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Crunch Wrap: Syracuse goes streaking

The Crunch start a winning streak.

Scott Thomas Photography

It’s been a rough start to 2023 for the Crunch. They’ve lost their first three games of the year, and combined with the two games they dropped at the end of December they were on a five-game losing streak. For the most part they’ve been in games and kept them close despite not being able to roster a healthy lineup. Now they’re dealing with two suspensions, and an archrival with a better record is coming into town to wreak havoc on a team that’s desperate for points. Not to fear, the reinforcements were on the way, and the game results were starting to break Syracuse’s way.

Friday Night’s Game

The Crunch welcomed back Trevor Carrick to the lineup as they faced off against their divisional foe, the Laval Rocket. He was a much needed roster addition because the Crunch have been struggling defensively, and they are without some skaters due to injury and suspension.

Syracuse has been playing from behind in recent games which is a problem. This game started out much the same way as Laval was the first to score only one minute into action. A few turnovers from Phillipe Myers led to an offensive zone chance where Rocket forward Rem Pitlick came in alone on starting goaltender Max Lagace.

After that goal, the Crunch redoubled their efforts offensively. Crunch forward lines were coming at goaltender Joseph Vrbetic in waves. After a few dazzling saves from Vrbetic, it took Cole Koepke parked in front of the net and capturing his own rebound to tie the game.

Jack Finley was called for tripping at 6:36 in the first, and the Crunch weren’t able to kill off the penalty. The Rocket made it 2-1.

After Daniel Walcott and a Rocket forward got into a shoving match to take matching minors, Crunch defender Carrick took an unsportsmanlike penalty for playing with a broken stick. Fortunately, the Syracuse penalty killers were up to the challenge and they made some spectacular plays to keep the score a one-goal game. Then forward Gage Goncalves took a high sticking penalty just seconds later, and the Crunch had to kill off another penalty.

Later in the first period, a collision in the defensive zone with Shawn Element and Sean Day sent Pierrick Dubé crumbling to the ice in discomfort. It led to an odd man rush up the ice, and Darren Raddysh took the point shot and Element tipped it to tie the game 2-2. The goal was Element’s 8th goal of the year, and it extended his goal-scoring streak to 4 games.

Dubé would be led off the ice, and would later come back into the game.

Toward the end of the first period, Alex Barré-Boulet was tripped up in the slot, and the Crunch got their first power play with a few seconds left in the period. They weren’t able to make anything happen with so little time, and the period ended in a tie.

The Crunch began the second period with more than enough time on a power play. Forward Simon Ryfors made a picture perfect pass through traffic to find captain Gabriel Dumont all alone on the backdoor and he scored to put the Crunch on top and make the score 3-2.

After helping kill off another penalty, Goncalves, who has been seeing more time on the PK as of late, tipped a point shot from Phillipe Myers to make it 4-2 Syracuse.

Trevor Carrick was all over the ice making hits, giving the Crunch much needed clears, and about halfway through the second period he was flinging shots on net. On his third shot attempt of the shift, Carrick scored to make it 5-2. The Crunch players celebrating on the ice were all smiles for Carrick, and certainly they were pleased to have the veteran defenseman back from a lengthy injury.

After the fifth goal, Laval coach Jean-François Houle had seen enough, and goaltender Vrbetic was yanked for Kevin Poulin. Poulin has had a bit of success against the Crunch posting a 2-1 record and a .927 save percentage.

With the game firmly in the Crunch’s hands at this point, the Crunch played a bit more to protect the lead for the rest of the period. Goaltender Max Lagace looked sharp, and the Rocket attempted multiple times to goad Crunch players into taking penalties. The Crunch did crank up the physicality. A few times they did take penalties for the protection of their goalie or to send the message nothing would come easy for the Rocket. The period would end and the Crunch were securely in the lead 5-2.

At 2:30 of the third period, Raddysh was clipped up high with Rocket forward Dubé’s stick, and it gave Syracuse 4 minutes on the power play. The first few minutes of the power play were uneventful and meandering. Then Alex Barré-Boulet took over the play, and had the highlight reel goal of the season thus far. This is why Barré-Boulet is an AHL all-star, and an absolute game changer on the ice. He has the ability to turn it on and do this.

The Crunch stayed on the power play, and this time Barré-Boulet’s playmaking was on display as he helped Simon Ryfors get out of his goal scoring slump and score his team leading 13th goal of the season. The Crunch were comfortably in the lead now at 7-2.

A few minutes later, Laval found a loose puck in the crease and scored to get one back and make it 7-3.

Postgame

To say this was a motivated Crunch team would be an understatement. It was the two games in Laval that ended the year on a losing streak, and it was a five-game losing streak that Syracuse maintained until this game.

Coach Ben Groulx had a lot of positive things to say about Lagace’s play in net. He also praised the special teams. Groulx said, “I think [Lagace] is the one that allowed us to stay in the game and get going.”

Another person that Coach Groulx praised was Trevor Carrick. He believed he was the best defenseman on the ice.

A player that’s been having a career year has been Shawn Element. After the game, the Crunch social media team caught up with him to talk about what’s made him so successful this year.

Saturday Night’s Game

The Crunch took on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and they went back to 12 forwards and 6 defenseman with this lineup. Ryan Jones became the odd man out of the blueline. Veteran P.C. Labrie came back in to provide some energy and physicality.

It didn’t take long for the Crunch to put their best foot forward in this game. At 2:23, Darren Raddysh slid into the slot, and fellow AHL All-Star Barré-Boulet found him for a one timer to make it 1-0 Crunch.

