Syracuse Crunch preview: Around the AHL’s North Division

The Crunch’s North Division looks a little different this year.

As we get closer to the beginning of the 2018-2019 season, it’s time to check in with how the rest of the American Hockey League’s North Division is shaping up.

As Alex and I had pointed out in July when the schedule was released, the Crunch will face their North Division foes in 58 of 76 games, with 34 of those within New York State lines.

Here is a breakdown of the other six teams in the North Division:

Belleville Senators

NHL Affiliate: Ottawa Senators

ECHL Affiliate: Brampton Beast

Additions: Mike McKenna (G), Joseph LaBate (F), Stuart Percy (D), Chase Balisy (F), Adam Tambellini (F), Rudolfs Balcers (D)

Subtractions: Danny Taylor (G), Ville Pokka (D), Mike Blunden (F), Kyle Flanagan (F), Andrew Hammond (G), Chris Driedger (G)

2017-18 Season: 29-42-2-3, 63 points, .414 points percentage, 6th place in North Division, missed playoffs.

Belleville looks to rebound from a disastrous inaugural season after moving north from Binghamton. Former Hershey Bears head coach Troy Mann takes over behind the bench, replacing Kurt Kleinendorst. McKenna, who spent last season in Texas and appeared in a Calder Cup Final for a second straight year, returns for his second stint with the organization.

The Senators will face the Crunch six times in 2018-19 (3 home, 3 away).

Binghamton Devils

NHL Affiliate: New Jersey Devils

ECHL Affiliate: Adirondack Thunder

2017-18 Season: 25-38-9-4, 63 points, .414 points percentage, 5th place in North Division, missed playoffs.

Additions: Kurtis Gabriel (F), John Ramage (D), Eric Gryba (D), Eric Tangradi (F)

Subtractions: Bracken Kearns (F), Ben Thomson (F), Ken Appleby (G), Mario Lucia (F), Michael Latta (F), Austin Cangelosi (F), Jacob MacDonald (D), Christoph Bertschy (F), Tim Kennedy (F)

Just like in Belleville, Binghamton also will look to improve in their second season. They have a new head coach in former UMass-Lowell bench boss Mark Dennehy, and an abundance of youth at forward. The Devils will need to find some new sources of offense from that group, as six of their top 10 scorers, including team leader and All Star defenseman Jacob MacDonald, have moved on.

Syracuse will face the Devils 10 times in 2018-19 (5 home, 5 away).

Cleveland Monsters

NHL Affiliate: Columbus Blue Jackets

ECHL Affiliate: None

2017-18 Season: 25-41-7-3, 60 points, .395 points percentage, 7th place in Central Division, missed playoffs.

Additions: Trent Vogelhuber (F), Ryan MacInnis (F), Nikita Korostelev (F), Dan DeSalvo (F), Adam Clendening (D), Tommy Cross (D), Dillon Simpson (D), J.F. Berube (G)

Subtractions: Ryan Kujawinski (F), Jordan Schroeder (F), Jacob Graves (D), Terry Broadhurst (F), Jeff Zatkoff (G)

After finishing with the Western Conference’s worst record in 2017-18, the Monsters get a chance to start over in a new division and a new conference. They moved to the North Division to make room for the newest AHL franchise, the Colorado Eagles, in the West. Just three seasons removed from a Calder Cup title, Cleveland has a lot of room for improvement.

Syracuse will face the Monsters 4 times in 2018-19 (2 home, 2 away).

Laval Rocket

NHL Affiliate: Montreal Canadiens

ECHL Affiliate: None

2017-18 Record: 24-42-7-3, 58 points, .382 points percentage, 7th place in North Division, missed playoffs.

