Weekend notebook: Crunch time in Syracuse

Photo: Scott Thomas

📝 by Patrick Williams

This is more like it, Syracuse Crunch forward Alex Barré-Boulet says.

Back in mid-February, Syracuse’s Calder Cup Playoff chances looked rather wobbly. They were below .500 at 17-18-4-1 and had been through an inconsistent season that was disrupted by a stretch of nearly six weeks in which they played only four games due to COVID protocols.

Since losing all three games on their visit to Laval from Feb. 9-12, however, the Crunch have looked much more like the American Hockey League club that has made winning a habit in Syracuse through much of the team’s affiliation with the Tampa Bay Lightning. A 15-6-3-1 surge since then has put the Crunch into the thick of North Division playoff contention.

They will receive another challenge tonight when they welcome the Atlantic Division-leading Springfield Thunderbirds (37-20-5-2, .633) in the AHLTV Free Game of the Week (7 ET/4 PT). It will be the first meeting of the season between the teams, who will face off again in Springfield next Wednesday night.

“Everybody’s doing a little bit more,” said Barré-Boulet, whose 52 points (16 goals, 36 assists) in 48 games rank second on the Crunch.

Barré-Boulet is more than pulling his weight. He has points in five straight games and 16 points in his last nine, including back-to-back three-point efforts in road wins over Hartford and Providence last weekend.

“Two months ago,” Barré-Boulet said, “we’d have a great game, and maybe our [defense] would have a tough night. The [next] night, the D would have a great game, and the forwards would have a tough night.”

Tampa Bay management also brought in a major piece at the National Hockey League trade deadline March 21, acquiring veteran forward Riley Nash from the Arizona Coyotes. Nash has produced nine points (three goals, six assists) in just seven games since his arrival, alleviating some of the offensive burden on the likes of Barré-Boulet, Gabriel Dumont, Charles Hudon, and rookie Cole Koepke.

“[Nash] brings a lot more depth to our lineup,” Barré-Boulet said. “He’s taking some [penalty-killing] minutes and power-play minutes. He’s got that experience, good on faceoffs. He’s got poise with the puck. He doesn’t rush his plays. He knows how to play the game the right way, so it helps a lot of the young guys and everybody else.”

Finishing the regular season with 15 games in 30 nights during April, the Crunch are working to manage their energy. After facing the Thunderbirds, the Crunch have the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in town Saturday night.

“It’s been hard on the body,” Barré-Boulet acknowledges, “but at the same time it’s almost better if you’re hot to keep playing.”


The Hershey Bears became the first AHL team to win 3,000 regular-season games, taking a 4-3 overtime road decision from the Bridgeport Islanders on Tuesday.

Kody Clark, a 2018 second-round draft pick by Washington and son of long-time NHL forward Wendel Clark, won the game with his second goal of the contest.

The AHL’s senior-most franchise is in its 84th season and became the fifth pro club to reach the milestone, joining NHL Original Six clubs in the Montreal Canadiens (3,492), Boston Bruins (3,285), Toronto Maple Leafs (3,045), and Detroit Red Wings (3,015).

The Bears won their first game Nov. 5, 1938, defeating the Providence Reds, 2-1. Hershey, which also owns 11 Calder Cup championships, has another 336 wins in postseason play.

Head coach Scott Allen told the Bears website that the team was “extremely proud to be a part of history.”


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Not much was going right for the Texas Stars.

It was Jan. 15, Texas was 8-14-3-1 through 26 games, and the Charlotte Checkers had just thumped them, 8-3. Head coach Neil Graham, his coaching staff, and the club’s leadership group then devised and enacted a tactical change that has turned around the Stars’ season.

Now 19-11-3-4 since that rough night in Charlotte nearly three months ago, the Stars (27-25-6-5, .516) have climbed above the Central Division playoff line and can create more separation between themselves and the sixth-place Iowa Wild when the teams meet in Cedar Park this Saturday and Sunday. Those games start a key five-game homestand for the Stars, who have won five in a row on home ice.

In their first 26 games, the Stars allowed 100 goals (3.85 per game). In 37 games since, they have allowed 107 goals (2.89 per game). They have also cut their shots-against per game to 29.8, ranking 13th in the AHL.

“We wanted to shift our focus to not allowing teams to enter our zone with possession as easily as we felt it was happening,” Graham said. “I think the buy-in from our group, really all season long, has been very positive.

“You’re going to have ups and downs on any team. But I’ve been very impressed with this group’s ability to persevere and really keep their focus even when things weren’t going the way we wanted early.”

Take top forward prospect Ty Dellandrea, who has tightened up his two-way game while still producing offensively with 43 points (21 goals, 22 assists) in 59 games. Dellandrea’s shorthanded goal with 2:15 to go last Sunday afternoon sent the Stars to a 5-3 win in Chicago and a perfect three-in-three weekend.

Dellandrea, 21, had played 26 contests last season with the Dallas Stars, who took him as the 13th overall pick in the 2018 National Hockey League Draft. With Dallas instead opting to assign Dellandrea to Texas to round out his game this season, Graham says the second-year pro has embraced the opportunity.

“He knew that there were areas in his game that he wanted to unlock that long term would help his NHL career,” Graham said. “I think what you’ve seen from Ty, he’s rounded out both sides of his game. Defensively, he’s improved. And offensively, he’s unlocked some of that scoring, deceptive speed, playmaking abilities that you saw [in junior].”

Dellandrea’s continued development mirrors that of many of Graham’s players.

“I think we understand what our identity is as a group,” Graham said. “We understand that when we play to that identity, up and down our lineup, we give ourselves a chance every night. And you know, I think as we know in a developmental league, you see different players develop and mature at different times, and with our particular group, it took us some time.

“You can see now that they’re jelling and working in unison, [and] some good results follow.”


The Pacific Division’s top two clubs get together this weekend for a critical home-and-home series.

The first-place Stockton Heat welcome the second-place Ontario Reign to town tonight, before the teams stage a rematch Sunday afternoon at Toyota Arena. The Heat are 41-12-4-1, and their .750 points percentage tops the AHL. Ontario (36-15-5-3, .678) is seven points behind the Heat in second place.

Stockton has won four of the first six meetings between the clubs this season.

After tonight’s contest, the Heat play seven of their final nine games on the road, where they are a league-best 19-7-0-1 (.722). And after hosting Stockton on Sunday, the Reign play six of their last seven away from home.


🏒 Fans can track the latest races for a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs daily with the handy AHL Playoff Primer. Tonight, the Charlotte Checkers and Utica Comets can both secure postseason berths.

🏒 Ontario’s T.J. Tynan and Chicago’s Andrew Poturalski continue to battle for the AHL scoring lead, tied at 85 points entering the weekend. The AHL has not had a 90-point scorer since Chris Bourque in 2011-12.

🏒 Tynan’s 72 assists are the most by an AHL skater since Jason Krog had 73 helpers in 2007-08.

🏒 Stefan Noesen of Chicago is one goal away from becoming the first AHL player with 40 goals in a season since Colin McDonald in 2010-11, the last year before the AHL went to a 76-game schedule. With eight points in his past three games, Noesen holds down third place in the league scoring race with 73 points.

🏒 Providence’s Troy Grosenick remains first among AHL goaltenders in both goals-against average (2.02) and save percentage (.930). Grosenick is 10-1-1 with a 1.40 GAA and a .955 save percentage at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center this season.

🏒 Stockton goaltender Dustin Wolf is now up to a league-best 31 wins, most by an AHL rookie since Niklas Svedberg won 37 games in 2012-13.

🏒 Ontario’s 3.86 goals scored per game continue to lead the AHL, and the Reign’s number-one power play (62-for-232) improved to 26.7 percent this past week. Stockton remains first on the penalty kill at 87.3 percent (220-for-252), and has scored has a league-high 14 shorthanded goals. Chicago’s 2.54 goals-against per game are fewest in the AHL. Manitoba’s 25.7 shots-against per game are fewest in the league.

🏒 Rochester Americans forward JJ Peterka has taken over the rookie scoring lead, scoring five times (including a hat trick) and adding an assist in two games last weekend against the Cleveland Monsters. Peterka is up to 58 points (22 goals, 36 assists) in 60 games.

🏒 The Henderson Silver Knights opened the new $84-million Dollar Loan Center last Saturday against Bakersfield before a sellout crowd of 5,567. The Silver Knights earned their first win in their new home on Monday, a 4-1 decision over Rockford, with rookie defenseman Daniil Miromanov’s hat trick leading the way. After a two-game visit to San Jose this weekend, Henderson will complete the regular season with a seven-game homestand.

🏒 The Charlotte Checkers have a franchise-record 13-game home point streak (11-0-2-0) after defeating Hartford, 4-1, on Thursday. The Checkers are 12-2-1-0 since the start of March and have climbed to second place in the Atlantic Division.

🏒 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton exploded for nine unanswered goals last Saturday night against Bridgeport, a franchise record. Fifteen players notched at least one point in the 9-2 triumph as Drew O’Connor and Sam Poulin had two-goal nights.

