Recap: Amerks @ Syracuse Crunch, 03.16.2012
“I’m headed east to another town … I’m moving on.” (Will Hoge, This Highway’s Home)
My family and I ventured to the safe, peaceful confines of the OnCenter in Syracuse (ha!) in order to partake in an Amerks road game against an Eastern rival. Since the days of the “Thruway Rivalry” (way back when I was in high school), games between these two teams – no matter what conferences they have been in – have carried a certain sense of electricity, a certain physicality, and a certain sense of excitement. The Amerks seemed to have missed the memo for this game, though.
Rochester (30-22-6-3, 62 points) headed into this contest with Syracuse (27-27-4-4) riding a four game winning streak, and having won seven of their last eight. The Amerks and Crunch had met six times prior to this game, with Rochester’s four wins leading the series and all coming on Rochester ice. The Amerks got off to a stellar start, scoring just 1:21 into the first period. It was a bit of a strange play with just about everyone on the ice getting caught out of position, but most importantly Syracuse goaltender Iiro Tarkki leaving a wide open net for Paul Szczechura to score his 15th of the season. Luke Adam and Derek Whitmore were there to assist him. Syracuse didn’t waste much time in getting it back, however, tying the game at 6:34 of the first. The goals, however, were not the most awesome part of the first period. Following Rochester’s goal, Travis Turnbull laid quite the pounding on Syracuse’s Ryan O’Marra. It was quick, slightly dirty, and Turnbull came out the victor. Then the 11:42 mark hit. I’m not entirely certain what triggered The Wrath of Joe Finley (as it happened in an area along the glass that our seats did not provide a clear view of), but we watched TJ Brennan and Syracuse’s Brittain exchange words while a linesman tried to pull Joe Finley out of the fray. Finley was fine with that, but was also more than happy to engage Smaby in a fight and … I mean … why would anyone want to fight Finley? I think I’ve seen him lose one fight and it was because he didn’t have good footing. The guy is massive, I’d imagine his fists feel like getting hit with lead pipes, and he just wins. His size dictates it. Early in the scuffle, Smaby fell to the ice, and Finley kindly helped him back to his feet so he could continue the altercation. All four players would go to the box, with Brennan and Brittain getting five each for fighting, Brittain also getting two for roughing, Smaby getting two for roughing, and Finley pulling a double minor for roughing. Finley was quite lucky that he didn’t get more for being 3rd player in an altercation. I’d like to pretend that this was because the refs were afraid that Fin would turn his rage on them. The first period ended with teams knotted at one-each, and Rochester with a slight (read: one more) edge in SOG.
For the second period, I had to pleasure to link up with a Twitter-friend and to sit with her and her husband. The way that the OnCenter is set up, the Amerks players enter from a spot across the ice from the actual players bench, and the backup goaltender (Drew MacIntyre) sits on a bench at the end of this tunnel. So, on one side of me, I had my friend and her husband, and on the other I had DrewMac. I rarely sit along the glass, and I’ll let you in on a secret. It’s not because I am all “oh, I like to sit high up in the arena, so that I can see everything!” or because I am broke and can’t afford glass seats. I don’t like to sit on the glass because I spend my whole time in fear that two players will smash into said glass, shattering it and sending it flying, and filling my lap with glass and hockey player. While this may be some hockey fan’s dream somewhere, I’m really way too anxious and awkward to handle this. HOWEVER, I felt completely better sitting next to DrewMac, and he jumped every time his friends on the ice slammed into the glass in front of us. He also talked to myself and the young boy on his other side THE WHOLE TIME. He talked to the little Crunch fan about the DS game the kiddo was playing, and to me about my tattoos. We also talked a little about this here blog, and about my (completely adorable) niece, as Mac had seen us sitting (in the seats we paid for) right behind the Amerks bench during warmups. Syracuse pulled into the lead nearly four minutes into the second, when McMillian sank his second past David Leggio. Syracuse was issued a too many men penalty, leading to Evan Rankin’s ninth goal of the season, and the tying tally, with assists to Brennan and Phil Varone. When compared to a first period that saw two goals and ten penalties, the second period’s two goals and four penalties made for a quick period. Or maybe it was the unexpected company that made time fly.