Additions: Hunter Shinkaruk (F), Maxim LaMarche (D), Ryan Culkin (D), Nikita Jevpalovs (D), Alexandre Grenier (F), Alex Belzile (F), Michael Chaput (F), Kenny Agostino (F), Matthew Peca (F)

Subtractions: Eric Gelinas (D), Kerby Rychel (F), Niki Petti (F), Chris Terry (F), Adam Cracknell (F), Zach Fucale (G), Stefan LeBlanc (D), Daniel Carr (F), Jeremy Gregoire (F), Yannick Veilleux (F), Tom Parisi (D), Jordan Boucher (F)

After finishing dead last in the AHL in 2017-18, the Rocket are also looking to rebound in their second AHL season. Joel Bouchard takes over behind the bench from Sylvain Lefebvre. Laval will need to make up a chunk of their offense after losing last year’s league leading scorer Chris Terry to the Red Wings in free agency. Bringing in the likes of former Cruncher Matthew Peca and former AHL MVP Kenny Agostino may be a boost. Former Crunch defenseman and Eddie Shore Award winner Matt Taormina will likely return to shore up the blue line.

Syracuse will face Laval six times in 2018-19 (3 home, 3 away).

Rochester Americans

NHL Affiliate: Buffalo Sabres

ECHL Affiliate: Cincinnati Cyclones

2017-18 Record: 37-22-11-6, 91 points, .599 points percentage, 3rd place in North Division, lost to Syracuse in first round of Calder Cup playoffs.

Additions: Scott Wedgewood (G), Tyler Randell (F), Alex Wideman (F), Michael Houser (G), Yannick Veilleux (F), Wayne Simpson (F)

Subtractions: Colin Blackwell (F), Stuart Percy (D), Sahir Gill (F), Garret Ross (F)

After finally making the playoffs for the first time since 2014, Rochester looks to continue to improve after finishing below .500 the past three seasons, a stretch that saw three different head coaches behind their bench. However, they may need to rely on new blood in net, as Linus Ullmark appears to have graduated to the Sabres. Former Devil Scott Wedgewood is the likely replacement, pairing with former Crunch goaltender Adam Wilcox. Most of the offense will return, but the Amerks suffered a blow when Colin Blackwell left for Nashville.

The Crunch will be seeing their Thruway rivals to the west quite a bit—12 matchups in 2018-19 (6 home, 6 away).

Toronto Marlies

NHL Affiliate: Toronto Maple Leafs

ECHL Affiliate: Newfoundland Growlers

2017-18 Season: 54-18-2-2, 112 points, .737 points percentage, 1st place in North Division, won Calder Cup.

Additions: Emerson Clark (F), Adam Cracknell (F), Griffen Molino (F), Zach O’Brien (F), Stefan Leblanc (D), Jordan Subban (D),

Subtractions: Ben Smith (F), Miro Aaltonen (F), Kyle Baun (F)

After going wire to wire and winning their first Calder Cup in June, the Marlies will return a majority of the players that got them there, including the best goaltending tandem in the league in Garret Sparks and Calvin Pickard. The AHL has not had a repeat Calder Cup winner since Hershey in 2009 and 2010—can Toronto do it again?

The Crunch, who lost to the Marlies in the second round of the playoffs, will face Toronto 6 times in 2018-19 (3 home, 3 away).

Utica Comets

NHL Affiliate: Vancouver Canucks

ECHL Affiliate: Kalamazoo Wings

2017-18 Season: 38-26-8-4, 88 points, .579 points percentage, 4th place in North Division, lost to Toronto in first round of Calder Cup Playoffs.

Additions: Reid Gardiner (F), Tanner Kero (F), Brandon Anselmini (D), Ben Betker (D), Jesse Graham (D), Kyle Thomas (F)

Subtractions: Cole Cassels (F), Michael Garteig (G), Patrick Wiercioch (D), Adam Comrie (D), Michael Chaput (F), Jayson Megna (F), Griffen Molino (F), Joseph LaBate (F)

Despite relying on a revolving list of ECHL professional tryouts throughout the season due to injuries and callups to Vancouver, Utica still managed to snag the last North playoff spot—and came within one win of ousting Toronto in the first round after being down 0-2. The one constant throughout last season, goaltender Thatcher Demko, will return to the net. The Comets will also retain the services of leading scorer Reid Boucher and captain Carter Bancks.

The Crunch will take on their arch rivals 12 times in 2018-19 (6 home, 6 away).