Syracuse Orange athletics are largely wrapped up for the 2016-17 season, but there’s another Syracuse team still out there succeeding, and we figured some of you may want to know more about them.
The Syracuse Crunch, the Tampa Bay Lighting’s American Hockey League affiliate, are now in the Calder Cup Finals -- the AHL’s championship series — against the Grand Rapids Griffins. Game one of the series is on Friday, June 2 in Grand Rapids, Mich. The teams first return to Syracuse in game three, on June 7.
This is not the Crunch’s first trip to the Calder Cup; they were actually there pretty recently, back in 2013. That year, they lost to the Griffins in six games.
Overall, it’s been a successful year for Syracuse, after winning the Eastern Conference’s North Division for the third time in club history. The Crunch’s 90 points in the standings were only fifth-best in the East, but they were the beneficiaries of a first round playoff loss by the league’s top team, the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins. En route to the Calder Cup Finals, Syracuse beat the St. John’s IceCaps, the Toronto Marlies and the Providence Bruins.
On the other side, Grand Rapids swept the Milwaukee Admirals, then beat the West’s top-seeded Chicago Wolves, before defeating the San Jose Barracuda.
Syracuse has been led by some impressive scoring efforts by a host of different players. Right winger Cory Conacher has scored nine goals (plus 11 assists) in 16 games to lead all skaters during the playoffs. Left winger Yanni Gourde and defenseman Matt Taormina have also chipped in 17 and 16 points, respectively. Taormina is the league’s highest-scoring defensman in the playoffs, by five points over the next highest total.
Those numbers mimic regular season outputs too, for the most part. Conacher tallied 60 points in just 56 games, tied with Taormina (in 14 more games) for the team lead. Gourde had 48 points, as did right winger Erik Condra (Condra has 14 points in the playoffs so far).
The Crunch have also gotten far better than average goalkeeping from Mike McKenna this postseason. In 16 games, he has a 2.51 goals against average — third-best in the AHL among goalies who’ve played in at least two rounds during these playoffs. During the regular season, he had a 2.84 GAA (30th in the league) in 40 starts.
So if you want to hop on the bandwagon now, that’s a very short list of who you have to know. Follow the Crunch’s active Twitter feed, and check out the fan conversation around the hashtag #FIN15H (you need to win 15 games in the playoffs to take home the title). Brent Axe also tweets about the team/games frequently, so watch the conversation he leads as well.
These are a dark few months for Orange athletics before football (and soccer and field hockey) begins again. While we’ll be previewing plenty of the fall sports to come here, might as well root along with our fellow Syracuse sports teams in the meantime. Whether you’re into the Crunch -- or hockey — or not, it’s easy to grasp onto the end of this fun story. Good luck to Syracuse, and if anyone here ends up at the games, feel free to reach out. We’d love a fan account of the events.