I ventured back to my own seat for the third period, which did not really go the way that us Amerk fans had hoped. The Amerks did regain the lead, on a “Captain Amerk” Colin Stuart goal at 6:54. This was really the last thing that went right for Rochester. Syracuse tied it, then ended up scoring their fourth and final goal on a sloppy slashing power play, issued to Igor Gongalsky. While the Amerks have been a third period team all season, this game just wasn’t their game from the start. The Amerks have really demonstrated a simple but effective style of playing, and they seemed to complicate the game every step of the way against this Syracuse team. In hindsight, Rochester’s first goal, where nearly every player on the ice was not where he should have been, was a horrific foreshadowing of how this game would go. At one point, I wondered if our Amerks had been secretly replaced by a bunch of guys who hadn’t played hockey in several years, because that’s how sloppy and confused they looked. I can only hope that the Amerks will clean up their game, as they look to face Binghamton in Bingo on March 17.
Game notes: The Amerks offered up 26 SOG (10-7-9) to Syracuse’s 35 (9-19-7) … Five Amerks ended the evening with a negative plus/minus – Brennan was -3, Finley was -2, and Stuart, Rankin, and Varone were each -1. Dennis Persson, Nick Crawford, and Shaone Morrisson all ended +1 … Speaking of Phil Varone, he secured third star of the night honors, with the first and second stars going to Nick Schaus and Brandon McMillan, both of the Crunch … After the game, I spotted Mike Ryan getting on the Amerks bus, so he (and his eyebrows) are alive and well. Unfortunately, “alive” doesn’t qualify one to play hockey for this club. It was nice to see him out and about, though, and I continue to wish him nothing but the best in dealing with whatever plagues him … Luke Adam continues to refuse to allow me to hate him and his big doofy-ness. He, Varone, and Whitmore lead the team in shots, with four a piece. During the second period, Adam got caught without his stick, but was more than able to go charging (not the penalty kind of charging) two-hands-first into Syracuse’s Holland to help keep him out of the play. He also managed to garner an assist and to stay out of the penalty box. Someone please give that man a gold star.
On a slightly personal note, I have to continue to give these guys all the credit in the world for being fan-friendly and not carrying around big bad “we lost, so go away” attitudes following this mess of a game. As we waited by the player’s bus for my sister to get her now-retired Jay McKee license plate signed (no, you actually read that right. Go ahead, you can go read it again, let it sink in a bit. She is easily his biggest fan. Easily. You good? Ok, moving on …), several of the guys stopped to chat before getting on the bus. DrewMac came over to ask my niece if she was his “friend” from warmups, and if she would like to take a picture with him. He shared with us that his daughter is similar to my niece, and just stood with us, talking for a bit. Joe Finley extracted himself from several puck-bunnies-in-training to run for the bus (I can’t blame him). When he caught sight of my niece, he came over to ask her for a high five. She wouldn’t high five the giant man, but she was also amenable to having her picture taken with him. And he thanked us for coming out to the game. These Amerks are not the Amerks of previous seasons, which is awesome both on and off the ice. I think that, should this team really screw their heads on straight over their remaining games, they will make the playoffs and will make a lot of us very happy hockey fans.
The Amerks boarded a bus bound for Binghamton following this game, and will meet the B-Sens for the third time in nine days for a St Patrick’s Day tilt on March 17. If David Leggio gets the start, it will be his tenth straight and 18th start in 21 games. He’s currently in the top five in the AHL for both saves and wins. However, it wouldn’t come as a great surprise to me to see DrewMac start the game against Binghamton. This Binghamton game will be the seventh time the two teams have met this season, with the Amerks continuing to look to improve their chances of securing a playoff spot. The Amerks return home on March 21 against Syracuse. See you at the game!