Syracuse Crunch December Recap: Go Away COVID

LAVAL, QC, CANADA - DECEMBER 14: Alex Barre-Boulet #12 of the Syracuse Crunch in control of the puck with Lukas Vejdemo #12 of the Laval Rocket close behind at Place Bell on December 14, 2018 in Laval, Quebec. (Photo by Stephane Dube /Getty Images)
LAVAL, QC, CANADA - DECEMBER 14: Alex Barre-Boulet #12 of the Syracuse Crunch in control of the puck with Lukas Vejdemo #12 of the Laval Rocket close behind at Place Bell on December 14, 2018 in Laval, Quebec. (Photo by Stephane Dube /Getty Images) /

There were supposed to be 12 games for the Syracuse Crunch in December, but COVID postponements plagued the Crunch and the majority of the AHL. In the end, only 4 games would be played by the Crunch in December with the most recent coming on December 15.

December was a small improvement from the disastrous month the Crunch had in November. They posted a 2-2-0-0 record and now stand at 8-10-2-1 on the season. However, their .500 record in December was not enough to move the Crunch out of last place in the North Division.

While on-ice action was light, there are still some notable storylines from the month to mention.

December Storylines

COVID Postponements and NHL Taxi Squad

It was a rough month with COVID postponements as the Crunch saw 8 of their 12 games postponed. Thankfully, it looks like all games missed will be rescheduled as only one game versus the Laval Rocket remains to be rescheduled.

On an individual level, head coach Ben Groulx revealed yesterday that as many as 19 players were unavailable for games or practice during the month due to COVID. Groulx also said all affected players will be available for the start of the month.

Additionally, the reinstatement of the taxi squad in the NHL due to the recent COVID surge could mean some Crunch players will be away from the team for extended periods of time. With the Lightning’s forward core finally getting healthy, the Crunch should not face many losses to their own forward group, but defenseman Andrej Sustr could be racking up frequent flyer miles on trips to Tampa going forward as he has proven to be the most reliable defenseman in the Lightning organization outside of the NHL.

Simon Ryfors is Starting to Find His Game

As discussed in the November recap, it felt like Simon Ryfors was on the verge of a scoring breakout, and it turned out he was as he posted a point-per-game and doubled his season scoring total in the short month.

We noted last month that even though the scoring was not there for Ryfors, he had shown noticeable improvement in all facets of his game as he continued his adjustment to the smaller North American rink size. His overall game improvement was enough to get head coach Ben Groulx to trust him with a larger role, and he delivered.

Ryfors occupied the second line along with Otto Somppi, a teammate also in search of his scoring touch, and Cole Koepke the final two games of the month. Together they instantly showed good chemistry and play-driving ability. Should the line remain intact for January, all three could be looking at sizeable scoring bumps.

Alex Barre-Boulet Returns

While Barre-Boulet likely hoped to be spending the entirety of the season in the NHL, he was assigned to the Crunch for all four games during the month and brought a much-needed injection of offense.

Barre-Boulet was originally reassigned to Syracuse in November amid the need to ensure he would not have to pass through waivers for minors’ assignment, however, the Lightning were able to use an emergency recall to briefly bring him back to Tampa in the wake of an injury to Brayden Point.

Barre-Boulet did not disappoint in his AHL return as he recorded a goal, three assists, and significant time on the Crunch’s penalty kill unit. It is possible that the PK assignment for Barre-Boulet is a move aimed at helping him improve his off-the-puck game that has often gotten him in trouble in the stints he has had in Tampa.

Fredrik Claesson’s Future is a Question Mark

One notable absence from the Crunch’s lineup in December was veteran defenseman Fredrik Claesson. While the absences are easily explained by Claesson’s presence on the Lightning’s roster for all four Crunch games during the month, what happened when he returned to Syracuse is less clear.

Upon being reassigned to the Crunch on December 18, the AHL transactions page shows he was immediately suspended by the Crunch and was only taken off suspension on January 2. Without a clear explanation as to why Claesson was suspended, news from Sweden further clouds the situation.

