Crunch Fall Behind Early in Loss to Comets

By Jeremy Houghtaling

The Syracuse Crunch’s sluggish start cost them.

The Crunch allowed two Comets goals in the first 3:48 and played from behind most of the game, as Syracuse fell to Utica, 5-4, at the Onondaga County War Memorial Friday.

“When you start the game and you’re down by two goals as quickly as tonight, it’s tough,” Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx said. “I thought we battled hard to come back in that game. I just believe they were a better team than us tonight.”

Gabriel Dumont paced the Syracuse offense with two goals and one assist, while Michael Bournival scored twice. The duo, who both came over from the Montreal Canadiens organization over the summer, have clicked early in the season.

“I’ve played with him for the last three years, most of the time he’s on a line with me. … We’re playing in our structure and we’re playing a certain way, and it’s easy to read,” Dumont said.

Erik Condra was on Dumont’s other wing and recorded one assist. Dumont believes Condra’s contributions to the line could be overlooked by some.

“A lot of people are talking about me and (Bournival) right now because we’re getting the points, but Condra is doing a lot of good things on the ice right now,” Dumont said.

Dylan Blujus, Slater Koekkoek, Luke Witkowski and Cory Conacher each had one helper.

Kristers Gudlevskis made four saves on eight shots in the first period, but was pulled in favor of Adam Wilcox to start the second. The Minnesota product made 10 saves on 11 shots.

For Groulx, the switch was more about changing the momentum.

“I don’t want to blame (Gudlevskis) for this game, because I think the team was not playing well in the first period,” Groulx said. “It’s too easy to put the blame on the goalie. I thought he made some good stops. One goal he would have wanted to have back.”

Utica’s Chad Billins opened the scoring 1:58 into the contest, and Alexandre Grenier added to the Comets lead 1:50 later.

“I think we didn’t have the start we wanted, and it cost us the game,” Bournival said. “The two last periods we played our game and had the momentum, but we need to play a good first period to win games.”

Dumont and Bournival each scored to tie the score by 8:25 into the game, but Michael Carcone put the Comets back ahead 32 seconds later and Curtis Valk gave Utica a 4-2 lead heading into the first intermission.

Dumont’s backhander from the slot cut the Crunch deficit to one goal 2:38 into the second, but Jayson Megna added to the Comets lead midway through the third.

Bournival put Syracuse back to within one with 2:50 remaining, but the Crunch comeback fell short.

“I’m happy the way we bounced back,” Groulx said. “Our first period was difficult, but we battled hard and we were there to the end.”

Still, the players believed the first period was the difference.

“When you’re not ready to play when the puck drops, you can’t win games,” Dumont said. “This team was ready to play in the first, and we played 40 solid minutes of hockey. I don’t think they touched the puck more than 20 percent the rest of the game, but they were ready to play in the first and we weren’t.”

Syracuse (2-1-0-0) looks to rebound when it hits the road to play the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday. Groulx said his team needs to to turn the page after Friday’s contest.

“I think Utica played better than us,” Groulx said. “They were first on the puck all night long. They were skating better and won many, many battles for the puck. They deserve that win.”

Pictured: Crunch forward Gabriel Dumont circles behind the net against the Comets at the Onondaga County War Memorial Friday.

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

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