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Syracuse Crunch defeat Bridgeport in home opener

Credit: Scott Kinville

The Syracuse Crunch kicked off their 30th-anniversary celebration with a 4-2 victory over the Bridgeport Islanders at home.

It was a festive mood at the Upstate Medical University Arena as the hometown Syracuse Crunch made its home debut for the 2023-24 season against the Bridgeport Islanders. This wasn’t just another home opener, as the team was celebrating its thirtieth anniversary of entering the AHL. Fans were treated to a nearly eight-minute pregame video chronicling highlights from the team’s thirty years with comments from team owner Howard Dolgon among others.

On the ice, the Crunch were coming off a hard-fought 4-3 overtime victory at the home of their arch-rival Utica Comets just twenty-four hours prior. Their opponent this evening was the Bridgeport Islanders – a team coming off of a 4-3 overtime victory the night before themselves.

Syracuse goaltender Hugo Alnefelt (#60) fends off Bridgeport’s Eetu Liukas (#26) with the help of teammates Declan Carlile (#72) and Gabriel Dumont (#40). Photo credit: Scott Kinville.

Saturday night’s game was not only the home opener for the team, it was the home debut of new Syracuse Head Coach Joel Bouchard. Bouchard replaced long-time Crunch head coach Ben Groulx in the offseason and is no stranger to Crunch fans. He coached the team’s North Division rival the Laval Rocket from 2018-21, and last coached the San Diego Gulls in 2021-22.

The game itself started with each team receiving a power play within the first five minutes which neither converted. The Crunch would open the scoring with just under eleven minutes left in the period when another newcomer made his presence felt. Defenseman Devante Stephens, who signed with Syracuse in the offseason for his third stint with the team, skated into the Bridgeport zone and snapped a shot past Islanders goaltender Ken Appleby and into the top of the net. It was Stephen’s first game, goal, and point back with the Crunch, as he did not play the night before in Utica.

Five and a half minutes later the home team brought its capacity crowd back to its feet when Lucas Edmonds pounced on a loose puck at the top of the crease and put it in the back of the net. It was his second goal in as many nights, as he scored against Utica the night before as well.

Everything seemed to be going Syracuse’s way until 33.2 seconds left in the opening period. The Islanders moved the puck around the Crunch zone until Brian Pinho was able to jam a loose puck past Syracuse goaltender Hugo Alnefelt that just squeaked over the goal line. The goal would give the visitors some much-needed life as the teams went into the first intermission with the score 2-1 in favor of Syracuse.

Daniel Walcott (#85) and Bridgeport’s Grant Hutton (#7) get into a scrum during Saturday night’s game. Photo credit: Scott Kinville.

The physicality of the first period carried into the second period. A total of eight penalties were called between the teams in the middle frame, but no power-play goals were scored. The only goal of the period came at even strength, and once again it was scored by the Islanders in the last minutes. Ruslan Iskhakov burst into the Syracuse zone, stickhandled through the defense, and got a shot on Alnefelt. The Crunch net minder turned it aside but Jackson Cates was there to put the rebound in the back of the net. Although Syracuse controlled play for long stretches of the game to that point, the score was now tied at two after forty minutes.

Syracuse captain Gabriel Dumont (#40) takes exception to the actions of Bridgeport’s Jeff Kubiak during Saturday night’s game. Photo credit: Scott Kinville.

Whatever momentum the Islanders had was erased by the Crunch erased by the Crunch in the third period. Syracuse was on the attack seemingly right from the opening face-off. It paid off with less than twelve minutes remaining when a fan favorite put the Crunch ahead for good. Daniel Walcott bulldozed the puck away from the Islander’s defense at their blue line and found himself all alone in the Bridgeport zone. He did not miss, as he snapped a shot between Appleby’s pads and in to make the score 3-2. Five minutes later, the overtime hero from Friday night would put the game away. Felix Robert, tipped a shot from the point past Appleby for the game’s only power-play goal, sealing the 4-2 victory for Syracuse. With the win, the Crunch are now 2-0-0 on the young season.

Syracuse’s Tristan Allard (#14) attempts to jam the puck past Bridgeport goaltender Ken Appleby during Saturday night’s game. Photo credit: Scott Kinville.

Game notes: Syracuse outshot Bridgeport 37-23…Syracuse was 1 for 4 on the power play, while Bridgeport was 0 for 4…Felix Robert led Syracuse in points with 1 goal and 1 assist, while Ruslan Iskhakov led Bridgeport in points with 2 assists…Hugo Alnefelt made 21 saves to pick up his first win of the season…Syracuse next plays on Friday, October 20th at Cleveland.

The video montage celebrating the 30th anniversary of Syracuse Crunch hockey.

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