🏒 Rafaël Harvey-Pinard’s career-high four-point night (one goal, three assists) helped the Laval Rocket to a 6-2 win over Rochester on Wednesday. The clubs meet again tonight at Place Bell.

🏒 Milwaukee’s nine-game home point streak (7-0-1-1) ended Wednesday with a 3-2 regulation loss to the Manitoba Moose.

🏒 After dropping the opener in Bakersfield on Mar. 23, the Colorado Eagles swept the rest of their six-game California road trip, capped by two wins in Ontario last weekend. Kiefer Sherwood’s four-point evening (two goals, two assists) lifted the Eagles to an 8-1 win last Friday, and Colorado held the high-powered Reign to just 18 shots while Jayson Megna’s two goals (one the overtime winner) and assist helped earn a 4-3 win on Saturday.

🏒 Sixth in the Pacific Division, the San Diego Gulls have gone on an 8-1-1-1 across their past 11 games. They have a two-game stop at Abbotsford this weekend followed by three games with Ontario next week as they try to clinch a playoff berth.

🏒 Carolina Hurricanes 2020 second-round pick Vasily Ponomarev dished up an assist in his AHL debut with Chicago on Wednesday. The 20-year-old forward joined the Wolves from the KHL last week. Fellow Carolina second-rounder Jack Drury had a four-point performance (one goal, three assists) for the Wolves last Saturday night in a 6-1 win over Milwaukee; Drury has 46 points (18 goals, 28 assists) in 57 games as a rookie.

🏒 Grand Rapids Griffins first-year goaltender Victor Brattstrom made 35 saves and then carried his club through a 12-round shootout to defeat Cleveland on Wednesday, 2-1.

🏒 Minnesota Wild 2019 second-round pick Vladislav Firstov picked up his first two pro assists for Iowa in their 5-3 loss at San Diego last Saturday.

🏒 Charlotte goaltender Christopher Gibson earned Thursday night’s win against Hartford, his first start since Nov. 28. Gibson also recorded an assist, his third in 11 games this season.

🏒 Belleville captain Logan Shaw scored two goals, one of them the overtime winner, in a 4-3 decision at Utica on Wednesday night. The Senators are fifth in the North Division, where there is only a .030 point-percentage difference between second-place Laval and sixth-place Rochester.

🏒 After roster upheaval in net during a four-game trip last week, the Toronto Marlies had Michael Hutchinson (29 saves) back for Wednesday’s overtime victory against Syracuse. The Marlies are tied with Chicago and Charlotte for the most goaltenders used this season (eight).

🏒 Iowa swept a two-game visit to Tucson this week, winning 6-1 and 5-1. Kyle Rau had a hat trick in the first game, and Zane McIntyre, who began the season with the Roadrunners, stopped 51 of 53 shots combined. The Wild are 3-1-0-0 on their six-game road trip going into Texas on Saturday.

🏒 Rockford captain Garrett Mitchell skated in his 500th AHL game last Saturday night and scored a goal in the 6-3 victory in Tucson.

🏒 Captain Tommy Cross scored the overtime winner and added two assists in Springfield’s 4-3 win against Belleville last Saturday night.

🏒 The Utica Comets welcomed Hockey Hall of Fame member Martin Brodeur back to the Aud on Wednesday night. Brodeur spent his rookie pro season with the Utica Devils in 1992-93. He is now an executive vice president of hockey operations and senior advisor with New Jersey.

🏒 Grand Rapids retired forward Jeff Hoggan’s number 10 last Saturday. Hoggan had the longest captaincy in team history, doing so for four seasons, and won the Calder Cup in 2013 with the Griffins.


🏒 Four more AHL players made their NHL debuts in the last week; 130 AHL players have now made their NHL debuts this season.

Belleville goaltender Mads Sogaard’s NHL debut came last Friday with Ottawa when he made 27 saves in a 5-2 road win against Detroit. Sogaard, 21, has gone 16-13-1 in 31 games for the B-Sens with a 2.87 GAA and .906 save percentage and remains on recall to Ottawa.

Cleveland forward Carson Meyer made his NHL debut on Monday for the Columbus Blue Jackets. A night later, he contributed a goal and an assist as Columbus took a 4-2 road win against the Philadelphia Flyers. The 24-year-old Meyer, an Ohio native, played his final two seasons of college hockey in Columbus at Ohio State and has 27 points (16 goals, 11 assists) in 57 games for the Monsters.

