Hugo Alnefelt Seizing the Crease.
He’s Hugo, he’s from Sweden, and he stops pucks.
Hugo Alnefelt lived up to his famous self-assessment over the course of January by averaging a 4-1-0 record at the net for the Syracuse Crunch and ending the month with a strong shutout performance of 51 saves against the Providence Bruins (BOS) on January 29 .. His only loss came on the 27th. But after allowing just one goal past him, it was the rest of the team who failed to provide goalscoring assist in the team’s loss.
Ultimately, his performance of .51 goals against average and .988 percent save rate last week earned him the award for AHL Player of the Week, making him the first crunch player since Jimmy Huntington to win after the first week of the last season won the title.
Wall of the week: Hugo Alnefelt 🧱https://t.co/kZyUVMZ9W9@SyracuseCrunch | @TBLightning | @hockey band pic.twitter.com/eiER9e3ttb
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) January 30, 2023
January was just another example of Alnefelt on track to become Andrei Vasilevskiy’s backup down the line. With a save percentage of .929 this season, it looks like the sophomore is poised for his first real extended opportunity in the NHL, perhaps as early as next season.
Barre-Boulet sets some franchise records
The Crunch Record Books were rewritten twice by Alex Barre-Boulet in January. Within a week, he became the franchise leader in assists and points.
Nobody has scored more points in a crunch jersey.
Happy Birthday! 👏 pic.twitter.com/FiOyHleIA1
— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) January 21, 2023
A defensive group that causes (good) problems
In January, LHD Trevor Carrick returned to the lineup – after missing a month through injury – and presented the Crunch with a good problem: too many quality defenders.
Syracuse only has 7 defenders on the list, but it’s hard to make a case to cross one of them. Carrick, Darren Raddysh, Phil Myers and Sean Day all have NHL experience and form an impressive top-four defensive group; Declan Carlile and Jack Thompson are two rookies who made significant strides throughout the season; Ryan Jones is also one of the top defensemen in the league to sign an AHL contract.
So what do you do when you have seven defenders making it impossible to get on the bench? You play all seven. And that’s what head coach Ben Groulx has done in five of the nine games since Carrick’s return from injury. The day was suspended for one of the nine, so it’s possible they would have gone 11/7 two-thirds of the time had it not been for his absence. Having played 4-0-1 in those 11/7 games, I wouldn’t be surprised if the trend continues and even becomes more common in the future.
month of lockdowns
As previously mentioned, Day was handed a one-game suspension after getting carried away by a Utica Comets player during a line brawl that developed after a Comet put a late shot into the net.
Gemel Smith received three games for an incident against the Rochester Americans earlier in the month.
Jack Lafontaine treated fight fans to a goalie showdown with Malcolm Subban in the same game against Rochester. Unfortunately, LaFontaine must have forgotten you can’t come into the fight from the bench and was suspended for six games. But hey, goalies dropping the gloves are always a must-see highlight.
Let them work it out, they’re just talking pic.twitter.com/5mtTs5oHgS
— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) January 8, 2023
Balcers may stay for the time being
The Crunch looks like they may keep their new toy for the remainder of their regular season after Rudolf Balcers cleared the NHL waivers.
Tampa Bay sent Balcers to the crunch on Jan. 15 with a condition loan. He played six games and collected three assists.
He had mostly settled into a deep role on a deep team and had performed well, but ultimately none of the 31 other teams in the NHL believed he was ready to break into an NHL roster. No problem for the Crunch as they’ll be glad to have the two-time AHL All-Star in their arsenal of forwards.
Assuming the Lightning calls for Balcers for the NHL playoffs, his impact might be limited to the regular season only.
Nonetheless, a handful of forward positions have changed in the bottom six of the forward lineup and the presence of Balcers will give the team that extra something to make them a tougher opponent. PC Labrie was brought in mid-season last year to fill a then more pressing need, but Balcers will still be an added luxury for a deeper and well-rounded crunch team this season.
The Crunch needs to be comfortable in the moment. With a 20-14-6 record that puts them third in the North Division, they seem comfortable reaching the playoffs with less than half the season left. Alnefelt was a rock in the net, Carrick’s return was a big boost, and they’re the third-best offense in the Eastern Conference. The fate of The Crunch should continue to swing upwards as of today.
A total of five teams from the North Division will make the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs, and the Crunch have a 9-point buffer over the sixth-seeded Cleveland Monsters (CBJ). The Utica Comets (NJD) are in second place by 4 points, and the Toronto Marlies (TOR) have been the class of the division so far and have 14 points clear of the Crunch.