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Crunch Time: Wrapping up the week for the Lightning's AHL affiliate

by Doug Spencer / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Syracuse Crunch had a strong showing last week winning all three of their games. They beat the Albany Devils 3-2, Hershey Bears 5-1 and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 3-2. The Crunch are now sitting fourth in the conference with 19 points, only two points behind the top-seeded Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The Crunch have improved their overall record to 8-4-3. Even more impressive is that four of those wins have come in their last six games with the other two going to overtime and the Crunch earning a single point. The team seems to have found its mojo so look for them to keep rolling.

On Wednesday, November 12, Syracuse paid a visit to the Albany Devils. It was a hard-fought game from both sides that required a shootout to decide the victor. After the Devils opened the scoring 1:06 into the game, Yanni Gourde responded with his third of the year a mere three minutes later. The Crunch also received a second period tally from Joel Vermin. Gourde and Tanner Richard both scored on their shootout attempts, and Kristers Gudlevskis stopped two of three Albany shooters to secure the win. Gudlevskis turned in a solid performance between the pipes, stopping 20 of 22 shots, good for a .909 save percentage.g.

The Crunch returned home to face off against the Hershey Bears on Friday night. After giving up the first goal of the game six minutes into the contest, Syracuse’s offense exploded for five unanswered tallies. Captain Mike Angelidis kicked things off with his third of the season two minutes after the Bears scored. Other players scoring for the Crunch were Kevin Lynch, Henri Ikonen, Nikita Nesterov and Jonathan Marchessault. Both Angelidis and Marchessault, along with Dalton Smith, all recorded two points on the night. Andrei Vasilevskiy turned in arguably his best performance of the year, stopping 21 of 22 attempts and earning a .954 save percentage.

Syracuse closed out their week with a visit to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to play the Penguins in a Saturday night showdown. Things looked bleak for the Crunch as the team came out of the first period down 2-0, the Penguins scoring two goals a little over a minute apart. The Crunch showed their resilience and battled back in the second to cut the lead in half on a goal from Gourde. Gourde kept his torrid scoring pace going, marking his fifth goal in as many games, to tie the game at two. Angelidis scored the game winner as the Crunch soldiered on with three unanswered goals to capture a well-deserved win. Gudlevskis was back in net and stopped 27 of 29 for a save percentage of .931g.

The Puck Stops Here

The Syracuse Crunch have one of the more interesting tandems minding their net in the American Hockey League. Kristers Gudlevskis first made headlines when he nearly led team Latvia to an upset of the Canadian Olympic hockey team last year in Sochi. Andrei Vasilevkiy has also shone in the international spotlight winning two bronze and a silver medal at World Junior Championships and a gold medal with the Russian men’s national team at the World Championships. Both goaltenders turned in great performances this weekend, with neither recording below a .900 save percentage.

Syracuse’s goaltending coach, David Alexander, feels that both players have taken strides. In Gudlevskis second year with the team, Alexander noticed some big improvements. “Last year there were some big things that he needed to work on, positioning and technical execution of saves, which are pretty big things for a goalie. They are not easy to develop. They can take years.” Alexander said however that Gudlevskis really put in the effort and has made tremendous strides this year in improving both areas. His other pupil, Vasilevskiy, is in his first season of professional hockey in North America. It is also his first time playing outside of his homeland of Russia. While this can be hard on a young player, especially a goalie, Alexander said Vasilevskiy has been adapting well.

“As a professional athlete there are always ups and downs. What matters most is how you frame those. As long as you see the lows as opportunities to get better, you’ll be fine.” Alexander also hinted as to why the move over to North America has been easier for Vasilevskiy than most. “His work ethic is tremendous. His willingness and desire to learn are quite high, which is really good.”

Who’s Next?

Syracuse is in for another big week of hockey. On Friday night, November 21, the Crunch will play host to the Adirondack Flames (8-6-1). Then on Saturday, the Crunch head over to the University of Syracuse’s Carrier Dome for the Frozen Dome Classic against the visiting Utica Comets (11-2-2).

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