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Crunch Battle Back Three Times, But Fall to Comets in OT

By Jeremy Houghtaling

The Syracuse Crunch battled back three times.

The Crunch answered each of the Comets’ three go-ahead goals in regulation but ultimately fell in overtime, as Syracuse lost to Utica, 4-3, in the Crunch’s home finale at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.

“I think we battled back a lot today, which was good,” Crunch forward Matthew Peca said. “Even though we put ourselves in positions to have to battle back — maybe some goals we didn’t want to give up like the shorthanded one — but I thought we battled. We didn’t give up, we tied it late. Tough break in overtime.”

Peca finished with a pair of goals, while Jeff Tambellini, Daniel Walcott, David Broll and Cameron Darcy each had one assist. Kristers Gudlevskis registered 29 saves in the loss.

Two of the Crunch’s younger players on tryout agreements reached milestones. Ben Thomas recorded his first professional goal and Jonne Tammela tallied his first point in North America.

“I thought all the kids — specifically Tammela — were really good,” Crunch head coach Rob Zettler said. “He’s really aggressive and I’ve been happy with him. Ben Thomas has been quietly really good. He’s moving pucks and played sound.”

The Comets started strong with Mike Zalewski opening the scoring 18 seconds into the contest, but the Crunch evened the score with a goal by Thomas less than five minutes later.

Utica took another lead on a shorthanded goal by Alex Friesen 14:10 into the second period, but Peca jammed in a rebound to knot the score at two a little more than three minutes into the third period.

Zalewski netted his second of the night with 14 minutes left in regulation, and Peca drew the Crunch even again with less than six minutes left in the third.

“I couldn’t see much since there was a lot of traffic in front of the net,” Peca said of his second goal of the night. “I knew the goalie wasn’t going to see it, so I tried to put it as far left as I could. It had eyes and made it through a bunch of bodies.”

The Crunch had a scoring chance early in overtime, but the Comets took the rebound and rushed 2-on-1 the other way. Brendan Gaunce registered the game-winner 33 seconds into the extra session.

“It would have been nice to get a win for the crowd tonight. There were a lot of people in the stands,” Zettler said. “We just gave a couple away. The third goal I thought we gave away, and then … we get burned in overtime again.”

With the season close to being over, the players have begun reflecting on the season as a whole.

“I thought we battled hard. We battled hard all year,” Crunch defenseman Slater Koekkoek said. “A lot of overtime games didn’t go our way, and at times we had a pretty depleted roster. … We’ve got a lot of young guys coming back next year, and we look forward to that.”

Syracuse (32-28-11-4) rounds out the three-in-three weekend and the regular season with a trip to Lehigh Valley Sunday.

“It’s a tough feeling knowing you’re not in the playoffs,” Peca said. “But at the end of the day, you’ve got to play for each other. There are guys playing for jobs, and rookies trying to prove and establish themselves. It’s important to go in there with a good mindset and play to win.”

Pictured: Crunch forward Matthew Peca looks to pass against the Comets at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.

For more pictures from the game, visit the BoltProspects Facebook page.

To listen to postgame interviews, go to this SoundCloud page.