I have a confession to make: I wrote most of this on Tuesday, June 11th. I’m not going to be around much in the next few days, and I knew all too well what the end of this amazing season was going to do to me. I wanted to remind myself of the good, no matter what happened with this series.
Now, to be clear, I won’t be around because I’m angry or depressed or anything else. Honestly, I’m mostly at peace with being second place. How could you not be, after this season? But I won’t be around more so because I need a break. This season has been insane and amazing, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. But it’s done now, and I need to recover.
I wrote this ahead of time because I didn’t want my last entry on this season to be colored by me being sad. Ultimately, sadness is not how I want to remember this season. Having that emotion taint any end of the season entry would be an injustice to the guys who pulled on our jersey this season. It would be an injustice to all they accomplished. I would be an injustice to the organization itself, to the front office, and all of the work that went into the last year.
I wrote this then so that I could take a look back at the season that was, without one single doubt, the most memorable in Syracuse Crunch history. That way I could write without any extra emotion ruling over this entry.
Enjoy, and see you once the first signing rolls in!
As always, GO CRUNCH!
I really don’t think there was a fan in Crunch Land who honestly thought this group was going to be hard to like. From the beginning fans knew exactly what they were getting: the AHL Defenseman of the Year in Mark Barberio, Radko ”The Beard” Gudas, AHL Rookie of the Year Cory Conacher, the incredibly talented Alex Killorn, the crafty Tyler Johnson, and, of course, Jon Cooper.
Then there was the fact that nearly half of the roster won a Calder Cup with Norfolk.
Yeah, that was big, too.
Anyone in Syracuse would have been batshit insane to think that we wouldn’t like such a group. Welcoming these guys in was not hard, and although the expectations were high, it was a different kind of high than when Anaheim came to town. The high expectations were not built on promises or words but on previous actions. These guys were winners. We knew it.
We were so excited!
As the weeks went on, Dan D’Uva was hired to be our new PBP announcer, our mascot got a make-over, Julien BriseBois became the general manager of Syracuse Crunch, and we hired an assistant coach by the name of Rob Zettler. That last move would prove to be a big one for the Crunch as the season went on, of course, although one could say that all of the summer happenings went in to building up the momentum and the talent. That talent and momentum would eventually propel the Crunch into the Calder Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history, but that comes later.
As July melted into August, we got to meet our new organization, and then as September rolled around we got some of the biggest news of all: the NHL was officially locked out, and suddenly our roster looked even more bright and shiny than we anticipated. While I cautiously welcomed the new season both here and over at the amazing Raw Charge, I was also growing extremely excited, especially as the Crunch started off their new season with a perfect pre-season. Guys who would soon become household names around here were already showing their stuff in a roster unusually packed with talent due to the lockout, and anticipation was growing.
And then, on October 13th, 2012, we got a look at our future.
Boy, did it look bright.
We just never really realized know how bright.
Although the season had a few bumps along the way, most notably a team that struggled to get themselves together at home, the season had a lot of fun moments. Observe:
- A simply amazing October
- A goalie fight
- A franchise-high FOUR All Stars
- Another goalie fight
- The excitement of a few of our players–though thankfully not too many–making Tampa’s roster with the return of the NHL
- Tampa proving repeatedly that they care about what happens down here
- We got to Fear the Beard
- Did I mention we got to Fear the Beard?
- We totally got to Fear the Beard
- Plus, we got…this
- In a rather surprising move, goalie Cedrick Desjardins joined the Syracuse Crunch
All of that brings us to March, which was an interesting month for several reasons. Good and bad news rained down on the Crunch, but nothing seemed to really dampen the team’s quest for the postseason. It all started with Brett Connolly being named the AHL Player of the Month. Then, in a weird twist of events, Dan Sexton was traded back to Syracuse.
Although I was initially underwhelmed, I’d later eat my lack of enthusiasm for breakfast. I’ll admit it. Meanwhile, the Crunch saw their 1,500 organizational game played right smack in the middle of a whole lot of other stuff. Radko Gudas scored his first NHL goal in March.
And then, of course, head coach Guy Boucher was fired. As many expected, Jon Cooper was named in his place not long after, and Zettler was promoted to head coach here in Syracuse.
It was a bit of a shaky time here in Syracuse, but Crunch fans took a deep breath and dived into what would become the most awesome April in franchise history.
The Crunch started the month one win away from a playoff birth. With the NHL trade deadline right around the corner, Crunch fans were anxious for those paper transactions that would put together our playoff team. In a seemingly innocent and not very important trade (hell, what did we know), LW Philippe Paridis was added to our roster. Zettler’s team struggling mightily during the beginning of his tenure, but good times were right around the corner.
As the post season crawled closer, awards started to be handed out to our guys. Tyler Johnson, Brett Connolly and Mark Barberio were named to AHL All-Star teams. Eric Neilson won the IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year award for the Crunch.
And then, finally, the Crunch did what we always knew they would: they clinched a playoff birth.
Next, on April 13th, they clinched home ice for the first round of the playoffs during a 5-1 win against Rochester.
The AHL then confirmed what we already knew: that Crunch forward Tyler Johnson is good at the hockey. Johnson was named the AHL MVP for the regular season.
And then, the icing on the regular season cake came in the form of a shootout win over the Sharks:
We already knew we had something special here. But the best, as they say, was yet to come.
And what a time it was.
And then, finally, the Crunch did something that had never been done in franchise history: They became conference champions!
The path to that milestone, however, would come at a heavy price. The Crunch would lose defenseman Radko Gudas to injury for the third period of game five of the conference finals, something that then carried over into the Calder Cup finals. The Crunch struggled during the beginning of the series with a weakened defensive core, and were hampered by continued misjudged calls from AHL officials. Although the team made the best go of it they could, and kept the fan base’s spirits up with fun rally cries and fabulous away wins–in fact, they become the first team in history to win two elimination road games–it just wasn’t enough.
However, I agree with Brent Axe. That second place end in no way makes this season disappointing. Not at all. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
I know it was frustrating to not reach the ultimate prize. Believe me, I wanted it bad. Real bad. This is the closest this organization has ever been, and it would have been amazing to get that Cup. I’m not ashamed to admit I cried last night.
But everything I just wrote contains so many reasons to be excited for the future of the Crunch. Yes, we’re going to have a lot of turn over next season, but remember, that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to develop future NHL winners.
And I’d say we did that this year, in spades. We not only proved that this town can develop winners, but the Crunch proved that this fan base is important enough to deserve that kind of team, and Tampa proved that we’re important enough to them to give us the support to develop that kind of team.
There’s no reason, absolutely none, to believe that any of this will change in the future.
I’d like to say thank you to the Syracuse Crunch’s front office, especially Jim Sarosy and Maggie Walters. It was an amazing season, one I will never forget, and I never felt as valued and as included in the organization as I did this season. It definitely made it more special, and I cherished every minute.
To my readers and Twitter followers: Thanks so much for following along. It was a ride! We’ll be covering free agency next month, and I can’t wait to see what the Tampa Bay organization has in store for us next.
Finally, a message to the boys. Keep your heads up high, Crunch. You did right by us this season. We welcomed you with open arms, as Tyler Johnson once put it, and you paid us back in spades. We didn’t reach the ultimate peak, but you got us as close as we’ve ever been.
That’s something to be proud of, for sure.
Good luck to all of the guys we won’t see back here next year. I’d like to personally mention Radko Gudas, but I know there are quite a few others. To all of them, Radko especially but to all of them, I’d also like to say just this: