Syracuse Crunch season preview

By Jon Hagan

As the Syracuse Crunch, top of affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets, begin their 12th season there are some questions that need to be answered.

Is their young defense capable of reducing the number of goals against, which, last year gave them the dubious distinction of being the sixth most scored against team in the AHL? Do they still have the offense that made them last year’s 12th highest-scoring team in the AHL?

Below is a breakdown of the personnel to start the season.

Offense

Having lost Brad Moran, the Crunch’s point leader last season, to free agency, the Crunch turned around and made an offensive statement with the addition of veteran Peter Sarno in the offseason. Sarno, 26, played last season for the Manitoba Moose amassing 82 points (16 goals, 66 assists) in 80 games, making him the sixth leading scorer in the league last year.

Along with Sarno, the Crunch have seven forwards returning from last year’s team. Among the returnees are right-winger Joe Motzko, who was second on team scoring last season with 66 points (28 goals, 38 assists), and centerman Mark Hartigan who was third with 59 points (31 goals, 28 assists).

Returning as well are Greg Mauldin (27 points in 66 games), Joakim Lindstrom (8 points in 13 games), and Steven Goertzen (9 points in 57 games). Tim Jackman was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday.

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The Crunch have three rookie forwards on the roster this year: Alexandre Picard, selected eighth overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Andrew Murray and Geoff Platt. Picard had 85 points in 65 games with the QMJHL Lewiston Maineiacs last season, while Murray had 38 points in 32 games with Bemidji State University. Platt is under an AHL contract with the Crunch.

Joining the team along with Sarno, are veterans Bill Lindsay and Ben Simon. Lindsay, who has 777 NHL games under his belt, helped the Hamilton Bulldogs to the Calder Cup finals in 2002-03.

Simon has professional playoff experience, as he was a member of the 2001-02 Calder Cup champion Chicago Wolves. Simon was signed as a free agent by Columbus this summer. The championship experience of these players will be looked upon to provide leadership to this forward squad.

Defense

The Crunch allowed 230 goals against last year, making them the sixth most scored upon team. Defense is something that must be addressed for this team to be more successful, but with Francois Beauchemin making the leap to the big team and three rookies on the roster, the Syracuse Crunch haven’t done much to allay their defensive concerns.

Crunch captain, veteran Jamie Pushor has played in 517 NHL games with seven different teams. Of those 517 games 143 have been with the Jackets, but, much to the Crunch’s good fortune, hasn’t been able to get himself back into the big league. With three rookies in the defensive fold, Pushor will be expected to be a guiding hand.

The two rookies are Marc Methot, who is regarded as a solid defensive prospect, and free-agent signee Mark Flood. Methot had 12 points in 67 games with the high-flying London Knights in 2004-05. Flood was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, but unsigned.

Joining the captain as returnees to the Crunch are sophomores Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, and Andy Canzanello, a diminutive defenseman who played 22 games with the team last season, and third-year player Aaron Johnson. The 22-year-old Johnson played 29 games for the Blue Jackets in 2003-04. Also in the fold is newly-acquired veteran Jeff MacMillan. Last season MacMillan played for the Hartford Wolfpack, and for each of the past four seasons he has managed to rack up in excess of 100 penalty minutes.

Defensively, the brunt of the responsibility will fall squarely on the shoulders of Pushor and MacMillan. These two players must provide guidance for this inexperienced defense to keep the goals against at a reasonable number.

Goaltending

The Syracuse goaltenders will likely be facing a lot of shots this season with the young defense. Martin Prusek, with 48 games of NHL experience, will begin the season as the No. 1 goalie on a two-week conditioning stint, but he could get called up to the big club depending on the play of Jackets’ backup Pascal Leclaire. A trade is also a possibility. Prusek played in the Czech Republic during the NHL lockout.

The Crunch also have 22-year-old Andrew Penner. Penner played 23 games for the Crunch last year posting eight wins and 12 losses with a .917 save percentage and 2.70 goals against average.

Outlook

The Crunch, who finished tenth in the Western Division last season, managed to score 215 goals against the opposition, but this year they are without Svitov, Moran, Nathan Robinson, Jackman and the Ferraro brothers, but with the additions of Sarno, Lindsey and Simon should find themselves passable in the goals for column.

Defense is the big issue. They must keep their goals against down in order to compete on a nightly basis.

While it’s doubtful fans will see a return of the success that made the Crunch the No. 1 team in the Western Conference in the 2001-02 season they should see a young team who, if they can step up their defensive game from the goalies on up, will struggle, but should be able to achieve a modicum of success this year.




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