Despite the large void the NHL lockout created, the hockey season is already long underway. Various amateur and professional leagues throughout North America and Europe have wrapped up their preseasons and are set to begin or are already in the thick of regular season action.
The Lightning's new AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, open their 2012-2013 season tonight with an impressive roster that boasts the nucleus of last season's Calder Cup-winning roster and an infusion of talent with varying professional experience: (J.T. Brown, Brett Connolly, Danick Gauthier, Riku Helenius, Dmitry Korobov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jared Nightingale, Matt Taormina and J.T. Wyman). In the absence of big-league action, watching much of the (currently foreseeable) lifeblood of the Lightning's future skate and bond together is a much-welcomed tonic.
For many of the Syracuse Crunch players, the beginning of the new hockey season comes with high expectations.
A previous season that included a record-breaking 28-game win streak and was capped with a sweep of the Toronto Marlies in the Calder Cup finals will tend to do that. But the 15 former Norfolk Admirals moving to Syracuse with the Tampa Bay Lightning affiliation welcome the pressure.
Alex Killorn (pictured) had 3 goals and 1 assist to lead Syracuse to a 6-5 overtime victory over St. John's. Richard Panik also had a multi-point game with 1 goal and 1 assist, as did Mark Barberio with a pair of assists, including 1 on Ondrej Palat's overtime winner. Reigning AHL MVP Cory Conacher also had a goal and J.T. Brown and Keith Aulie added single helpers.
Dustin Tokarski was between the pipes for the Crunch.
Syracuse completes its preseason 3-0-0, sweeping the IceCaps, and moves on to Rochester where they'll face the Americans on opening night of the regular season on Friday.
Game story from syracusecrunch.com.
Riku Helenius got the shootout victory, stopping 3 of 4 in the penalty shot session.
Game story from syracusecrunch.com.
New year, new affiliate, familiar result.
Dustin Tokarski started the game, played in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, and stopped 12 of 13 St. John's shots in the first period. Ben Maxwell beat him from in close when he knocked in a loose puck while on the power play. Tokarski took a seat on the bench in favor of Riku Helenius midway through the second period and the big Finn, making his return to North American ice, was perfect the rest of the way. Helenius is expected to play all of the Crunch's second preseason game, Friday night in Stephenville, Newfoundland.
SYR Conacher (Barberio)
SYR Devos (SH) (Hutchings)
SYR Killorn (SH, EN)
No boxscores are available at this time, so the scoring summary is based on game reports from both teams. Conacher's goal was basically scored into an empty net, made possible by a back-door pass by reigning defenseman of the year, Mark Barberio (pictured). Philip-Michael Devos scored shorthanded, taking a pass from Alex Hutchings, who was stationed behind the net. Hutchings was big for OHL Barrie while shorthanded, leading the league in shorties by a wide margin his last year. It could be his ticket to playing time with the Crunch this season. Richard Panik scored from the left circle and Alex Killorn added an empty net shorthanded goal with just over two minutes left in the game.
After the game, Syracuse coach Jon Cooper told the Syracuse Post-Standard that the team is well ahead of where they were last year at this time. And we all know how maliciously Norfolk treated the AHL record book last year. As we saw last season, the team can turn it on and dominate a period or two (or three), and after being outshot 13-11 in the first period tonight, they peppered IceCap goaltenders with 17 shots in the second period. St. John's managed six on Tokarski and Helenius in the second. Syracuse fans can expect to see plenty more periods like that this season.
The Post-Standard said Cooper singled out the following players (non-scorers) for good play on Thursday: J. T. Brown, Vladislav Namestnikov, Danick Gauthier, Evan Oberg, Keith Aulie, Mark Barberio, Matt Taormina.
Namestnikov (OHL London) and Gauthier (QMJHL St. John) were playing their first professional games. Taormina and Brown were making their "Lightning AHL affiliate" debut.
Syracuse wore their road white/orange jerseys tonight with blue numbers to go with blue lightning pants. Their new uniforms will be unveiled later this month.
Scratches for Friday's game are expected to include Conacher, Barberio, Aulie, Labrie, Oberg, Killorn, and Panik. That would mean Brett Connolly would make his AHL debut.