At first glance, it was hard to tell who the blue-clad hockey team was on the War Memorial ice last Tuesday. The announcer called them the Syracuse Crunch, but they sure didn't look like last year's record-setting Salt City club.
Gone was long-time coach Gary Agnew; behind the bench instead were former assistant coach Ross Yates and former defenseman Trent Cull. The players wore Columbus Blue Jackets' outfits with high uniform numbers and unfamiliar last names across their backs. None of them will likely hit the NHL ice with the Jackets this season, but all are hoping to stick around in hockey's top minor league.
Unfortunately, the Crunch prospects kicked off their preseason American Hockey League schedule Sept. 26 in disappointing fashion. The Rochester Americans' prospects came from behind with a late goal and an overtime tally to drop the Crunch by a 3-2 margin.
Amerks' winger Patrick Kaleta netted the game-winner barely a minute and a half into overtime off an assist from Dylan Hunter, this after Adam Taylor tied the game with 19.2 seconds left in regulation. With an extra-attacker on the ice, Taylor poked the puck into the Syracuse net during a scramble in front of the crease.
The Crunch prospects haven't played together much and it showed. Much of the first period was played in the Syracuse end as Rochester racked up a 13-5 advantage in shots on goal. Syracuse's play improved in the second and third periods, as the Crunch held a 2-1 lead with 12:28 to play. For the game, the Amerks outshot the Crunch 34-20.
The Syracuse roster featured 19 rookies, most of whom will likely wind up on the lower minors, junior hockey or elsewhere. Only forwards Tim Konsorada and Jeff Szwez saw significant time with the Crunch last season, combining for 16 points in 41 games played. Both players could well see more time in Syracuse this season if they continue to improve.