SYRACUSE 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.