For the Syracuse Crunch, it’s all about setting the tempo.
With the Grand Rapids Griffins visiting the Onondaga County War Memorial for Games 1 and 2 of the Calder Cup Finals Saturday and Sunday, the Crunch are focused on their own play more than the Griffins’ talented forwards.
"What we really have to focus on isn't what they're going to bring at us," said Syracuse defensemen Jean-Philippe Cote. "We've got to set the tone, and play as high-tempo as we can."
"We don't want them to dictate the pace of play…We don't want them to play their game; we want them to play our game," said Crunch forward JT Wyman.
That game plan has worked for Syracuse.
After sweeping the Portland Pirates in the first round and the Springfield Falcons in the second, the Crunch topped the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in five games. Ondrej Palat is tied for the league lead in postseason points (20), and Tyler Johnson, the league’s most valuable player, is just three points behind.
Despite being a former first-round draft pick, Philippe Paradis isn’t known for his scoring touch.
The Syracuse Crunch grinder was held without a point in his first 11 games of the Calder Cup playoffs as he was more focused on finishing his checks to soften up the opposition’s defense.
With a chance to eliminate the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last Saturday, Paradis finally broke through to the scoresheet in a big way. The Quebec native scored three times in a 7-0 rout, and the Crunch finished off the Penguins in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
"I was just trying to get the first one," Paradis said. "The game was tight; that one was more important than the other ones. I just put the puck on the net and ended up scoring."
While Syracuse’s Ondrej Palat is tied for the postseason points lead with 20 points, and the league’s most valuable player, Tyler Johnson, is three points behind, the Crunch’s depth players -- the shutdown line and crash and bang guys -- have chipped in with some of the more crucial goals.
With Syracuse hosting the Grand Rapids Griffins in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals Saturday, the Crunch are hoping to continue receiving offensive output from each player.
For Jean-Philippe Cote, leadership begins off the ice.
The Syracuse Crunch defenseman knows that although he needs to use his play as an example for the younger players on his team, there is another element to wearing a letter on his sweater. Cote believes getting the best out of each player begins with making them feel comfortable.
"I like when a guy like (rookie defenseman) Andrej Sustr comes to me like 'Is there anything I can do to be a better player?'" Cote said. "I love it. I like discussing hockey with those younger guys. But to get someone on the team, that happens outside the ice."
Like last year on the Calder Cup-winning Norfolk Admirals, the leadership of captain Mike Angelidis and alternate captains Cote Mark Barberio -- among many others -- has pushed the Syracuse Crunch into the American Hockey League finals.
JT Brown may be a rookie on a line with a pair of veterans, but he certainly doesn't look out of place.
Twelve games into his first Calder Cup run, the Syracuse Crunch forward has been counted on to provide timely goals and tough defense that wears down the opposition's top line. Flanked by JT Wyman and Mike Angelidis, Brown is learning from two guys with plenty of postseason experience.
"You don't have to do too much, they're always doing what they're supposed to," Brown said after practice Tuesday. Syracuse hosts Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals Saturday. "They're vets and they know what needs to be done."
Angelidis, the Crunch's captain who hoisted the cup with the Norfolk Admirals last season, has been impressed by Brown's effort every night.
"He's a fast learner," Angelidis said. "And we're learning things from him too. He's got a good head on his shoulders and he works hard."
After four tight games, Rob Zettler could finally breathe easy.
The Syracuse Crunch head coach, his team leading 5-0 through the first 40 minutes, still kept his team focused on finishing the series off the right way.
Syracuse's Philippe Paradis added a pair of third period goals to finish off a hat trick, as the Crunch routed the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 7-0 to win the Eastern Conference Finals series 4-1 at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.
"It felt good to be able to relax back there for a change," Zettler said.
The Crunch, in the Calder Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history, host the winner of Grand Rapids and Oklahoma City next weekend. That series is tied 2-2.
"I don't think we were expecting a 7-0 finish," said Syracuse defenseman Mark Barberio. "We just wanted to stick to our game plan. It's been successful all season and we were opportunistic with our chances."