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Syracuse Crunch

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Latest Poor Finish Costs T-Birds

Latest Poor Finish Costs T-Birds

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – It turns out that the Springfield Thunderbirds are more of a morning team than an afternoon one, as their old habits came back to bite them in a rare Wednesday morning match-up with the Syracuse Crunch. Springfield erupted for three first-period goals and four markers on the power play while denying the visiting Syracuse team on four chances.

The Crunch surged back by tilting the ice in the final frame with a 14-2 shot advantage, almost as if the controller for the Thunderbirds was not connected and evened the count at four to get into extra time. Syracuse would get the game to the shootout, where Gemel Smith scored the decisive goal in the bottom of the third round to bring the game all the way back for the win in dramatic fashion.

Syracuse split the win between Max Legace, who was pulled after the first period, and Hugo Alnefelt. Alnefelt made 11 saves on 12 shots, while Joel Hofer suffered the loss with 39 saves on 43 shots. It’s the latest in a trend of incomplete efforts for the Thunderbirds, with this one costing them a valuable point in the competitive Atlantic Division.

The Thunderbirds opened the scoring just 12 seconds into their first power play with Matthew Highmore’s fourth goal of the season as he buried a rebound of a point shot from Matthew Kessel to the delight of the 6,793 in attendance for the “School Day” game. Smith started an eventual first-star performance right by evening the count at one as he’d bury a centering pass in the low slot to get the Crunch on the board. Smith continues his outstanding performance this season as he adds two more points for 13 in 11 games played, only being held off the board twice so far this season. Both teams had a field day (or trip, in today’s case) with the school-themed tweets with highlights.

For most of the game, if you were a Syracuse skater who was going to serve two minutes in the penalty box, you could bank on not being there for the entire two minutes. Springfield rattled off three consecutive power play goals to establish a commanding 4-1 lead through 40 minutes of play. Drew Callin responded just over four minutes after Smith’s goal by potting a Nathan Todd rebound past Legace, and Kessel would follow up on a big day for himself with a goal with seven seconds left in the first period on a tricky shot through a maze of Syracuse defenders for the third Springfield goal of the day.

Springfield capped off their excellent 40 minutes with a goal from Martin Frk, as he’d beat Alnefelt for the lone time in relief on a shot from the high slot through some traffic. The third period has been a sore spot for the Thunderbirds in recent time, with lopsided shot counts and blown leads a common occurrence in their games in 2022-23.

The trend perhaps peaked on Wednesday when the Crunch poured on the offense, confidently pulling their own goaltender in a desperate attempt to get back into the game just under halfway through the third period. Springfield narrowly missed out on scoring an empty net goal at one point before the surge really took over, with Syracuse changing their goaltender back onto the ice midgame at one point as chaos ran supreme on a school day.

The Crunch got back into the game with the goaltender on the bench with over eight minutes to play when Darren Raddysh ripped one through some traffic and by Hofer to pull Syracuse back into the game, continuing an electric start for the defender with 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in just 13 games played coming off of a five assist effort on November 12.

Simon Ryfors got exactly what the Crunch needed to get their comeback into full swing with a goal exactly a minute later, finishing a pretty passing play in the left circle with a quick shot past the goaltender. Shot 38 of the night tied the game with just under three minutes to play as Declan Carlile shot a puck through the legs of Callin and past a surprised Hofer to even the count at four and send the game to extra time, eventually into a shootout. After trading goals in the second round, Smith had the answers to the test on this school day as he’d surprise Hofer through the pads in the bottom of the third round to give his side the A+ grade on this day.

The shot count finished at an alarming 43-18 in favor of the Crunch as they got double digit shot counts in all three periods as a large part of their comeback story in this game. The lopsided third period continues a Thunderbirds trend of being outworked in the final frame to a varying degree of success, and this one ultimately got them a poor grade despite knowing plenty of the answers, to continue the school theme of the day. The single point keeps Springfield back two of third place Bridgeport while Syracuse pulls to within one point of Cleveland for third in the North Division. The Thunderbirds have four more games in their homestand to continue studying, with their next game coming up on Saturday against the Charlotte Checkers while the Crunch ship up to Belleville to take on the Senators on Saturday.

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