Tonight marks the first of six meetings between the Hershey Bears and the Syracuse Crunch.
There were two things that really struck me after about a 40-minute walk with equipment manager Josh Carter from our hotel to Tim Horton’s to the War Memorial Arena this morning. First and foremost, I didn’t think the Bears had relatively easy times winning games at this building in recent years. I didn’t think it was easy for the Bears to win games against Syracuse, period, in recent years. Ever since the Tampa Bay Lightning came here as the NHL affiliate, talented prospects have filled the roster. The Syracuse crowds have always been loud and behind their team. The ice was a bit shorter, the corners tighter, and things happened very quickly in games.
Looking at the historic building now, you can tell that renovations have been made. A number of seats have been taken out of the northern end, reducing the capacity crowd number but effectively bringing the ice surface up to a regulation 200 feet long. The benches are 7 feet longer. The scoreboard is now offset slightly from the center circle. And (this tidbit comes from Crunch radio voice and good friend Dan D’Uva), “Crunchman”‘s pinky finger sits further away from the center faceoff dot now.
All cosmetics aside, it turns out that the Bears HAVE had their struggles taking two points home from Syracuse. The Crunch went 4-0-0-0 last season, with big goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy in net for each game. The last time that the Bears defeated Syracuse was on January 25, 2014 – a 3-2 decision at GIANT Center. The team’s last win here in Syracuse was one day earlier – a 4-1 win.
Time to exorcise those demons on this Halloween eve.
The Bears will have to win this game without two of their key players. Forward Jakub Vrana did not make the trip, and according to head coach Troy Mann, is likely out for this entire weekend due to a hand injury suffered during a practice earlier in the week. That’s a huge loss, considering Vrana’s speed, talent, timely scoring and shot power.
Zach Sill is also not here, as he is in Kitchener, Ontario attending the funeral of his uncle. That is a loss at the center position, where the Bears have not been thin at talent, but thin at bodies since Chandler Stephenson was recalled to Washington. Carter Camper and Travis Boyd are very capable, as is the converted-to-center Nathan Walker. But Sill’s departure left a big void.
Here is Troy Mann from yesterday, talking about these two losses:
That void at center will be filled at least tonight with Austin Fyten, who was recalled from the South Carolina Stingrays yesterday. He had a flight and a half from Florida, where the Stingrays were playing. He arrived (in the 35-degree wind chill) after midnight, and sat with me to chat this morning before taking to the ice for morning skate. We’ll have that chat during the first intermission tonight.
I did say that there were two things that struck me on our walk this morning. Besides the difficulty winning here, I think this is the first time in at LEAST three seasons that there is no snow, and there are still some leaves on the trees. I simply can’t remember the last time I saw the ground here in Syracuse. Last year we trudged through two feet and it wasn’t the end of December yet.
Hope it stays that way for a while.
Here are the game notes and broadcast information for tonight’s contest. Air time is at 6:20.
Updates after each period here.