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Crunch Wrap: Perfect start to the season

Syracuse Crunch Mitchell Chaffee (27) passes the puck against the Utica Comets in American Hockey League (AHL) preseason action at the Upstate Medical University Arena in Syracuse, New York on Saturday, October 7, 2023. Syracuse won 6-3. Photo by Scott Thomas, Scott Thomas Photography (https://www.sthomasphotos.com/)

The Syracuse Crunch kicked off their 2023-24 AHL season with a pair of wins. On Friday night they went in and spoiled the Utica Comets’ home opener with a 4-3 overtime win. Then on Friday the Crunch opened up their 30th season at home with a solid 4-2 win over the Bridgeport Islanders. Solid defensive play, excellent goaltending, and timely scoring led to their first 2-0 start to a season since 2016-17.

Syracuse spread the scoring around as six different players recorded goals and 10 players picked up at least one point. New head coach Joel Bouchard will be pleased with how the special teams units performed as the Crunch killed off all 8 short-handed opportunities they faced while converting 3 of their 9 power plays.

After a somewhat wide open affair on opening night, the team’s defense showed up against Bridgeport, limiting the Islanders to just 23 shots despite their four power plays in the game. Despite a change in the coaching staff, the team’s familiarity with each other should help them continue this solid start. A brief look at the players who suited up for the first two games shows only six players who didn’t play at least one game for the Crunch last year (Mitchell Chaffee, Max Groshev, Tristan Allard, Emil Lilleberg, Devante Stephens, and Pyotr Kochetkov).

It is also a veteran-heavy team as Allard, Groshev, and Max Crozier are the only rookies that saw ice time according to the AHL’s website. There is a bit of a gap in prospects for the Lightning right now so the Crunch are relying a bit more on experienced players than they have in the past. It was also nice to see that some of the players that are fighting for a call-up in Robert and Edmonds were among the top producers for the pair of games.

Game One: Syracuse Crunch 4, Utica Comets 3 (overtime)

On loan from the Carolina Hurricanes (who don’t have an AHL affiliate) Pyotr Kochetkov was named the starter for the first game of the season and he responded with a solid, 31-save effort to pick up his first win of the season. Ilya Usau (who finished with two points), Lucas Edmonds, and Cole Koepke, scored in regulation while Felix Robert ended things with his first goal of the season with just 15 seconds left on the clock in overtime.

Ilya Usau (Mitchell Chaffee, Jack Thompson)

Lucas Edmonds (Ilya Usau, Gabriel Fortier)

Cole Koepke (unassisted)

Felix Robert (Gage Goncalves, Sean Day)

Game Two: Syracuse Crunch 4, Bridgeport Islanders 2

In net for the home opener was Hugo Alnefelt and he turned in a solid performance, with 21 saves on 23 shots. Devante Stephens was in for Sean Day on defense while the forward combinations stayed the same.

The Crunch jumped out to a two-goal lead in the first period thanks to goals from Stephens and Lucas Edmonds. By the end of the second Bridgeport had tied it back up, but the third period was all Crunch as they outshot the Islanders 14-7 and took the lead with Daniel Walcott’s first of the season. Felix Robert would provide the insurance goal with just under seven minutes to play.

Phillipe Myers and Mitchell Chaffee, who each had an assist, led the way with 5 shots a piece while Robert finished with a two-point night.

Daniel Walcott (Max Crozier, Emil Lilleberg)

Felix Robert (Gage Goncalves, Jack Thompson) Power Play

Lucas Edmonds (Phil Myers)

Devante Stephens (Felix Robert, Mitchell Chaffee)

The Crunch are off until Friday when they head out to Cleveland for a pair of games against the Monsters on Friday and Saturday.

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