Crunch Wrap: Calder Cup Bound

Crunch Wrap: Calder Cup Bound
Syracuse Crunch Gage Goncalves (39) leans into a shot at the Utica Comets net in American Hockey League (AHL) action at the Upstate Medical University Arena in Syracuse, New York on Saturday, April 15, 2023. Utica won 5-4 in OT. Scott Thomas Photography

After an up and down season the Syracuse Crunch somehow found a way to clinch home ice advantage in the Calder Cup Playoffs. They did so while battling through a last-minute injury bug that left them plugging forward holes with defenseman. The Crunch were fortunate to have one of their top scorers catch fire at the end, their all-star forwards continued to put up numbers, and their lovable alternate captain is kept adding to his career year.

Still, while the Crunch scratched and clawed their way to a second place finish in the division, they should feel lucky they don’t have to face the Rocket in the playoffs. While they haven’t had much lucky as far as Laval is concerned, they ended the season much more closely tied to fellow New York franchises Utica and Rochester. At the beginning of the week all three were deadlocked in the North Division, and unfortunately the music had to stop at some point in the regular season to see who was left in what chair.

Wednesday Night’s Game

The Crunch welcomed their Captain back. After an extended absence, Gabriel Dumont has made his way back into the lineup. Max Lagace was in net, and almost assuredly warming up for his role as starting goaltender in the playoffs.

Syracuse struck early to get a jump on Utica. It was indicative of how Syracuse can harm you offensively. The puck was well played in the neutral zone by Utica, but then they mishandled the puck in the defensive zone and the Crunch pounced. Simon Ryfors scored his 23rd goal of the season. The goal was assisted by Alex Barré-Boulet who set the single season record for assists in a Crunch uniform.

Immediately after the first goal, the Crunch drew a penalty and they went on the power play. The entire power play was threatening for the Crunch, but it took 2 seconds left on the penalty for them to strike. Captain Gabriel Dumont was welcomed back with a power play goal to get on the statsheet. It was Dumont’s 18th goal of the season.

Just before the period ended Utica scored on the power play to keep the score competitive. At the end of the first it was 2-1 Crunch.

In the second, there was revealed to be a couple of injuries to the forward core, and the Crunch were playing down some skaters. Declan Carlile was rotating in as a forward, and Coach Ben Groulx decided to roll a  five-defenseman rotation.

Later on in the period, Simon Ryfors was sent a puck, escaped behind the Utica defense, the chasing defenseman used his stick to ski behind Ryfors, and a rare penalty shot was awarded. On the penalty shot, Ryfors scored again to get his 24th goal of the season and make it a 3-1 game.

In the third period an explosion of goals happened for both teams.

Syracuse’s Declan Carlile, skating as a forward, was the first to score, assisted by Cole Koepke. He did not look out of place coming in on the offensive rush and taking a pass and wristing into the back of the net.

Off a really good keep from Trevor Carrick, Ryfors added a hattrick to his night and scored next. He took a feed from Gage Goncalves from behind the net to get his 25th goal of the season.

Then the Crunch had to face the onslaught of Utica. A few minutes of play after Ryfors goal, the Comets scored two goals in quick succession within 10 seconds of each other to narrow the lead to 5-3.

Then with two minutes left they were able to get within one and made it 5-4.

Their last ditch effort wouldn’t come to fruition though as Ryfors scored his fourth goal of the game and his 26th goal of the year on an empty net goal.

Friday Night’s Game

In his first game in almost three months veteran P.C. Labrie was back in the Crunch lineup. Daniel Walker also slotted into the lineup. There were some banged up forwards in the previous game. It’s unclear if these moves were made to make sure they’re healthy or to rest players. Hugo Alnefelt was in net.

Laval jumped out of the gates in a determined way in this game. They scored first to give themselves a lead. A shot right from the draw made its way past an unscreened Alnefelt, and the Crunch were down 1-0 less than 2 minutes into the game in Laval.

The Crunch, to their credit, were able to answer the first goal with a goal of their own. Defenseman Jack Thompson scored his 8th goal of the season with a wrist shot through traffic.

