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 Springfield Thunderbirds

Will Bitten's Sweet Hat Trick Skills Lift T-Birds Over Crunch

March 23, 2024 - American Hockey League (AHL)
Springfield Thunderbirds News Release

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The Springfield Thunderbirds (28-29-3-2) got a hat trick from one of their key stars en route to a 6-4 triumph over the Syracuse Crunch (35-20-4-2) on Saturday night before the 11th consecutive sellout crowd of 6,793 inside the MassMutual Center.

It was the home team that drew first blood on the scoreboard. Right winger Will Bitten intercepted a Syracuse pass in Springfield's defensive zone and went in alone on a breakaway. Bitten made a nifty forehand to backhand move before tucking the puck past Syracuse netminder Hugo Alnefelt, notching his 14th goal of the season and giving the T-Birds a 1-0 lead at 3:37 of the first.

Unfortunately, the Springfield lead slipped away in the waning seconds of Syracuse's first power play. After taking off on a rush up-ice into the T-Birds zone, Felix Robert filtered a pass into the blue paint that glanced off a defender before slipping in past Vadim Zherenko at 16:22.

The T-Birds, though, responded in kind and regained their one-goal lead with less than a minute to play in the opening period. After a brief give-and-go between Hugh McGing and Hunter Skinner at the offensive blue line, Skinner made a terrific pass through traffic to the left-wing side. Ryan Suzuki received the pass and wasted no time whistling a release past Alnefelt on the glove side of the net for his 10th tally on the year. That marker gave the T-Birds a 2-1 lead going into the first intermission, and Zherenko made that stand up with a sensational diving stop on Waltteri Merela with barely a second remaining on the clock on a crease scramble at the end of the frame.

It only took 30 seconds for the Thunderbirds to add to their lead in the second. Mikhail Abramov found his linemate Jakub Vrana streaking down the left wing on a stretch pass. Vrana took the feed and ripped a perfect shot past the glove of the Syracuse netminder to give Springfield a 3-1 lead.

Still, Syracuse would not go away as they narrowed the Springfield lead back to one less than three minutes later. After a Syracuse shot took a crazy carom off the plexiglass behind Zherenko, the puck found the stick of Crunch defenseman Devante Stephens, who quickly spun a turnaround shot through Zherenko to make it 3-2 at 2:44.

Tempers flared shortly thereafter as Sam Bitten and Tyson Feist dropped the gloves at the 14:11 mark of the period. As he had done all season, Bitten's fight fired up the sold-out crowd in the Thunderdome, and it, in turn, led to offensive fireworks a few minutes later. After Quinn Schmiemann was called for a hooking infraction, Will Bitten got his second of the night, taking advantage of a crazy carom off the corner glass that skittered right to him in front of Alnefelt. While the Crunch goalie got a piece, the puck squeezed home, and the two-goal lead was restored, 4-2, at 9:59 of the middle frame.

Vrana and Bitten's line was not done, either. As the game went to 4-on-4 in the closing minutes, Vrana and Abramov capitalized on a 2-on-1, as Abramov slipped a left-wing shot over Alnefelt's glove, giving Springfield a 5-2 lead at 17:46, a lead that carried into the intermission.

Syracuse did not go quietly into the night, and Ilya Usau's goal at 4:46 made it a 5-3 game. Zherenko kept the Crunch at bay until Alnefelt went to the bench for an extra skater with under six minutes to play. Just moments after the ensuing faceoff, Cole Koepke redirected a pass in the slot from Alex Barre-Boulet, and the Springfield lead was down to 5-4 with just 5:05 to go.

Things got dicey for Springfield with just over a minute to play when a Barre-Boulet shot squeezed through Zherenko's legs and rolled precariously across the goal line. Jack Finley seemed to have a wide-open net, but he could not get the puck across the line, and the T-Birds survived the threat.

Bitten capped off his sweet night by racing up ice and chipping the loose puck into the empty net with 1:01 remaining, making it a 6-4 final.

Springfield begins a crucial six-game road trip on Friday night in Hartford against the Wolf Pack.

Fans can reserve seats for Thunderbirds' hockey action in the 2023-24 season by calling (413)-739-GOAL (4625) or visiting


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American Hockey League Stories from March 23, 2024

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