Early Spark Lifts Crunch to Win Over Americans


By Jeremy Houghtaling

There was a big hit, a fight and two goals — and that was just the first 3:34.

Mike Halmo’s bout and goals by Yanni Gourde and Cameron Darcy got the Crunch out to a fast start against the Americans, as Syracuse defeated Rochester, 5-2, at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.

“I thought we were ready for this game tonight,” Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx said. “Obviously, Mike Halmo set the tone right away, right off the bat. He’s a competitor and he’s a guy that when he gets involved physically, he’s at his best.”

In his first game back from a lower body injury sustained in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 8, Adam Erne recorded two goals and one assist.

“I thought I struggled a little bit in the first period just getting my groove back, but when you’re playing with guys like (Gourde) and (Cory) Conacher, it’s not real hard to get back in the groove,” Erne said. “When you play with those guys it’s not hard.”

Gourde and Conacher each had one goal and one assist, Matt Taormina had a pair of helpers, and Matthew Peca, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Jeremy Morin and Slater Koekkoek each had one assist. Kristers Gudlevskis made 25 saves in the win.

After a disappointing 3-2 loss to Binghamton the night before, Syracuse was happy to get back in the win column.

“It was big to bounce back,” Gourde said. “We didn’t play the way we wanted yesterday, and we came back strong today. Halmo started out with a big fight. You hit a guy and a guy challenges you, and he goes for a fight.”

Halmo laid a big hit on a Rochester player 12 seconds into the game, and answered the bell when challenged by Brady Austin. A little more than two minutes later, Gourde recorded a power play goal with a one-timer from the right wing circle.

Darcy scored 66 seconds after Gourde, but Nick Baptiste brought the Americans back to within one before the first intermission.

“I think we were desperate for a win,” Erne said. “I think we needed to turn it around a little bit and get back on the winning side. When we’re playing gritty and hard to play against, we’re hard to beat.”

Erne caught a rebound out of the air, dropped the puck and jammed it past Linus Ullmark 3:43 into the second, but Austin cut the Crunch lead to one a little more than 10 minutes later.

Conacher’s laser from the top of the circles on the power play gave the Crunch an insurance goal 4:09 into the third, and Erne’s empty-netter sealed the win in the final minute.

Syracuse finished 3-for-7 with the man-advantage, and kept Rochester 0-for-7 on the power play.

“We weren’t very good on the power play lately, but tonight we refocused and proved that we can score a goal on the power play,” Gourde said. “That’s what we need to do every night. We put the puck on the net and we worked hard. That’s how you’re going to score goals.”

Overall, Groulx liked what he saw out of the Crunch.

“I really liked our game, our effort. Well deserved,” Groulx said of the win. “But its only one game. Tomorrow we’ve got to be back.”

Syracuse (24-15-4-5) wraps up the three-in-three weekend with a trip to Utica Sunday.

“It’s always a battle against them,” Gourde said. “It’s fun to play those games. It’s going to be a fun game.”

Pictured: Crunch forward Adam Erne rushes the puck up the ice against the Americans at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.

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

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