A big "Hello!" from Syracuse! An introduction to the Crunch

Hello, all! I'm Alex, your new voice of the Syracuse Crunch. Some of you might recognize me from Anaheim Calling, where I covered the Crunch for the last year and a half or so. Others might know me as one of the voices of Chairman How's Glorious Army, a blog dedicated to covering the Syracuse Crunch with an honest, fan-oriented voice. With the affiliation change, the good people here at Raw Charge were open and welcoming to me, extending an invitation to continue my coverage of the Crunch for NHL fans. I really enjoyed getting to know the fans of our old affiliate, and I'm excited to meet new people and hang out with what seems like a great group of hockey fans!

As I'm not too familiar with Tampa's system yet, my knowledge of prospects, the team, and the organizational structure and focus is still quite lacking. I probably won't be able to provide you all with quality reactions and observations until training camp starts, but until then, it was suggested I help Tampa fans get to know both myself, the Crunch's fanbase, and Syracuse itself. It sounded like a really good idea to me, so I thought I'd start with this update on your essentials for the Crunch --history, news coverage, radio streaming, Twitter accounts--and then cover more as the summer goes on.

First up, a little bit about me. The '12-'13 season will be my 8th as a Crunch fan and my 6th as a season ticket holder. Although I am not credentialed--to be honest, I've never asked--the front office has pretty much been willing to go along with whatever I'm doing over on Chairman How's. I've developed a great relationship with a lot of people on State Street, and it's been fantastic getting the opportunity to talk to players and media people. We're for the fans, and we speak from a fan's perspective, which is exactly what I'll be doing here.

During my time as a Crunch fan, I've collected quite a few gameworn jerseys from all stages of our affiliations. The list varies in position and rank, but one thing will probably become clear as you look at the names: I'm for the AHL. I'm for these guys we watch every night, these guys who might never make the big show and yet play their hearts out, these guys who make up the soul of our team. I don't necessarily care about a player's developmental potential, nor do I care about who the next "big name" is going to be. I have jerseys from Jeff Szwez, Karl Goehring, Dan Smith, Mark Rycroft, and Luca Caputi. You might recognize a few of those names--Rycroft and Caputi, I'd guess--but I didn't get those because of their time in the NHL. I wanted them because of what they meant to the Crunch.

My passion is this team, and I'm very excited to share that passion with all of you. The Crunch fan base is like every other group in hockey: varied, subject to bandwagon groupies and fair-weather fans, and affected by other sports in the area that are perceived as "better" (our biggest gripe is Syracuse University sports). However, I would honestly say that we are unequal to any other fan base in terms of passion and love for our team. No matter the season we have, the team generally has several sellouts a year. We consistently rank in the top 20 in the AHL in terms of attendance, which might not sound like much until you consider the fact that our arena "sells out" at around 6,100 people for your average hockey game, while other arenas in this league sell out around 10,000. Despite Norfolk's historic run this past season, we still averaged more fans in our building every night. For one reason or another, good season or bad season, Crunch fans show up and support.

The Syracuse Crunch plays in the War Memorial at OnCenter, an arena that has a hockey history that goes back 61 years. It's a building that is on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a major memorial for both World War I and II.. Although these designations can make updates to the building hard to achieve, the Crunch has done a lot of work in the past few years to make the building a better habitat for hockey. We got a seat upgrade for the ice level bowl a few years ago, something that was greatly appreciated as many of the original seats could be viewed in the movie Slap Shot. One of the scenes in that film were shot in the War Memorial, and those same seats were still in use some 30-odd years later. The building has seen a new environmentally-friendly roof, a fantastic big-screen scoreboard, and, as per a request from the Lightning, a new-and-improved training room to better service the players assigned to Syracuse. The locker rooms have also seen new updates in the past few years. The old-school feeling definitely remains, but efforts have been made--and are still being made--to update the facilities.

Several professional hockey teams have called the War Memorial home over the years, but the Crunch has lasted longer than any of them. The upcoming season will be the Crunch's 19th year of operation in the AHL. We also have the longest current independent ownership group, with Howard Dolgon as our fearless leader. As far as the AHL goes, the Crunch has the sixth-longest tenure of any team. The first AHL Outdoor game was held in Syracuse in 2010, at the New York State Fairgrounds. The game achieved the AHL attendance record of 21,508 fans for an event, and was considered an absolute success by the AHL (who only jumped onto the bandwagon once it was clear that the event wasn't going to fail). There has been an AHL outdoor game every year since somewhere in the league.

Of course, being a Howard Dolgon-owned team, there has been a fair share of both negative and positive publicity associated over the years. I'll be honest here: you either love Howard or you hate him. Crunch fans tend to lean towards the former, because he's our biggest ally and representative. He might sound cantankerous sometimes, but you just need to remember that he has our best interests at heart. Those interests sometimes clash with those of our NHL partner, clear and simple. Although even the best of his supporters can sometimes question his schemes--trying to get certain celebrity ex-husbands to come to Syracuse and work for the team made me question why they couldn't give his job to, say, a blogger who works her butt off for the organization for free--he usually has the support of Crunchland. Respect is given when it's earned, and from what I've been hearing, Tampa Bay has absolutely earned his respect. I hope very much that we will also earn Tampa's!

I'll leave you today with some links you'll need to follow the team:

Finally, here are some Twitter accounts to keep in mind:

All right, that's probably enough babbling for now. Next time around I'll cover the area around the arena and tell you what's what in terms of lodging, food, and beer. Have a great week, Lightning fans!

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