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Thomas Scores Game-Winner in Shootout, Crunch Top Comets

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Ben Thomas didn’t think the shot was in until he heard the roar.

The Syracuse Crunch defenseman deked and shot from his backhand in the 11th round of the shootout. The puck went off Comets goalie Thatcher Demko’s blocker and popped over his shoulder and into the back of the net.

Connor Ingram made a save at the other end, and Syracuse topped Utica, 3-2, at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.

“I went to the backhand there and I saw it go off his blocker and I thought he saved it,” Thomas said of his first pro shootout attempt. “Then I turned to the corner and heard everyone cheering. When I looked back it was in the net.”

Ingram finished with 15 saves for the victory. It was his first appearance since Dec. 16.

“Early there’s a little rust to knock off, but as soon as you feel the puck for the first time, it’s all just instincts after that,” Ingram said. “You’re not really thinking anymore, you’re just playing.”

Alexander Volkov scored both Crunch goals. Reid McNeill, Mathieu Joseph, Anthony Cirelli and Carter Verhaeghe each had one assist. Verhaeghe now has points in 11 straight games.

Syracuse took it to Utica early, with Volkov opening the score midway through the first period. The Comets’ Michael Carcone tied the score before the first intermission, when the Crunch held a 17-6 advantage in shots on goal.

Syracuse continued to outshoot Utica in the second, but Marco Roy gave the Comets a 2-1 lead heading into the final frame.

“I thought the game was turning,” Crunch assistant coach Jeff Halpern said. “I thought Utica started having long shifts in our end and we started chasing them around in our end. Maybe the first period we were out-chancing them, but I thought the second got more even.

“Maybe that was the bigger part of the frustration. We pushed and didn’t score, and then they started to carry the play.”

The momentum changed early in the third when Volkov scored his second goal of the night with a quick snap shot.

“The second goal was a big goal at that time in the game,” Halpern said. “Not just Demko, but all of Utica was playing pretty well. I thought we got flat for a long time, so to come out in the third and for him to put that shot in was a big time goal.”

Nothing was settled in overtime, and the teams went goal-for-goal in the shootout. Volkov, Joseph and Adam Erne each scored for the Crunch in the shootout.

Thomas climbed over the boards in the 11th round, and netted the eventual game-winner.

“As a defenseman, it’s not something you’re used to,” Thomas said. “It was a bit of a long one … and it gets down to the last couple forwards and then all the forwards have went, so you get a little nervous but it’s nice to see he has confidence in me and luckily it worked out.”

Syracuse (17-12-1-2) wraps up 2017 with a trip to Binghamton Sunday.

“It was good to get the win and hopefully we’ll get another one tomorrow,” Thomas said.

Pictured: Crunch defenseman Ben Thomas makes a pass against the Comets 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.