Are the Crunch Close to Flat Lining?

By Jeff Parzych

A body lies on a gurney. Doctors surround it, as a dull ring echoes through the room. The words “he’s flat lined” fill the air and hang over the body like the grim reaper himself. A nurse rushes into the room pushing a defibrillator. The doctor grabs the paddles as another nurse hastily squirts some gel on the chest of the patient. “Clear” reverberates against the walls of the operating room. The patient, like a ghost is being exercised from his body, leaps towards the ceiling and then silence.

It is about this time a sweaty Gary Agnew abruptly sits straight up in his bed, trying to shake the images from his subconscious. As he places his head back on his pillow, the words “our season isn’t dead” mutter over and over from his lips.

Of course this a massive dramatization, but not without some truth. For all intent and purposes, the 2002-03 season for the Syracuse Crunch may very well be over. They stand, with 27 games remaining; twelve points back of the tenth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Subtle signs of the passing of this season dot the landscape. The local fish wrap, after last weekend’s debacle in Columbus followed by Sunday’s loss in the city of brotherly love, have waved the white flag with their silence and have not printed a story on the team in a good three days.

One of the most popular message boards dealing with the Crunch, always a good barometer of the team’s success, has also been conspicuous with their silence. Anybody who has logged on in the last few days can attest to that. No new threads on the club or player moves, just updates on the pending pregnancy of one of their members. If that doesn’t speak volumes on this team’s current situation, I don’t know what does.

Are all these pessimists right? Do the nay Sayers have a point? As a fan, I want to emphatically say no, but the realist in me doesn’t want to go out on the limb. I’ve watched this team battle mediocrity all season long and have seen, first hand, their ability to put clearly into perspective the words “one step forward, two steps back”.

Still my inquisitive mind wanted to know. I was already aware that the Crunch has not been mathematically eliminated, but I wanted to get a feel of exactly what type of shot they had. For that I chose to look back on last season, to see how the playoff race shook out.

For starters, I looked to see how many points the team in the tenth position accumulated last year. By no means is this exact, but it would give me a general idea of what lies ahead for the Crunch.

In the Western Conference, the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks received the ten seed, with a record of 33-33-11-3. Right off the bat, the fact that the Ducks finished the season with a .500 record startled me, especially since the Crunch haven’t been at that mark since around Thanksgiving.

Cincinnati’s point total also was quite disturbing. The Ducks accumulated 80 points on the year. Syracuse, with 27 games remaining, only 41. How in the world was the Crunch going to register as many points in their last 27 contests than they did in their first 53? I’m no mathematician, but those numbers just didn’t add up.

Still, I pressed on. 27 games left, a possible 54 points on the table. That meant they would have to go 20-7 to finish the season. Not only would that put them at 81 points, one better than Cincinnati’s in 2002, but it would also place them one game above that magical .500 mark.

Now I was getting excited. 20-7 didn’t seem impossible, at first. Then I repeated the numbers a few times. 20-7, 20-7. Who was I kidding? How is this team, a club that boasts three games as their longest winning streak of the season, going to go 20-7 to finish the season?

Maybe looking at it as 27 games was just too much. Maybe, by doing that it was just like my two-year old son at dinner. Fill up his plate edge to edge and he takes a defeatist attitude right from the start and cleaning that plate is too daunting of a task. Now give him his food in smaller increments, you have a whole new ball game.

So I break it down to ten-game increments. Maybe that will lead to some more promising results. The best ten-game stretch for the Crunch? Two times, one back in November and also as recent as late January, the Crunch have gone one game over .500 when looking at ten game stretches.

Even that wasn’t going to cut it. If history repeats itself, the best the Crunch could ask for was somewhere in the 14 win, 13-loss range to close out the season. Not nearly good enough. That is when I started to grasp at straws.

Something had to be in the Crunch’s favor. As I glanced over the pile of papers on my desk and looked at my upcoming calendar, I noticed a trend. Friday, game at 7:30. Saturday, Game at 7:30. Monday, game at 7:30. It went on and on. Six games in nine nights, but the fact that buoyed my spirits was that they were all at home, in the friendly confines.

What a way to kick of a streak. Six straight games on home ice, you couldn’t ask for any better scheduling, unless you’re a team like the Crunch in 2002-03. A club that, including the two games at Nationwide Arena, is a good eight games under .500 at home.

With all statistical analysis pointing in the direction of gloom and doom, I decided to rely on faith. I didn’t care what the numbers said, I believed. At least I wanted to. After all, who wouldn’t want to relive last season, because that is what it will be like.

Imagine this team, going 20-7 or so to finish the season, making that impromptu run into the post season. You thought the old barn was rocking in Game Six last season against Chicago, forget about it.

If this team can make those final two games of the season mean something. Games against their hated rivals, the Rochester Americans, oh what a sight. The Thruway would be packed with cars making that pilgrimage to the Blue Cross Arena for game 79 and game 80 at home. Let’s just say that Agway noise meter would hit levels never seen before.

Maybe I’m asking for too much, that I am dreaming. It’s still better than the fictitious nightmare that haunts Head Coach Gary Agnew every night.

Jeff Parzych also covers the Syracuse Crunch for and Just Hockey Magazine.