Fights are part and parcel of professional ice hockey, but you don’t often see a team’s top scorer trading punches with opponents. But that’s what Syracuse Crunch fans saw Saturday night at the Onondaga County War Memorial as 20-year-old sharpshooter Kyle Palmieri threw down his gloves and went at it with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins winger Ryan Craig in the middle of the second period.
The 5,000-plus fans in the stands held their collective breath as their 5-foot-11, 185-lbs. wunderkind slugged it out against the 6-foot-2, 220-lbs. veteran.
Palmieri, who had scored his team-leading 13th goal of the season to put the Crunch up 3-1, was inspired to tangle with Craig after the Penguins’ captain roughed up Syracuse netminder Iiro Tarkki.
“He had to face some retribution for hitting our goalie,” Palmieri explained after the game.
It’s tough to argue with Palmieri’s selfless motivation, but fans can certainly question his disregard for his own safety. As a top scorer, gifted stickhandler and sure-footed skater, Palmieri is worth his weight in gold. As a boxer, he’s spirited but speculative.
Last season, Palmieri fought twice. He took Lake Erie Monster Cameron Guance to the ice on Oct. 8, 2010 before taking a beating from Albany Devil Brad Mills on Jan. 8, 2011.
Thankfully, his brief tussle with Craig here Saturday ended in a draw so Palmieri avoided injury but still sat idle for five minutes in the penalty box, depriving his team of his presence on the ice as a scoring threat.
Nevertheless, the Crunch coasted to a 5-2 victory on the strength of goals by Brandon McMillan, Patrick Maroon, Palmieri, Troy Bodie and Peter Holland. Crunch goaltender Iiro Tarrki, perhaps buoyed by Palmieri’s show of force, made 33 saves to preserve the win.
It was an important victory because it came the night after a lethargic Crunch allowed the visiting Hershey Bears to take 42 shots at Tarkki before losing 4-1.
While the Crunch lack a full-time enforcer – a role played by former players like Jon Mirasty and Brandon Sugden – several team members are capable of taking care of business. Coach Mark Holick should make it clear to Palmieri that the rough stuff must be reserved for guys like Maroon, Mat Clark and Troy Bodie, who punched out Penguins defenseman Alex Grant in Saturday’s final period.
Every time Palmieri resorts to fisticuffs, he not only strays from his own best game, he also puts his multi-million-dollar career at risk. A member of the 2011 AHL Eastern Conference All-Star Team, Palmieri is a Long island native who played college hockey at Notre Dame. He’ll turn 21 in February and is expected to spark the Anaheim Ducks’ offense for years to come.
Bulldogs bark at Crunch
The Syracuse Crunch continues its 2011-12 American Hockey League season with a home game against the Hamilton Bulldogs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, at the Onondaga County War Memorial at State and Harrison streets, downtown.
The Crunch is affiliated with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks. Hamilton is the top farm club of the Montreal Canadiens.
Ticket prices range from $14 to $21; 473-4444.