By Jeremy Houghtaling
Cory Conacher did a little bit of everything Saturday.
Besides supplying the Crunch with a goal and an assist, he played the point on the first power play unit and drove hard to the net when he wasn't. The last part surely got under the skin of Bears goalie Braden Holtby. The two met in the crease a few times, and at one point it appeared Holtby was throwing punches after the two crashed into the net.
"I just broke my stick and stumbled into him," Conacher said. "I'm the one that goes to the net and does that kind of stuff."
Fruitless on four previous power play attempts, the Syracuse Crunch found themselves with a two-man advantage for nearly two full minutes early in the third period Saturday.
"I had a few chances last night and tonight," Connolly said. "It's always nice to see the puck go in the net."
Syracuse hangs on hard against one of the league's perennial powers.
Riku Helenius allowed 3 goals on 26 shots for the victory, in a successful return to North American hockey. This battle between Helenius and Dustin Tokarski for the top spot between the pipes in Syracuse is going to rage all season, and both guys are going to be better for it. It's an embarrassment of riches to boast two guys who won championships last season in the AHL and Finnish SM-liiga, respectively. Good. Problem. To. Have.
SYR Angelidis, (2) (Wyman), 11:23 (SH)
SYR Johnson, (3) (Conacher, Palat), 5:36
HER Mitchell, (1) , 7:26 (SH)
HER Almeida, (1) (Taffe, DiSalvatore), 14:36
SYR Conacher, (2) (Taormina), 18:44
SYR Connolly, (1) (Barberio, Conacher), 5:02 (PP)
HER DiSalvatore, (1) (Kundratek, Taffe), 13:04 (PP)
Cory Conacher (pictured) and Tyler Johnson were the game's first and second stars. For my money, Conacher was the best player in the league the first half of last season and Johnson the best in the second half. Why wouldn't they lead the Crunch in the home opener this year? With a little offseason rest, Conacher looks every bit the pesky scorer that tore up the league to start last year.
No offense to our friends in Hershey, but I have to confess to being a little stunned that this year's version of the Bears is the least stacked, on paper, I've seen in a while. Sure, there's some fine players like Orlov and Holtby, but without the likes of Bourque or Giroux, this year's team lacks the fear factor of many recent editions. It's going to be interesting to see how the division plays out over the course of the season.
The Crunch travel to Albany next on Friday.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
A Syracuse comeback takes away a point on opening night.
Dustin Tokarski allowed 5 goals on 24 shots and 1 of 5 shooters to convert for the shootout loss. That's an ugly stat line for a young man trying to stave off a Riku Helenius challenge for the starting job.
RCH Tropp, (1) (Hodgson), 0:24
SYR Barberio, (1) (Namestnikov, Killorn), 5:28 (PP)
RCH Tropp, (2) (Adam, Schiestel), 14:52
RCH Foligno, (1) (Porter, Mancari), 16:12
RCH Pysyk, (1) (Rankin, Varone), 3:22
SYR Angelidis, (1) (Wyman), 19:14
SYR Conacher, (1) (Palat), 1:42
SYR Johnson, (1) (Conacher, Taormina), 8:01
SYR Johnson, (2) (Conacher, Palat), 10:09 (PP)
RCH Mancari, (1) (Brennan, Foligno), 12:42 (PP)
Cory Conacher (pictured) was the game's second star after posting 1 goal and 2 assists on opening night.Tyler Johnson had a pair of goals and Ondrej Palat also had a multi-point night with a pair of helpers. Youngster Vladislav Namestnikov also posted his first professional point on an assist on Mark Barberio's game opening goal.
I'm stunned that Syracuse threw out a shootout lineup of Palat, Connolly, Panik, Johnson, and Conacher and got nothing. That's five stud prospects with a lot of skill and... nada. I wouldn't have bet on that.
Syracuse outshot Rochester 34-25 in the game, and was very game to come out of a three goal hole to get a point out of the night. When Johnson pulled Syracuse ahead for the first time in the Third Period, you even had to think for a moment that maybe that killer instinct from Norfolk last season was still in effect. There was plenty of good, plenty of bad, and plenty of coachable moments for Jon Cooper to work on the team with after this one.
On to Syracuse tomorrow and the home opener against perennial power Hershey.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Despite the large void the NHL lockout created, the hockey season is already long underway. Various amateur and professional leagues throughout North America and Europe have wrapped up their preseasons and are set to begin or are already in the thick of regular season action.
The Lightning's new AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, open their 2012-2013 season tonight with an impressive roster that boasts the nucleus of last season's Calder Cup-winning roster and an infusion of talent with varying professional experience: (J.T. Brown, Brett Connolly, Danick Gauthier, Riku Helenius, Dmitry Korobov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jared Nightingale, Matt Taormina and J.T. Wyman). In the absence of big-league action, watching much of the (currently foreseeable) lifeblood of the Lightning's future skate and bond together is a much-welcomed tonic.