The assist from Barré-Boulet moved him into the franchise’s number one spot for assists all time. He surpassed Brad Moran with 144 assists as a member of the Crunch. Moran, currently the leader in points in franchise history, played in 334 games to Barré-Boulet’s current 233 game pace.

The Crunch continued their hot start. At 5:59 of the first, a streaking Jack Finley tipped home a shotpass from Daniel Walcott to make the score 2-0. It was Finley’s 6th goal of the season, and it was his third goal in the last 4 games.

Hugo Alnefelt had been tested a few times early on and looked good. However, a turnover in the defensive zone from Sean Day led to Lehigh Valley scoring to make it 2-1.

The Crunch immediately went back to work, and Cole Koepke bullied his way into the zone, maintained control of the puck, and found a wide open Simon Ryfors to one time it home and make it 3-1.

At 3:15 left to go in the first the Phantoms were threatening to score, and after a few great blocked shots from Crunch skaters, Alnefelt made a great sprawling save to cover the puck and keep the Crunch on top by two goals.

After that, the first period ended without much of an offensive threat from Lehigh Valley.

To start the second at 1:55 in the game Ilya Usau flipped a perfect saucer pass to Gage Goncalves on a 2-on-1 and Goncalves buried it to make it 4-1 Crunch.

Despite looking really well coming off an injury, at 13:08 in the second Alnefelt made a bad pass in the defensive zone that the Phantoms stole and sent in deep. Then Alnefelt misplayed the puck and overcommitted on a deke, and the Phantoms scored before the period ended to make it 4-2.

The third period was marked by some solid special teams play by the Crunch. Specifically the penalty kill did some tremendous work keeping the score the same. Goaltender Hugo Alnefelt looked poised to keep the Crunch on top. Even though there were times when he was shaky with the puck, there were other times where he was making high caliber saves like the one shown below.

Finally, at 19:44 after a Darren Raddysh block, a Barré-Boulet clear, and a selfless pass from captain Gabriel Dumont, Cole Koepke scored the empty net goal to seal the Crunch win, 5-2. It was a team effort for the goal, and it showed how different facets of this team are willing to evolve in order to win more games.

Monday’s Game

Rudolf Balcers, who was recently reassigned to the Crunch for a conditioning stint, slots into the fourth line. That’s the only lineup change for Syracuse. Huge Alnefelt was once again in net.

This game had a weird start to it as 5 seconds in one of the on ice officials took a puck off the head. Fortunately, he was able to skate off the ice, but the rest of the game would be played with one on ice official. After a few minutes of surveying the official’s health, both teams came back to play and this time a Crunch player ran over a linesman, but this time the linesman would be OK after dusting himself off.

Then at the 2:05 mark Cole Koepke would be penalized for tripping and the Crunch would go on the penalty kill. A sneaky play and a good eye from Gage Goncalves led to him stealing the puck and going on a breakaway to score the game’s opening goal and make it 1-0 Crunch.

Play went on and the teams exchanged power plays, but at the 11:16 mark the Crunch caught the Comets on a change. Sean Day sent a stretch ice pass to Daniel Walcott who found Gabriel Fortier alone and Fortier buried it to make it 2-0 Crunch.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the Crunch. Lucas Edmonds tried to force a pass toward the top of the offensive zone, and the Comets intercepted it and turned it into a 3-on-2. They were able to score, and the period ended 2-1 Crunch.

The second period the Crunch special teams went back to work. First it was the penalty kill that took care of business and killed off a Jack Finley hooking penalty. Then Darren Raddysh took another high stick, and because it drew blood it was a double minor. Raddysh went into the dressing room, and the first power play unit came on.

It didn’t take very long for the primary unit to score. This time Alex Barré-Boulet sent an absolutely rocket of a pass past the entire Utica team, and Gabriel Dumont scored to make it 3-1 Crunch. It was Dumont’s 8th goal of the year. The assist put Barré-Boulet within one point of Brad Moran who is the all-time Crunch leader in points with 241.

Later on in the period Rudolf Balcers took a penalty, and the Crunch did a fantastic job escaping that and getting into the intermission up 2 goals.

For the third period, the Crunch went into “protect the lead” mode as evidenced by their single digit shots total for the period (7). They didn’t attack as much, and they were content with letting the Comets players skate into them. All was going well, until Phillipe Myers took a cross-checking penalty at the 13:54 mark. This was Utica’s chance to get back into the game, but Hugo Alnefelt shut the door and made some great saves to lock the game down.

Then, with the goalie pulled, Gage Goncalves scored his second of the game and his 8th goal of the year.

That seemed to crush the Comet’s spirit because they couldn’t even muster a decent intimidation response to the Crunch. Daniel Walcott came together with Comets forward Mason Geertsen. Geersen has a history of intimidating Crunch players, but Walcott would not be moved. Both players ended up getting unsportsmanlike penalties, and the Crunch still had a few minutes left. Then Fortier scored his 8th goal of the season down low. He was up against two Comets defenseman, and he caught his own rebound and slammed it home.

Coming Up

The three wins put the Crunch within striking distance of the top of the North Division. They now have 37 points on the season and they’re still below Rochester (40), Utica (44), and Toronto (50). Before the Crunch get a chance to take on Utica again, they’ll go to Wilkes-Barre Wednesday to face the Penguins who are also trying to stay relevant in their respective division. The Penguins have 41 points and are also in 4th in their division.

After that, they’ll get a away and home game with Utica Friday and Saturday night. It’s going to be a critical set of games that could see Syracuse climbing into the standings in the North.