Firstly, an interview with revealed that Claesson has not been happy commuting between the minors and the NHL. While Claesson has not been a semi-regular in the in the NHL since he played 37 games with the New York Rangers in 2018-19, it is understandable that having to travel between Syracuse and Tampa, sometimes multiple times a month, is beginning to wear old on the veteran.

Additionally, news from SvenskaFans reveals that his old SHL team in Sweden, Djurgårdens IF, has been pursuing his services. Claesson spent four seasons playing within the Djurgårdens organization before making the jump to North America in 2012. It is noted within the article that it is possible Claesson may opt to sign with a Russian KHL team as they could offer a more lucrative contract than an SHL team.

Crunch sign Jason Garrison to a PTO

Speaking of Djurgårdens IF, that was newly signed 37-year-old PTO Jason Garrison’s most recent team during the 2019-20 season. While Garrison is a new face to Crunch, Lightning fans will remember Garrison from his three seasons with the Lightning before he was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 expansion draft.

Garrison will reunite with Crunch head coach Ben Groulx as Groulx was the head coach of the Rochester Americans in both seasons Garrison spent on the Americans between 2008-10 before he made the jump to the NHL.

Should Claesson ultimately decide to depart for Europe during the season, Garrison could be seen as a potential replacement as both veteran defensemen are left-handed and play the left-side of the blueline.

As his contract is only an AHL PTO, the Lightning do not have an option to recall Garrison to the NHL if the needed. The Lightning are currently at the upper limit of allowable NHL contracts, but Claessson’s contract will have to be terminated if he signs in Europe. So, there could be an option to bring Garrison back into the fold of the Lightning organization.

Here Garrison speaks about the events that led to him signing with the Crunch and his past with Ben Groulx.

Recent Game Lines

Lines from December 15 versus the Toronto Marlies.


Remi Elie – Gabriel Dumont – Alex Barre-Boulet

Cole Koepke – Otto Somppi – Simon Ryfors

Gage Goncalves – Charles Hudon – Daniel Walcott

Shawn Element* – Jimmy Huntington – Odeen Tufto


Sean Day – Darren Raddysh

Ryan Jones* – Andrej Sustr

Frank Hora* – Jesse Lees*


Max Lagace

Amir Miftakhov

* Player is not signed to an NHL contract or on the Lightning’s reserve list

Scoring Stats

December Scoring Leaders

  1. Ryan Jones* – 2G, 2A, 4P, +6
  2. Simon Ryfors – 2G, 2A, 4P, +2
  3. Cole Koepke – 2G, 2A, 4P, +1

Season Scoring Leaders

  1. Gabriel Dumont (F) – 21GP, 10G, 8A, 18P, -3
  2. Charles Hudon (F) – 20GP, 6G, 10A, 16P, -8
  3. Cole Koepke (F) – 17GP, 4G, 9A, 13P, -5
  4. Sean Day (D) – 19GP, 2G, 11A, 13P, -3
  5. Jimmy Huntington (F) – 21GP, 6G, 5A, 11P, -3
  6. Gabriel Fortier (F) – 17GP, 4G, 7A, 11P, +3
  7. Remi Elie (F) – 12GP, 5G, 4A, 9P, Even
  8. Simon Ryfors (F) – 21GP, 4G, 4A, 8P, -4
  9. Andrej Sustr (D) – 12GP, 2G, 5A, 7P, +8
  10. Antoine Morand (F) – 19GP, 2G, 5A, 7P, -1

Season Goaltending Leaders

  1. Amir Miftakhov – 12GP (3-4-2), 2.65 GAA, .907 SV%
  2. Hugo Alnefelt – 6GP (2-3-1), 3.56 GAA, .864 SV%
  3. Max Lagace – 7GP (3-3-0), 3.86 GAA, .861 SV%

Month Ahead

The Crunch have 13 games on the schedule for January, with 11 being against North Division foes. With such a large slate of games in-division, the Crunch will have a great opportunity to get back into playoff contention, or potentially slip further from the playoff picture during the month.

Next. Lightning Crush Blue Jackets 7-2. dark