After that, it was all Laval, as they scored three goals in a span of 3 minutes. Coach Groulx pulled Alnefelt to attempt to stop the damage being done. The Crunch responded by not allowing any more goals in the period, and toward the end of the period getting a goal of their own. It’s hard to blame Alnefelt for all of the goals. Goals 3 and 4 from the Rocket were scored on a 4-on-4 when the Crunch should have had a power play, but instead undisciplined play evened up the penalties. Then a series of bad passing, turnovers, and poor defensive zone exits gifted Laval chances on goal.

The alternate captain, Daniel Walcott, continued to battle for his team, and he scored his 12th goal of the season to close out the period.

In the third period Walcott continued his relentless pursuit of getting the Crunch back in the game and he scored his 13th goal of the season. Side note, it was also Daniel Walker’s first professional point of his career as he got an assist on the Walcott goal.

The Crunch were not able to tie the game, but not for lack of trying. They were able to put 42 shots on net, but Cayden Primeau was up for the task. He dragged the Rocket into the playoffs, and the Crunch just happened to be the victim.

Saturday Night’s Game

It looked to be the same lineup for the Crunch the next night. Jack Finley and Gabe Fortier were still not being played due to injury. Max Lagace was the lone change on the ice in net.

This game was for playoff seeding purpose. The Galaxy Cup had all been locked up by Syracuse.

Ryfors scores his 27th goal of the season off of a tap in from a wonderful offensive play by Phillipe Myers.

In the second period, the Comets came back and tied it 1-1. A weak clearing play led the Comets to keep the puck in the zone and they kept the pressure on until they could find a way to sneak one past Lagace.

Off an amazing save from Lagace, the Crunch secured the puck behind the net and P.C. Labrie was skating with the puck when he drew a penalty. Immediately after winning the face-off from the power play puck drop, Gage Goncalves scored on the power play, it was his 13th goal of the season.

After drawing a penalty that evened things up on the ice, Alex Barré-Boulet scored his 24th goal of the season off a straight bullet from a one timer. At first, there was some confusion on the ice as to if there was a goal scored. The play had to be blown dead for the on ice officials to review the shot because it was in and out of the net so quickly. One person who knew the goal was good from the get go was Barré-Boulet who celebrated and immediately skated down the line of the bench to celebrate.

At the end of two periods the Crunch were up by two goals.

Toward the beginning of the third period, Utica scored to get within one goal. A few minutes after that a scary moment involved Ilya Usau. As he was fighting for the puck in the corner Usau took an awkward check into the boards. He was able to skate off the ice on his own power.

It wasn’t long before Rudolfs Balcers scored his 8th goal of the season to extend the Crunch lead back to 2 goals. It was a patient play where Shawn Element found Balcers all alone in front of the net, and he held onto the puck just long enough for the Utica goalie to dive across the crease and he shot it into the empty net.

The Crunch tried to hold off Utica at this point, and they did a good job of keeping them out of the zone. However, once Utica pulled their goalie it gave the Comets just enough skaters to create a bit more chaos in the offensive zone and with 3 minutes and change left they were able to score to pull within one. The Comets waited a bit after the puck drop before pulling their goalie this time around. As soon as they got the puck into the offensive zone, they pulled the goalie. Before the additional skater could make it into the offensive zone, they had tied the game.

In overtime it was a bit of back and forth. After an amazing save from Lagace, Utica scored to win. By securing the point, Syracuse was able to sneak into the second place spot in the division, and they just had to hope Rochester lost to maintain that spot for the playoffs.

Coming Up

The Crunch were able to eek out a second place finish in the North Division by way of a tiebreaker. This means they were able to clinch Home ice for a best of 5 series against Rochester.

The first two games will be played in Syracuse on Friday and Saturday, and Game 3 of the series will go back to Rochester a week after.

The regular season series was a deadlocked .500 effort from both teams. Syracuse finished 6-6 against the Amerks, but they did perform slightly better versus Rochester in the second half of the season. Half of the games were decided by one goal, four of the games ended up in overtime, and one game went to a shootout.