Filip Hallander made his NHL debut on Thursday, skating for the Pittsburgh Penguins against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Hallander, a second-round draft pick by Pittsburgh in 2018, has 10 goals and 14 assists in 53 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season.

Cole Reinhardt debuted for Ottawa in their meeting with Nashville on Thursday. Reinhardt, 22, was a sixth-round choice by the Senators in the 2020 NHL Draft and has 11 goals and 15 assists in 60 games with Belleville this season.

🏒 A.J. Greer, the reigning AHL Player of the Week who notched 10 points in a three-game span last week, scored a goal for New Jersey in their 7-4 loss to Montreal on Thursday. It was the second career NHL goal for Greer, who has hit AHL career highs in goals (22), assists (28), and points (50) for Utica this season. Fabian Zetterlund, the Comets’ leader with 24 goals and 52 points this season, also skated for the Devils on Thursday, his first NHL action since Nov. 24.

🏒 Sheldon Dries was recalled by the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday. Dries is second in the league with 35 goals for Abbotsford this season, including a league-leading 18 power-play goals.

🏒 Defenseman Bowen Byram returned to the Colorado Avalanche after a conditioning loan with the Colorado Eagles last weekend. The 20-year-old was the fourth overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft by the Avs.

🏒 Rockford rookie standout forward Lukas Reichel was recalled by the Chicago Blackhawks and played in their game against Seattle on Thursday. The 19-year-old Reichel, taken 17th overall by Chicago in the 2020 NHL Draft, is tied for fifth in AHL rookie scoring with 49 points (21 goals, 28 assists) in 49 games.

🏒 St. Cloud State forward Easton Brodzinski, the younger brother of Hartford Wolf Pack captain Jonny Brodzinski, signed with the Wolf Pack. The 25-year-old finished with 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) in 36 NCAA games this season. Jonny remains on NHL recall, where he has played 20 games with the New York Rangers.

🏒 Hartford also received one of the biggest names in college hockey after the New York Rangers signed Massachusetts-Amherst forward Bobby Trivigno to an entry-level contract and assigned him to the Wolf Pack. Trivigno, 23, had 49 points (20 goals, 29 assists) in just 37 games for UMass to win the Hockey East Player of the Year award. He picked up a pair of assists in his first AHL game vs. Syracuse last Saturday.

🏒 UMass-Amherst goaltender Matt Murray signed an amateur tryout agreement with Texas. Murray, 24, went 21-12-2 with a 2.31 GAA and .917 save percentage in 36 games and was a part of the university’s national championship team last season along with Trivigno.

🏒 Dartmouth goaltender Clay Stevenson has joined Hershey after agreeing to a two-year entry-level deal with the parent Washington Capitals. Stevenson, 23, was 6-14-2 with a 2.70 GAA and a .922 save percentage in 23 games, earning spots on the ECAC All-Rookie Team and ECAC Third All-Star Team.

🏒 Jaxson Stauber, a standout goaltender at Providence College the last two seasons, has signed an amateur tryout with the Rockford IceHogs after agreeing to terms with the Chicago Blackhawks on an entry-level deal. Stauber is the son of former AHL All-Star goaltender Robb Stauber.

🏒 Abbotsford forward Yushiroh Hirano will play for Japan at the 2022 IIHF Division 1 Group B World Championship later this month in Tychy, Poland. Hirano has provided nine points (five goals, four assists) in 28 games since joining Abbotsford in January. He will depart next week.


After tonight’s visit to Belleville, the Utica Comets are in Laval on Saturday afternoon; Rochester is in Laval tonight and in Belleville on Saturday… Springfield is in Hershey for games Saturday and Sunday… Hartford completes a three-game trip to Charlotte with games tonight and Sunday afternoon… A key Bridgeport-Providence home-and-home series opens tonight with the Islanders hosting; the teams meet in Rhode Island on Saturday… After Wednesday’s win in Milwaukee, Manitoba visits the Admirals again tonight before heading to Chicago on Saturday… Grand Rapids is in Toronto on Saturday and Sunday for critical inter-conference games against the Marlies… Cleveland continues a Central Division road swing in Milwaukee on Saturday followed by Chicago on Sunday afternoon; Sunday’s game will air live on NHL Network… Tucson goes east to see Rockford on Saturday and Sunday.


“I said how proud I am of our group and what we’ve done… How many guys have been a part of us making the playoffs… It’s not easy getting to the playoffs and I’m ecstatic that we’ve given ourselves a chance to play in the postseason.”

― Abbotsford head coach Trent Cull via the team’s YouTube channel on clinching a playoff berth last Sunday.