goncalves entered the zone, flung a pass down low to Gemel Smith, and he immediately found a trailing Dumont who put it in. It was tic-tac-toe perfection, and the play put the Crunch up 2-0.
We entered lightspeed pic.twitter.com/ytzIQmrk8u— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) December 18, 2022
After Daniel Walcott took a charging penalty, the Crunch had seemingly killed off the penalty. Then Dumont was able to get a steal and was off to the races to attempt a shot at a hat trick when a Bridgeport player made an excellent backcheck. The Islanders were able to send the puck back the other way and they had numbers, and Andy Andreoff scored to get one back to make it 2-1.
A few minutes later, Islanders Captain Seth Helgeson caught Shawn Element up high with his stick and that put the Crunch on the power play. While on the power play, Phil Myers lasered a one-time shot from the blue line, and he scored his first as a member of the Crunch to make it 3-1 Crunch.
What a shot from the young Padawan pic.twitter.com/5PdyfNIcC3— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) December 18, 2022
A few minutes later Bridgeport’s Kysssle Maclean had the most patient dangle of all time and he scored on a wicked backhander and again got the Islanders within one to make it 3-2.
MacLean’s goal >> pic.twitter.com/AWJRaaldf6— Bridgeport Islanders (@AHLIslanders) December 18, 2022
The Captain continued his stellar play, and this time it was his play away from the puck that led to a goal. Dumont crashed the net, and forced defencemen Vincenty Sevigny out of position. That play allowed Gage Goncalves to find Gemel Smith all alone on the backdoor to make it 4-2 Crunch. Make no mistake, Dumont did not get a point on that play, but it doesn’t happen without the chaos he created in front of the net.
Still, Bridgeport wouldn’t go away. They were able to scrap together a loose puck and fire it on net to score and make it 4-3.
In the third period, the Crunch were content with sitting back and letting goaltender Huge Alnefelt go to work. They gave him plenty to work with, and he had some tremendous saves on a few breakaways. With a few minutes left in the game a puck managed to slip past him, but luckily defenceman Ryan Jones was there to sweep the puck off the goal line. Despite the chances Bridgeport got, the play that led to Jones saving a goal was the most dangerous. They did outshoot the Crunch in the third period 13-5, but that probably had more to do with the Crunch’s style of play and lone penalty that gave the Islanders a power play.
Ultimately, it was a good period for the Crunch who are still trying to figure out new ways to win, and this win found them on the winning side that was able to stave off a comeback from a visiting team. The Islanders are no slouches either, and while they lost this game, they’re still 5 points ahead of the Crunch in the conference standings. Both teams will not meet again until March 17th.
The win allowed the Crunch to keep pace with Toronto and Rochester, who won both of their games this weekend. They remain in third place in the North Division, but they’re only 2 points away from second place and 6 points from first.
The Crunch play Laval Wednesday. Laval is last place in the North Division, and they’re last place in goals against with 109 goals. They may have former Crunch winger Anthony Richard who leads the league in goals and is third in points. Richard was recalled by the Canadiens on Sunday, but could be sent back to Laval by the time the teams meet. It will be the first time both teams meet this season. They will then meet two more times to end the year. Expect this game to set the tone for what’s to come.
The Crunch will get their shot to pass Rochester in the standings Friday when the two teams come together in Rochester. Currently the series is tied with the Crunch getting 3 wins and Rochester getting 3 wins. Rochester has two wins at home against the Crunch. This should be a good measuring stick for the Crunch.