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Rochester Americans vs. Syracuse Crunch: Brett Murray return key
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Rochester Americans vs. Syracuse Crunch: Brett Murray return key

It didn’t take long for Brett Murray to announce his return to the Rochester Amerks last Saturday in Syracuse.

The big winger, who had missed a month of action due to an undisclosed injury, was lined up for the opening face-off in Game 4 and when the Crunch player tried to get a better position next to him, Murray was having none of it.

The two players started pushing and jawing and the referee had to interrupt the face-off to get them separated and lined up where they belonged. Mind you, this was the opening game, the clock hadn’t even started ticking yet and Murray was already letting the Crunch know he was back.

“Whoever the player was, he cheated on the draw and I just tried to make it a fair fight,” Murray said with a shrug. “It was ice hockey.”

It was the Murray way of hockey: tough, gritty, don’t give an inch of ice to the opponent, because every inch counts when your season is on the brink, as was the case with the Amerks.

And so after that start, it seemed so fitting that Murray would score the winning goal in overtime, an ugly goal that had him jostling for position just outside the blue paint looking for a rebound, and that’s exactly what happened.

Mason Jobst shot from the top of the right circle, appearing to hit Syracuse’s Shawn Element, who tried to move Murray aside. The puck fell to the ice and before Crunch goalie Brandon Halverson could locate it, Murray knocked it into the net to extend the Amerks’ season.

“I was just in front, I think Mason shot,” Murray explained. “I was just spinning around and when I looked down the puck was there and sometimes you have to be lucky and I was able to tap it in.”

Murray’s return to the team was palpable at the start, at the end and certainly throughout the match. Without him, the Amerks might have already packed their lockers for the season. Instead, they’ll host the do-or-die Game 5 on Friday night.

“I said last year in Game 3 he wanted us back in the (Syracuse) series with how physical he was, how nasty he was, how good he was offensively, and we just felt that from him tonight,” Amerks coach said Seth. Appert said.

Last year, the Amerks dropped their first two games at Syracuse in the same round, the North Division semifinals. One loss by elimination, they defeated the Crunch 8-5 at Blue Cross Arena as Murray had a goal and two assists. That win changed the series and Rochester went on to win its final two games to advance.

“We are a better team with him in the lineup,” Appert said. “We are a stronger team, we are a stronger team, braver. We don’t have many big forwards, we have (Michael) Mersch and Murray, and what you saw in him, I’ve been saying for years. He is one of the most important members of our group.”

Interestingly, the Amerks survived Murray’s absence in the regular season very well. He was injured on April 3 against Cleveland, but without Murray the Amerks still went 6-1-2 and finished in second place, one point ahead of the Crunch who gave Rochester home ice for this series.

But it was clear from the two overtime losses in Games 2 and 3 that the Amerks desperately needed Murray, even if he isn’t 100% healthy.

“It was a touch and go,” Murray said of his return. “I think it’s just a feeling process. It felt good today. Thank God we didn’t go longer because I would have felt quite sore. It feels great to compete with my teammates again. We have created such a special bond here and it was hard to watch my brothers fight without me. But being back in the lineup today and winning in such dramatic fashion only brings us closer.”

The Amerks looked good in Game 4 as they trailed 3-0 entering the third period. Instead, it was the Crunch who were overcooked, because they had expended so much energy to open that margin in the first 40 minutes, looked tired the rest of the way and pounced on the Amerks.

Brandon Biro scored 19 seconds into the third, Joseph Cecconi scored a rare goal at 10:20 when he sent home a sweet pass from Lukas Rousek, and then Biro got the equalizer at 14:48 after another beautiful pass from Rousek, his third help in the period.

Ultimately, Murray scored the kind of goal he specializes in in extra time. A dirty, sharp goal, the kind that wins play-off games.

“He brings a different element to the game, gets right to it and doesn’t waste any time,” said Biro, who first spoke about the opening bickering. As for the goal, Biro added: “I didn’t expect a goal from him in any other way. That was amazing. It was a huge boost to have him back in the line-up.”

Sal Maiorana can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana. To subscribe to Sal’s newsletter, Bills Blast, which comes out every other Friday during the offseason, follow this link: https://profile.democratandchronicle.com/newsletters/bills-blast