Alex Killorn (pictured) had 3 goals and 1 assist to lead Syracuse to a 6-5 overtime victory over St. John's. Richard Panik also had a multi-point game with 1 goal and 1 assist, as did Mark Barberio with a pair of assists, including 1 on Ondrej Palat's overtime winner. Reigning AHL MVP Cory Conacher also had a goal and J.T. Brown and Keith Aulie added single helpers.
Dustin Tokarski was between the pipes for the Crunch.
Syracuse completes its preseason 3-0-0, sweeping the IceCaps, and moves on to Rochester where they'll face the Americans on opening night of the regular season on Friday.
Game story from syracusecrunch.com.
The Tampa Bay Lightning assigned 18 players to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL ahead of what appears to be an NHL lockout, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced.
Among the players moving to New York are reigning AHL Most Valuable Player Cory Conacher, former No.6 overall pick Brett Connolly, and last year's late-season signing, J.T. Brown. Others include recently signed prospects Vladislav Namestnikov, Danick Gauthier, Dmitry Korobov, and Riku Helenius. The additions of Connolly, Brown, Namestnikov, and Korobov will make the Crunch a stronger team, which is scary considering they were already among the favorites to claim the Calder Cup.
The full list of new Syracuse residents includes forwards Brown, Conacher, Connolly, Gauthier, Alex Hutchings, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat, Richard Panik; defensemen Mark Barberio, Radko Gudas, Korobov, Charles Landry, Dan Milan; and goaltenders Helenius, Dustin Tokarski, and Pat Nagle.
We'll offer some opinions shortly on who could end up in ECHL Florida with the Everblades and who likely stays in Syracuse.
The strength of the Lightning organization remains at the forward positions, where the team still boasts an impressive mix of star veterans like Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, and Ryan Malone, and the game's best young star, Steven Stamkos. The team will spend some of its offseason tweaking its third line, and they made overtures to Swiss star Damien Brunner to try to improve their scoring depth on the wings. But, ultimately, the team should feel pretty solid offensively. Keeping the puck out of the back of their own net has always been the bigger challenge.
With the Lightning prospect season finally completed, it is now time to turn our attention to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. While the team's prospect system enjoyed unprecedented success, the team's struggles at the NHL level last season left the Lightning with a draft pick bonanza after a bevy of pre-deadline deals. Heading into the draft, the Lightning currently holds a pair of first round picks, and at least one second round pick following the trade of picks 37 and 50 to Nashville in the Anders Lindback trade.
It's been a day since the Norfolk Admirals hoisted the Calder Cup for the first time. The amazing thing about championships is that they're a shared milestone in the lives of, really, thousands, between the players, coaches, staff, and fans. Those journeys often contain compelling stories that make the triumph worth that journey. For Jon Cooper, it was about closing down his law practice to coach his way from Michigan high school hockey, to the USHL to working with Hockey USA, to a 2 season sprint to glory in the AHL. For Cory Conacher, it was about not being drafted and playing hockey at off-the-beaten path Canisius, dealing with diabetes, and earning an NHL contract in March of an MVP season before posting 4 assists in the championship clinching Calder Cup Finals game.
The stories of the players and the coaches are the ones we'll read about in the coming months and years, and they should be. When the Lightning made their Stanley Cup run in 2003-2004 and were playing the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals, John Tortorella refused to fire back at Ken Hithcock's remarks about "Italians from Boston," because Torts rightfully understood, "It's about the athletes." Ultimately, they're the ones who score the goals and make the saves. They sacrifice their bodies and take the stitches and they take the slings and arrows if they lose. Ultimately, it's their moment, and to a lesser extent the moments of their families who supported them in the journey up to those moments. The hockey moms and dads who woke up at 6:00 am to drive their kids to games. Scratching together money for skates and ridiculously expensive composite sticks. The wives and significant others who live with the players and coaches through the disappointments and the frustrations, and live in fear of moments when things can go wrong, like when slap shots can hit a man in the ear at 90 miles an hour, similar to what happened to Scott Jackson.
Less compelling, perhaps, is the story of an organization, but, these are stories can be worth telling, too... especially in this case. We started beta testing Bolt Prospects in 2004-2005, one year after the Lightning's Cup win, in the heart of the NHL lockout. That year was also the first year since the Detroit Vipers of the IHL folded after the 2000-2001 season that the Lightning had a full-time minor league affiliate: the Springfield Falcons. Absent a full-time affiliate, it became clear the Lightning would struggle to maintain their spot on top of the hockey mountain, because split affiliates would not give prime ice time and coaching help to another organization's players. That problem prompted the start of an 8 year process for the Lightning that ended in building what must be considered the sport's preeminent developmental apparatus with the Norfolk Admirals' Calder Cup championship and the Florida Everblades' Kelly Cup Championship.