Wilcox, Penalty Kill Lift Crunch Over Phantoms

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Despite having to weather the storm from the Phantoms for long stretches in the second and third periods, the Crunch emerged with the win.

Goalie Adam Wilcox made 48 saves, the penalty kill was flawless and Matt Taormina’s goal late in the third lifted Syracuse to a 4-2 win over Lehigh Valley at the Onondaga County War Memorial Wednesday.

“I think we have to give credit tonight to our goalie, obviously. He was our best player out there,” Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx said. “Our PK was phenomenal too. I think (Erik) Condra, (Yanni) Gourde, (Michael) Bournival, (Cory) Conacher, (Matthew) Peca, (Adam) Erne with our group defensemen and our best PKer, which is our goalie, were very good. (The Phantoms) have a good power play, and they did an outstanding job at killing penalties.”

Condra registered three assists, Erne had two helpers, and Gourde added one goal and one assist. Jake Dotchin, Matt Taormina, and Peca each scored once, while Mike Halmo finished with one assist.

Wilcox’s 48 saves set a new career high, as the Phantoms finished with a 50-34 shots on goal advantage in which they outshot the Crunch 37-21 in the final 40 minutes. Wilcox credited his work with Syracuse goalie coach David Alexander for his improvement in his second pro season.

“It’s not really changing styles, it’s building on stuff,” Wilcox said. “Last year I really needed to get better positioning, and to start with that I had to get better skating. So we did a lot of edge work, a lot post work, a lot of skating stuff. From there, I got good at that and moved onto positioning and controlled blocks.”

The Phantoms came into the contest with the best road power play (29.8 percent) and fourth best power play overall (25 percent), but the Crunch held them off the scoreboard and 0-for-5 on the night.

“We did what we needed to do,” Taormina said. “They have a really good power play, especially on the road … so that was huge to keep them off the board. They’ve got a lot of skill out there, so hats off to our penalty kill, (Wilcox) and everybody who played. It was good to see.”

Lehigh Valley’s Cole Bardreau opened the scoring 11:57 into the first period with a quick shot from the slot, but the Crunch answered quickly. Peca evened the score 32 seconds later, and Dotchin put Syracuse ahead 21 seconds after that.

“Matt Peca made a beautiful play. I think Matt’s skating very well lately and he made a great play there,” Groulx said. “Right after, I don’t know if the puck was tipped by Bournival in front — at least he screened the goalie — things like that happen.”

Despite strong Lehigh Valley surges throughout the second, the score remained the same until Bardreau pounced on his own rebound midway through the third to tie the score.

With time ticking away, the Crunch again found the go-ahead goal when Taormina one-timed a dribbling puck from the top of the circles past the Phantoms’ Alex Lyon.

Gourde sealed the win with an shorthanded empty-netter with 21 seconds remaining.

“(Erne) was buzzing around for a good 20 to 30 seconds,” Taormina said of his goal. “The first time he tried the wraparound it didn’t work, and then he ended up getting it again a little bit later. I think he wanted to go to someone else — I’m not sure, I can ask him — but it ended up coming straight through since everyone was diving down and didn’t expect it to come straight out. I took a quick look where the goalie was, and after that I shot it as hard as I could.”

For Wilcox, the key to the win was keeping calm despite a very emotional game.

“I try to stay the same throughout the whole game,” Wilcox said. “When you give up a goal, obviously you’re not happy with it. For me, it’s staying level-headed whether we’re up five goals, down five goals or a tie game. Like after (Taormina’s) goal, it’s obviously an emotional time and a big goal for us late in the game, so I just had to reset myself and make sure I was playing the same as I would otherwise.”

Syracuse (13-6-0-2) wraps up the week with home games against Albany Friday and Utica Saturday. Despite the win, Groulx thought Wednesday was the worst his team played all season and he hopes for better this weekend.

“Our goalie kept us in the game and it’s good because we won,” Groulx said. “Turn the page and we’ve got to be better than this this weekend.”

Pictured: Crunch goalie Adam Wilcox makes a save with his chest against the Phantoms at the Onondaga County War Memorial Wednesday.

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

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