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Crunch Drop Preseason Finale to Comets

By Jeremy Houghtaling

The Syracuse Crunch cut their deficit to one goal in the third period, but the Utica Comets were quick with their answer.

The Comets’ Anton Cederholm scored 1:07 after Jason Akeson got the Crunch on the board, as Utica topped Syracuse, 3-1, at the Onondaga County War Memorial Sunday. The teams split the two-game preseason series.

For Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx, the weekend showed the work that needs to be done before the regular season opener on Friday.

“I thought we played a good game last night. We had a lot of energy and today — the last game before we start thinking about real things — and I think we didn’t have good legs. No execution,” Groulx said. “Their team was much better than us. They were skating better. They were moving the puck way better. I thought it was the opposite last night.
“Overall, (I’m) very happy with training camp. We had a good week and we still have a lot to do. This game showed we still have a lot of work to do.”

Tye McGinn and Shane Conacher recorded assists on Akeson’s goal. Akeson was brought in on a tryout agreement, and hasn’t had any updates as to whether his play has earned him a contract heading into the season.

“I thought I’ve done well,” Akeson said. “It’s been a while since I played my last game, so I’m just taking it one step at a time — get my feet under me, make plays and show them that I want to stay here.”

Connor Ingram finished with 19 saves in the loss. The rookie played both games over the weekend.

“He was great last night. Today he was good as well,” Groulx said. “He was not lucky on the first goal, and then they scored two good goals after. Overall, it was a good weekend for him.”

Ingram said getting his first experience in a Crunch uniform helps, but there’s still a long way to go.

“Obviously, it was exciting. That’s my first ever pro hockey and the first hockey I’ve played within this organization too. … I knew there was going to be a learning curve, but I’m happy with the way it went,” Ingram said.

After a scoreless first period where the teams combined for 10 shots on goal, Utica’s Alexis D’Aoust opened the scoring by jamming in a loose puck in the crease midway through the second. The Comets’ Michael Carcone added to their lead off a 2-on-1 less than four minutes into the third.

Akeson’s goal cut Syracuse’s deficit in half, but Utica quickly regained its two-goal lead. The Crunch had a few 6-on-4 advantages by pulling their goalie on the power play late, but were unable to cash in.

“I think our team has a lot of speed and a lot of talent,” Akeson said. “It’s tough the way it ended today but it is preseason, so it’s time for guys to figure out what other guys do and figure out plays, the chemistry and stuff like that. I think there’s some positive things to take out of it.”

Alexander Volkov skated in his first preseason game for Syracuse. The Tampa Bay Lightning's 2017 second-rounder created some chances, and nearly connected with Dennis Yan for a goal in the third period.

“It was not an easy game for the players today,” Groulx said. “The (ice) surface was not very good. The puck was bouncing a lot, but I thought Volkov was one of the good players with the puck today.”

The Crunch open the season in Rochester on Friday, and host the Americans in their home opener Saturday. In the practices before then, the focus for Groulx and the coaching staff is simple.

“Everything,” Groulx said. “We had three practices with this group, and we need to practice to implement the system. … This weekend proved that we have a lot of work in front of us.”

Pictured: Crunch forward Tye McGinn fends off a Comets defender at the Onondaga County War Memorial Sunday.

For more pictures from the game, visit the BoltProspects Facebook page.

To listen to postgame interviews, go to this SoundCloud page.