Syracuse Crunch expectations and a tale of two teams

With just shy of a month to go until the start of the AHL season, Crunch fans are chomping at the bit to get to know our new team. Although there's usually quite a bit of anticipation for each season, this one will sweep in with increased eagerness given the guys coming into town. I mean, let's be honest here. Crunch fans probably have quite the season to look forward to. The group of guys we're getting did quite well for themselves last season, as Tampa Bay Lightning know.

Looking at this team, and the reputation that clearly precedes them, makes for an interesting spot for Crunch fans to be in. Obviously, it's dangerous -- if not downright stupid -- to start making generalizations before the first puck even drops about how good we'll be. It's also dangerous to let our expectations inflate so much that we can no longer see logic or, say, the basement of our five-team division. We've been in this place before, a place of dangerously high expectations, only to have the bottom drop out by Christmas.

So, what's a Crunch fan -- or an informed Tampa Bay fan -- to do?

I say, look hopefully to the future, while also keeping in mind that hockey can be a cold, vengeful bitch. (Can I say "bitch"?)

To help us keep perspective, I've come up with a quick comparison that hopefully all reading will be able to understand. Unfortunately, this comparison might be downright painful for Crunch fans to remember, but alas, I feel as though I need to bring these buried memories back to our consciousness. In doing so, I also hope to touch that place we all share, that love and understanding of hockey, so that Tampa Bay fans can also see where we're coming from and understand some of our little quirks.

This story is called: Winning streaks can't last, the lesson learned the (very) hard way
The Norfolk Admirals won 28 games in a row to end the '11-'12 season, 29 games if you count the first game of the 2012 Calder Cup playoffs. The Admirals will, technically, be able to continue that winning streak next season, even though their roster has changed completely. The AHL makes allowances for winning streaks broken up by the end of the season.

At least, they did in 2008.

Back in the middle of the '07-'08 season, the Syracuse Crunch was struggling. Despite strong leadership from guys like Zenon Konopka, Mark Rycroft, and Dan Smith, the Crunch was barely keeping its head above water in the last playoff spot for our division at that time. Our goaltending situation was precarious at best, with the team dressing five players in that position throughout the course of the season. One of those goalies was former Crunch player Karl Goehring, who came into town on a PTO that wasn't supposed to last very long. Things were looking bleak for our heroes until one fateful March night.

(You'd be able to tell how much room this season still has in my heart if you could see the smile I have on my face right now.)

On March 8th, 2008, the Crunch lost in a shootout to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The final score was 2-1, and if there was ever a game that particular Syracuse team deserved to win, it was that game. While some teams may have been crushed by such a loss, something new, different, and exciting came over the guys in the locker room after that night. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but that game was the last one the Crunch lost for the rest of that season. 15 games later, the season ended with the Crunch sitting in second place in our division. It was absolutely a magical time for Crunch fans, as demonstrated by this YouTube video:

Although the Crunch bombed out in the second round of the 2008 Calder Cup Playoffs, that season meant a lot to us fans. Therefore, we were thrilled to find out that the AHL was allowing our winning streak to continue into the next season. The Crunch stretched their overall streak to 17 games before losing to the Hershey Bears. The Crunch continued their still-intact home winning streak for most of November before things came tumbling down.

On November 23rd, 2008, with our Captain and best defenseman Dan Smith sitting in the press box because Columbus was upset over the amount of ice time he was getting, the Crunch lost to Binghamton by a final score of 2-1. The winning goal was scored in the final minute of the third period while the Crunch was on the PK, a time Smith certainly would have been on the ice had he been playing. The loss ended our four-month-long home winning streak and, to be honest, put one of the first nails in the Syracuse-Columbus Blue Jackets affiliation coffin.

(...Can you tell I'm still bitter?)

The team seemed to pull themselves back together the next game, winning convincingly against the Toronto Marlies, 5-1. But then, things went bad.

Very, very bad.

The Crunch lost every game that following December except for the second-to-last game of the month. That was nine games in a row. For a fanbase that had been on top of the world for nearly four regular-season months, this was Armageddon. The Crunch missed the playoffs that season by two points, and wouldn't manage to climb back into the postseason for three years.

It's easy to develop inflated expectations when you look at what the Norfolk Admirals achieved last season. Is it absolutely exciting to be getting that mindset here in Syracuse? Yes! It is fantastic that so many of those guys who were on that team are going to be back? Of course! Should Crunch fans expect to see some awesome hockey this year? 100 percent!

But be wary, Crunch fans, of getting too full of ourselves. This is hockey. Strange things can happen. The winning streak might unofficially continue, but, then again, it might not. We will hopefully make the playoffs -- after all, isn't that what every fan hopes for? -- but there's always the chance it won't happen.

So, let's keep our feet on the ground until April, okay? Or at least mid-March.

No matter where this goes, I'm just looking forward to some hockey!