Syracuse Crunch wing Tyson Nash is unhappy about his appearance these days. But the important thing is that both Nash and the Crunch still have the look of winners.
Nash scored with 9 minutes, 25 seconds left in the game Friday night to push Syracuse to a 2-1 American Hockey League victory over Rochester at the Onondaga County War Memorial. The victory was Syracuse's fifth in a row, one shy of a team record.
Nash has to play with a larger helmet than usual because he is recovering from a concussion. Nash said Rochester players made a point of commenting how bulbous his head looks. But the fashion reviews ended when Nash flipped a shot from the right circle past Amerks goalie Martin Biron and into the upper right corner for the winning goal.
"I just thought I'd show them," Nash said. "Ugly helmet and the ugly goal. I think it was lucky. I think I could read the label on the puck (on the shot)."
Syracuse can tie its franchise record for consecutive wins Friday when it hosts Albany. But no win in the streak may be as important as the one over Rochester. Dating back to last season, the Amerks were 7-0-1 in their last eight games against Syracuse and seemed to have a mental edge on their Empire Division rival.
"When they do beat us, they outwork us," Nash said. "We don't want to get outworked. We have a lot of experts that have been doubting us lately. We have to prove to people every night we're a team to be reckoned with."
The Crunch's defense continues to make a convincing argument. For the fourth straight game, Syracuse goalie Corey Hirsch and his helpers allowed one goal. The Crunch surrendered two shots in the second period and 18 overall, both team lows for the season.
"You're not going to beat that team with Hirsch in goal with 18 shots on net," said Rochester coach Brian McCutcheon.
"Everybody is helping everyone out. Everybody is doing the little things right," said Syracuse defenseman Brent Sopel. "We realized if we wanted to go anywhere in the standings, we were going to have to work hard."
That lesson was brought home by a recent team film session. The players reviewed a tape of their 6-3 loss to Rochester Nov. 1. Syracuse bottomed out with that defeat, its seventh in a row.
The Amerks had their skates on the Crunch's throat for 60 minutes that game. Hirsch said the players were motivated by another glance of their embarrassment in that effort. Now, instead of waving their sticks at the puck, Crunch defenders are plowing opponents out of the play.
"It's just a matter of confidence," Hirsch said. "I think we've turned it around 100 percent. Collectively, we all just said, 'No more."'
The Crunch held both its ground and its temper Friday. The Nov. 1 game featured nine fights and a combined 262 penalty minutes.
No fights broke out Friday. Crunch forward Dave Roche helped clinch the victory when he walked away from a face massage courtesy of the Amerks' Denis Hamel with 3:34 left in the game. Hamel got a roughing penalty and the Amerks were put on the defensive when they should have been scrapping for the tying goal.
"We had nothing to prove," Sopel said. "We had a game to win. It takes a lot of discipline. The guys were awesome tonight."
Syracuse's Bert Robertsson tied the game at one by taking advantage of a 5-on-3 Crunch power play in the first period. His shot from above the left circle blew past Biron with 5:08 left.
The score was Robertsson's fourth of the season, the same number he had in 80 games for Syracuse last season.