(Syracuse, N.Y) – It is very rare at the minor league level to experience a crowd that really raises the roof off of the building. That excitement, the roar just isn’t there for lower level, smaller market teams. But as with everything there are always exceptions. Syracuse is one of those exceptions.
The Crunch not only boasts some of the most loyal fans that show out loud and proud to the War Memorial each weekend, but now they can prove it. In November, the Crunch set the NHL indoor attendance record when more than 30,000 fans piled inside the Carrier Dome. On Friday night, the Veterans Memorial Arena wasn’t full, but it was an exciting atmosphere and the impact the intensity of the crowd had on the game was evident in a 4-2 Syracuse win over Lehigh Valley.
Syracuse opened the scoring last night with a Cody Kunyk goal right in front of the net. Syracuse began cutting to the net early, and reaped the benefits quickly off the stick of Kunyk who pocketed the puck in the bottom right corner of the net. The Crunch took advantage of a poor defensive effort by the Phantoms and found easy shots in front of the net, with a roar of the crowd coming with each scoring chance off a Crunch players stick. The cuts were easy and the passing was clean as the Crunch fired 34 shots on goalie Anthony Stolarz.
But Lehigh Valley did win the first period on the scoreboard. Down 1-0, the Phantoms found twine twice within one minute of one another to take a 2-1 lead right before the first intermission. Turnovers at center ice by defensemen helped Lehigh Valley make some noise early in the game. Syracuse is still trying to find two defensemen to replace both Nikita Nesterov and Luke Witkowski who were recently called up to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
A sense of disappointment was in the air after the buzzer sounded at the end of the first period. But, that only motivated the crowd to get behind their team. There is a reason why the Crunch is 15-4-2 at home this season. Even more notable, Syracuse is 7-2 at home since the Frozen Dome Classic. Which begs the question, did the big event reignite the city’s passion behind their minor league hockey club?
It also helps that the Crunch has a great group of guys who play well and fight for every victory. They give their fans something to cheer about every time they hit the ice. Nothing changed last night after falling behind in the first period. Yanni Gourde proved to be the man to go to again with two goals, one off a rebound of his own shot to tie the game at two early in the second. Each puck that found the back of the net brought the crowd more and more into the game.
At one point during the night, the crowd erupted into Sweet Caroline and there was a constant chanting of “Let’s Go Crunch.” The seats were not nearly full. But, the ones who filled them, made up for those who were missing in attendance.
As the crowd got louder, the Crunch players moved faster and the team played better as Syracuse ended the game on a 3-0 run. In the second period alone, Lehigh Valley looked deflated as Syracuse had total control of the games outshooting the Phantoms 14-5. Lehigh Valley had no answers for the Crunch. Syracuse gave the fans all the answers they were looking for. Four goals and the 55th point on the season for the second place Syracuse Crunch.
Syracuse looks to continue its hot play tonight at home against Hartford. The Crunch has not lost in regulation against the Wolfpack this season. In five games so far, the Crunch are 3-0-2. At home against Hartford, the Crunch is 1-0-1.
Syracuse is looking to make it three in a row at home. Opening face-off is at 7 pm on Saturday night.