It's finally Crunch time in Syracuse Ducks fans, and we're so excited we could spit. (I've never really understood that phrase, but it appeals to me after a day of hanging out with five and six year olds.)
Anyway, is there a better way to kick off the season than to talk about a group of guys I either barely know or know just a little bit more than I did last year? I can't think of one! Boy, this AHL thing is tough.
Strap yourselves in. This may get bumpy.After two pre-season games, only one of which I saw, and neither of which the AHL covered, or released rosters for (welcome to the "A"), I think this is most of our team:
Two-way contracted players:
Mark Bell (Center)
Nick Bonino (Center)
Josh Brittain (Left Wing)
Nicolas Deschamps (Left Wing)
Peter Holland (Center)
J.F. Jacques (Left Wing)
Matt Kennedy (Right Wing)
Patrick Maroon (Left Wing)
Kyle Palmieri (Right Wing)
Rick Schofield (Center)
Dan Sexton (Right Wing)
Mathieu Carle (Defense)
Mat Clark (Defense)
Jake Newton (Defense)
Bryan Rodney (Defense)
Sean Zimmerman (Defense)
Jeff Deslauriers (Goaltender)
Iiro Tarkki (Goaltender)
AHL contracted players:
Kevin King (Left Wing)
John Mitchell (Left Wing)
Nathan Smith (Center)
Nick Schaus (Defense)
We have a few players floating around on tryouts. I believe there's still a forward slot or two that might shift around depending on what Anaheim decides and what happens with injuries (I know we're waiting on a few guys to bounce back from different levels). But, these guys are pretty much the steady players who are going to be in this thing for the long hall. I gotta say, Crunch fans are feeling pretty excited about this list here.
[Ed. Note: Ducks placed Toni Lydman and Matt Smaby on the IR today, thus finalizing the Ducks 24 man roster. With those two out, Andrew Gordon and Devante Smith-Pelly get a little extra time to impress the coaches.]
Nick Bonino: Bonino's development stalled last year, due to a few different factors. He yo-yo'ed between the NHL and the AHL at the beginning of the season, which unfortunately meant he wasn't able to get steady minutes in either league. He found himself in a mid-season slump. We saw his point production go from 9 points a month to 7 points a month. That span was matched with spotty play and several games in a row where he didn't register a goal or an assist. Towards the end of the season, Bonino's seemed to finally find his stride, registering 14 points in 15 games in March and 6 points in 4 games played in April. Bonino appears to be poised to continue that upward trend, with two solid pre-season games during which he netted a goal.
Patrick Maroon: Maroon came into camp after an extended look with the Ducks and immediately started to make some noise. He scored in our first pre-season game and made himself very visible on the ice.
Kyle Palmieri: Palmieri was pretty steady for the Crunch last season. He recorded a lot of frequent flier miles between call-ups, the AHL All-Star game, and the World Juniors championship, but his production and value on the ice rarely went down despite all that. The Ducks have stated they want him to come down and work on other aspects of his game (his play away from the puck, for instance). The "A" is perfect for this, and Crunch fans are only too glad to have him back. In our pre-season, Palmieri scored a goal in each game.
Rick Schofield: Although technically not a completely new kid - Schofield got in a few games with the Crunch at the end of last season - he's still considered one of the younger players in the pack. However, that didn't show in his play Tuesday night. I felt Schofield was one of the more visible players out there. I'm not exactly sure what the Three Stars of the Game are worth during pre-season, but if you can cash them in at the dollar store for something then he can have himself a nice little trip, seeing that received the second star of the night because of his performance. He tallied one goal in the game.
Nathan Smith: Originally, I wasn't going to mention Smith, seeing as he's on an AHL-only deal right now. His contract wouldn't impact the Ducks because he can't be called up yet. I say "yet" because Smith kicked some major butt Tuesday night. In addition to the goal he scored, he just looked good out there. He made himself visible in other ways: his hands were sure, he moved the puck well, and his passing was accurate. You could tell he was confident. Sometimes these AHL-only contracts can roll into two-ways if the big club is interested. I wouldn't be surprised to find Smith on the Ducks radar near the end of the season.
Mathieu Carle: Carle picked up an assist last night, but what I noticed were more than anything were his defensive skills. Our building is old. The dasher boards have a lot of random little quirks about them. Pucks have a tendency to not go where you'd expect and our defensemen always have to be on constant alert because of it. Carle seemed poised to play the game smart and really be able to help out our goaltenders with those "fun" little bits of randomness.
Mat Clark: Clark's game Tuesday night was pretty much what it always has been in my eyes: inconsistent and random. One moment Clark is making a great defensive move and batting the puck away from the goaltender. The next, he's falling over nothing, allowing a turn over, or watching the puck sail over our blue line in the wrong direction. I want to like the guy, I really do! But for some reason his mistakes stick out to me more than anything else.
Iiro Tarkki: Once Tarkki gets used to those little quirks with the boards, he's going to be a strong goaltender for us. Tarkki notched a perfect pre-season with the Crunch, stopping all the pucks he faced in half a game on Sunday and the whole game on Tuesday. He floundered a few times Tuesday night but would be saved by our defense. Other than that he stood tall in a game that's a lot faster here than in Finland. Tarkki is another one who can make a trip to the dollar store with his number one star of the game. I have a strange feeling poor Timo Pielmeier is out on his butt.
I'll have much more to say once I've seen this team a few times. It's a bit difficult now to get the feel for the new guys, especially since I'm still learning names and numbers. Thankfully, a lot of the Crunchies from last year have kept their number, so at least I'm not totally lost. I'm very bad with names. My friend since 7th grade often jokes that she's surprised I know hers. My awful memory for names and faces has been well documented.
I'll get there in the end, just be patient with me!