Across the Thruway: Bears at Crunch – 1/9

Greetings from Syracuse!

I’ll tell you what… having the kind of travel we did last night is a dream come true.  January?  New York State Thruway?  Lake effect snow belt?  No snow, but cold rain?

We’ll take it.

We’ll take something else tonight, too, which would be wonderful.  A win at Syracuse.  Five straight trips here to the War Memorial Arena have ended with a quiet bus ride home.  The last win here?  January 24, 2014 – a 4-1 Bears triumph.

(Wait… we’ll also take the Powerball jackpot too tonight… how could I forget that?!)

A few things have been going very well for the Bears since the calendar flipped to 2016.  Let’s take a look:

1) Offense.  Six goals on January 2 vs. Binghamton, five goals on January 3 at Bridgeport, four goals last night at Rochester.  That has vaulted the Bears all the way into seventh in the AHL in goals per game average (3.00).  Troy Mann credits the Bears following the team system of getting to the blue paint, creating more than two (not just one) scoring opportunity on each play at the net, and executing smart offensive zone play.  Obviously, Mann is now looking to bring up the goals against ranking a few stanzas higher.  But the offense is there, and it is clicking nicely.

2) Penalty killing.  Yes, the Bears did take a hit a few weeks ago on home ice, which knocked the team down to the bottom ten after sitting near the #3 spot in early December.  But, without one of the Bears top forwards for a while in Zach Sill (recall), and without captain Garrett Mitchell for four weeks (injury), the team truly showed a great effort in keeping opposing power plays at bay.

3) Discipline.  Have you noticed how the number of opponent power plays has decreased, taking away the occasional delay-of-game and too-many-men penalties out of the equation?  The Bears are down to 15th in the league in penalty minutes per game.

To have success against Syracuse, the Bears need to simply keep their legs moving and forecheck the heck out of them.  Mann said that the game on December 29th might have been the best that the Bears played this season without earning a win.  The Crunch, whose roster was bolstered by the addition of five players from Tampa Bay, were held to one shot on goal in the opening 20 minutes (and that shot was suspect, from a penalty-kill clear) and just 17 in the game.  But a man by the name of Andrei Vasilevskiy was in goal – and the Crunch were 5-0 heading into that night’s game with him in net.  Make it 6-0 now.  Thankfully, Vasilevskiy is on NHL recall.  Whom the Bears face tonight remains to be seen, as Latvian Kristers Gudlevskis left the game in Albany after one period, apparently ill.  Adam Wilcox was on in relief – the same Wilcox who watched his team blow 3-1 and 4-2 leads on December 20 and lose 5-4 in overtime.

The difference-maker for the Crunch, however, lies in up-and-coming star Jonathan Drouin.  He made his season AHL debut last night and scored two goals on five shots against the Devils, yet the Crunch still came out on the losing end.  Lots has been made about Drouin lately, and here is a good read on his desire to move.

Pre-game hits the air at 6:20 on the Bears Radio Network and on Caps Radio 24/7 (how I’m going to follow up John Walton’s instant classic from Madison Square Garden earlier today is beyond me).

Before we go, a photo or two from one of the best places in the league to watch hockey – Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena.  Is it me, or do the photos that come out of this venue look more awesome each season?  (Photos courtesy Micheline Veluvolu).

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Enjoy the broadcast and GO BEARS!!!

-Stucc