Heading into this weekend and the start of the Calder Cup Finals, the Syracuse Crunch have won 21 out of their last 22 playoff contests dating back to last season when the team was sporting Norfolk Admirals jerseys.
Ask anybody in the Lightning organization who has been around the Crunch and Admirals over the last two seasons how a team can be that dominate going up against the toughest competition and they will all tell you it is because of the leadership and selfless attitudes around the locker room.
That leadership starts at the top and trickles its way down.
“The leadership is outstanding and it starts with captain, Mike Angelidis,” Tampa Bay Lightning coach and former Crunch bench boss, Jon Cooper, stated.
“It is not just the guys with the letters either,” continued Cooper. “It is a number of guys that contribute in terms of leadership.”
When asked about the run they have put together Tyler Johnson said “it isn’t too surprising actually”.
Johnson pointed to the attitudes of the players.
“Everybody here hates to lose and loves to win,” Johnson said.
Cooper elaborated even more on the winning and losing aspect of it all too.
“Those guys come to the rink everyday knowing they are going to win,” he said. “Some teams come in thinking they have a good chance to win, but our guys know they are going to win and that is what they expect.”
The leadership and attitude of the group has also helped acclimate the guys who weren’t a part of the Championship team in Norfolk last season as well.
“The guys in Syracuse are family,” Tampa Bay assistant general manager and Crunch GM Julien Brisebois stated. “The new guys come in and feel that right away and it really helps them adapt quickly to a new environment.”
That family atmosphere has helped keep things going in the right direction even when there was a slip up. When Syracuse lost Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals it was their first loss in 17 playoff games and the train could have easily been derailed right then and there.
Crunch defenseman Radko Gudas referred to it as “just a bump in the road”.
Coach Rob Zettler seconded Gudas’ comment.
“The loss did not shake us at all,” Zettler said. “I did not even have to say much to the guys the next night because they knew what they had to do and they did it.”
One thing that has to be kept in mind is that these Syracuse players’ ultimate goal is to be in the NHL.
It would be easy for these guys to go out on the ice and play for themselves and be more concerned about their stats rather than the team as a whole.
Cooper, who is very familiar with the players in Syracuse, said that “everyone wants a NHL contract, but those guys are playing for their team, for the Syracuse Crunch, not for a contract or for their personal stats”.
These guys are going out there every night and putting their bodies on the line.
“The character of the players is what has kept us rolling,” Zettler said. “We have star players who go out there and block shots, get into the dirty areas and stick up for each other on a nightly basis.”
The mindset that is held by the Crunch roster is one that will lead you to believe that there is no reason the guys in the blue sweaters should not bring home a second straight Calder Cup to the Tampa Bay Lightning organization.
“This is a two-month competition,” Brisebois said of the playoffs. “Everybody on the Crunch roster realizes they are a part of something bigger than themselves. That is why they have found the success they have and that is why they will continue to succeed.”
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