Witkowski Scores Twice, Crunch Top Sound Tigers

By Jeremy Houghtaling

In a game that featured the return of Jonathan Drouin, the offense was generated from a more unlikely source.

Luke Witkowski, a stay-at-home defenseman who had one goal in 53 previous games, registered a pair of goals to lead the Syracuse Crunch to a 5-2 victory over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at the Onondaga County War Memorial Friday. With the win, Syracuse has points in five consecutive games.

“I’d say luck,” Witkowski said of his goals. “Most of my goals are bouncing in off guys or just gritty goals. That last one happened to be me driving the net. I’ll take them when I can get them.”

The Crunch’s Yanni Gourde added a pair of goals in the third period, Tanner Richard recorded two assists, Jeff Tambellini rounded out the scoring, and Jonathan Drouin, Jake Dotchin, Matt Taormina, and Joel Vermin each had one helper.

Drouin, who sat out nearly two months waiting for his trade request to be fulfilled, played his first game since Jan. 18.

“He set up a couple nice plays, he had some chances and some good looks on net,” Crunch head coach Rob Zettler said. “I thought he was fine.”

For Drouin, there was more adrenaline than nerves as he stepped back onto the ice for a game.

“I played simple in the beginning,” Drouin said. “I hadn’t played in a while, so I was rusty. My legs were getting a little heavy at one point, but as the game went on I thought I was better and better.”

Syracuse goalie Adam Wilcox finished with 25 saves in his fifth-straight start, while Christopher Gibson finished with 27 stops for Bridgeport.

“I thought he played really well again tonight,” Zettler said of Wilcox. “He made some big saves when he needed to. Overall, I thought he was really good.”

Witkowski opened the scoring at the 13:15 mark of the contest, when his attempted pass to Mike Blunden banked off the back of a Bridgeport defender and into the net. Tambellini added to the Crunch lead 34 seconds later, but Bridgeport’s Bracken Kearns cut the Syracuse lead to one before the first intermission.

Witkowski drove to the net after a Drouin slap shot and knocked in the rebound to restore the Crunch’s two-goal lead midway through the second, and Gourde scored his first of the night to provide further insurance with less than six minutes to play.

The Sound Tigers’ Tanner Fritz scored with less than two minutes remaining, but Gourde sealed the win with an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining.

Syracuse (25-23-9-3) hosts Rochester Saturday and finishes out the three-in-three in Springfield Sunday. The Americans will have defenseman Joey Mormina, who was traded from the Crunch last week.

“Same thing, just keep working hard,” Witkowski said of the mindset for the rest of the weekend. “Play hard against number 3 on their team. I think his name is Mormina.”

Pictured: Crunch defenseman Luke Witkowski makes a pass against the Sound Tigers 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.