Crunch Top Comets in Shootout, Earn All Six Points on Homestand

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Tanner Richard moved left and right as he slowly approached the net, and then quickly flicked a backhander that beat Michael Garteig’s glove.

The goal — followed by a save by Kristers Gudlevskis at the other end — sealed a 4-3 shootout win for the Syracuse Crunch over the Utica Comets at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday. The Crunch captured all six points on the three-game homestand, including two wins against divisional opponents.

“It’s a very good week for us, obviously,” Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx said. “Tonight we battled hard. It was our fifth game in eight days with some previous travel in St. John’s, so we had to battle hard last night and battle hard again against a very competitive Utica team. My hat’s off to our players.”

Henri Ikonen, Ben Thomas and Matt Taormina each registered one goal, while Jake Dotchin, Matthew Peca, Yanni Gourde, Brian Hart, Michael Bournival and Richard each had one assist. Gudlevskis finished with 31 saves for the win.

“It’s good to see him shutting the door in the shootout,” Groulx said of Guflevskis. “I think it’s good for his confidence. Overall, we’re very pleased with his game tonight.”

The Comets’ Pascal Pelletier opened the scoring 7:45 into the first period, but the Crunch scored on a scramble less than six minutes later. Ikonen’s goal sent thousands of teddy bears flying onto the ice as a part of Syracuse’s Teddy Bear Toss Night.

Jake Virtanen put the Comets back in front a little more than five minutes into the second, but Thomas netted his first of the season with a shot from the point two minutes later.

Taormina gave Syracuse its first lead of the night with a shorthanded goal 12 seconds into the third, but Utica’s Cole Cassells netted the equalizer with 4:39 remaining in regulation.

It was the second night in a row the Crunch had come back from a pair of one-goal deficits. For Groulx, it showed the character in the room.

“It’s just the way goes sometimes,” Groulx said. “Sometimes we take the lead, sometimes we’re behind, but one thing is for sure. We don’t quit. That shows the character we have in this room.”

After a scoreless overtime, the Comets’ Curtis Valk scored in the first round of the shootout. Cory Conacher evened it up in the second round for Syracuse, Richard put the Crunch ahead and Gudlevskis sealed the win with a stop on Alexandre Grenier in the third round.

Richard has been working to perfect a couple shootout moves in practice.

“I like to slow down and get my shoulders and the puck moving just to get the goalie guessing and get him caught up in my stickhandling,” Richard said. “And then I just surprise him with something, whether I go low blocker or high blocker. That one in my head I knew I wanted to put a backhand over his glove as I kind of pulled over to open space up.

“I was hoping there’d be a hole there, and luckily there was.”

After four points against a pair of division foes this weekend, Syracuse (15-6-0-2) has some time to practice before it begins a three-in-three weekend with a trip to Hartford Friday.

“If you look at it, any time you can go Friday-Saturday with four points, I think you’re going to call it a good weekend,” Richard said. “Was it the most beautiful 120 minutes? Probably not, but at the end of the day it’s four points that we’re taking to the bank in division games. We’ll go over video, go over what we didn’t do well, and keep moving forward and go for the next two points.”

Pictured: Crunch goalie Kristers Gudlevskis makes a pad save against the Devils 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.