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Syracuse Crunch raise pair of banners at home opener

The Lightning's AHL affiliate celebrated their North Division Title and Eastern Conference Championship prior to Saturday's game against Rochester

by Megan Cahill / SyracuseCrunch.com

Last Week
Fri., Oct. 6 - Crunch at Rochester - L, 3-1
Sat., Oct. 7 - Crunch vs. Rochester - OTL, 3-2

This Week
Fri., Oct. 13 - Crunch vs. Belleville - 7 p.m.
Sat., Oct. 14 - Crunch vs. Utica - 7 p.m.
Sun., Oct. 15 - Crunch at W-B/Scranton - 3:05 p.m.

Syracuse Opens 24th season

A new-look Syracuse team took to the ice for the 24th season in franchise history. The Crunch (0-1-1-0) dropped a pair of games to Rochester, 3-1 Friday on the road and 3-2 in overtime Saturday at home. . . . The Crunch raised two championship banners into the War Memorial Arena rafters prior to their home opener Saturday. The team reflected on last season's North Division and Eastern Conference championship, their second conference title in team history. . . . Despite the losses, the Crunch's defense was stout, leading the league with 19.0 shots against per game. . . . Benoit Groulx returns to the Syracuse bench for his second season with the Crunch. After leading the team to the Calder Cup Finals in his first year, Groulx's staff includes new assistant coach Ken Klee, returning assistant coach Jeff Halpern and new goaltending and video coach Karl Goehring.

Top Performers

Rookie forward Mitchell Stephens is the only Crunch player with points in each of the first two games to open the 2017-18 season. Tampa Bay's second round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft scored the Crunch's season-opening goal Friday in Rochester. He then had the primary assist on Kevin Lynch's game-tying goal Saturday, giving him two points through two games. Stephens, 20, played in three games during the Eastern Conference Finals against Providence. He skated in five games for the Crunch at the end of the 2015-16 season, netting his first pro goal Apr. 9 vs. Toronto in his second pro game.

Ben Thomas picked up where he left off in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs with a two-assist game Saturday night. He set up Cory Conacher's opening goal and had a hand in the game-tying goal, giving him his first multi-point game of the season. Thomas, 21, is in his second season with the Crunch. In 71 regular season games in 2016-17, the defenseman had 21 points (3g, 18a) without a multi-point game, but had three multi-point games in 22 postseason matches, totaling 13 points (5g, 8a).

Debuts

Twelve players made their Crunch debuts in Week 1, and four of those-Mathieu Joseph, Erik Cernak, Alexander Volkov and Connor Ingram-also played in their first pro game. This is a threefold increase over opening weekend in 2016, when only four players made their Crunch debuts.

In addition to Joseph, Cernak, Volkov and Ingram, defensemen Jamie McBain, Reid McNeill, Mat Bodie, forwards Jason Akeson, Shane Conacher, Troy Bourke and Alex Gallant and goaltender Michael Leighton all appeared in their first Crunch game over the weekend.

Three-in-three

The Crunch have their first instance of three games in three days this weekend, starting with home games Friday and Saturday. The other three-in-three weekends for the Crunch come Feb. 9-11 and Mar. 9-11. 

Last season, the Crunch played three games in three nights five times, but with the AHL beginning a week earlier, the league reduced the need for as many three-in-threes.

Banged up

New Crunch defenseman Reid McNeill, who made his team debut Friday in Rochester, suffered an injury against the Amerks. Head coach Ben Groulx announced after Saturday's game that the sixth-year-pro is expected to miss four to six weeks.

Transactions

The Crunch received some offensive support Monday when the Tampa Bay Lightning assigned forward Michael Bournival to Syracuse. The sixth-year-pro split last year with the Lightning and Crunch, netting 19 points (9g, 10a) in 38 regular season games for Syracuse and adding 15 more (8g, 7a) in 22 Crunch playoff games.

Following Saturday's match, the Crunch loaned forward Troy Bourke to the ECHL's Adirondack Thunder.

Upcoming: Belleville, Utica, WBS

Syracuse and the Belleville Senators play for the first time ever Friday at the War Memorial Arena. Playing in their final year in Binghamton last year, the Senators finished in last place in the North Division with 60 points, although they earned a split of the 10-game season series.

Saturday features the first of 12 matches between the Crunch and Comets. Utica missed the playoffs last season when they lost to the Crunch in Game 76. Syracuse won seven of 12 games in last year's series. Darren Archibald returns for his fifth season as a Comet after leading the team with 47 points last year.

The weekend concludes when the Crunch make the first of two visits to the defending Atlantic Division champion Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The Penguins took five of six matches over the Crunch in 2016-17 en route to a league-best 51-20-3-2 record.

Week 1 Results

Friday, October 6 | Game 1 at Rochester | L, 3-1

Syracuse 0 0 1 - 1 Shots: 6-15-8-29 PP: 0/6

Rochester 1 1 1 - 3 Shots: 5-10-5-20 PP: 1/6

3rd Period-Stephens 1 (Erne, Bodie), 17:34. . . . . Leighton 0-1-0 (20 shots-17 saves). 

Saturday, October 7 | Game 2 vs. Rochester | OTL, 3-2

Rochester 1 1 0 1 - 3 Shots: 6-6-5-1-18 PP: 1/6

Syracuse 1 0 1 0 - 2 Shots: 10-7-9-0-26 PP: 0/4

1st Period-C. Conacher 1 (Thomas, Peca), 16:16. 3rd Period-Lynch 1 (Stephens, Thomas), 11:51. . . . Ingram 0-0-0 (18 shots-15 saves). A-5,988

Category standings (previous week)

Power Play 0.0% (0-for-10) T-21st (n/a)

Penalty Kill 83.3% (10-for-12) T-15th (n/a)

Goals For 1.50 GFA (3) 25th (n/a)

Goals Against 3.00 GAA (6) T-11th (n/a)

Shots For 27.50 SF/G (55) 17th (n/a)

Shots Against 19.0 SA/G (38) T-1st (n/a)

Penalty Minutes 14.0 PIM/G (28) 20th (n/a)

Crunch Leaders

Points 2 Stephens, Thomas

Goals 1 Stephens, C. Conacher, Lynch

Assists 2 Thomas

PIM 6 Thomas

Plus/Minus +2 Stephens

Wins -

GAA 2.97 Ingram

Save % .850 Leighton

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