Sometimes in the hockey world, things happen where you can understand the logic but still hate the results.
The pre-season schedule for the Syracuse Crunch is one of cases. It was announced Tuesday, first by a series of tweets from the local sports radio station The Score 1260 then by the team itself, that the Crunch will have three pre-season games this year. All of them will be on the road.
Well, you're probably thinking that can't be too bad. I'd already told you there are five AHL teams in New York, two in Pennsylvania, surely the Crunch will be playing one of those teams. Pre-season is usually about rivalries, about playing teams that will put the most people in the stands despite the sketchy rosters and odd scheduling. The Crunch must be playing a team semi-close-by.
Yeah, if you're thinking that, you're wrong.
All three games are being played in Newfoundland, Canada, home of the AHL club called the St. John's IceCaps.
Due to a variety of circumstances, the AHL schedule doesn't come out until mid-August. AHL teams who share buildings with bigger clubs--NBA, mostly--always get second consideration, so we have to wait until that schedule is finalized before we can even start on our own. Other things-- other shows that are already booked, owners' desires, travel schedules that are made more complicated by limited budges--make this process more complicated than it might be otherwise, so we have to wait until almost the end of summer before we can start making plans. The release of a pre-season schedule is always reason to celebrate, because it's the first hint we have that summer is almost over, that the real schedule will be released soon, that we will eventually be hearing the swish of skates on ice. But the news this year that the Crunch won't be hosting any exhibition contests has dulled our celebrations a bit here in the Salt City.
Now granted, this complaint is relatively small compared to that of an NHL fan right now. AHL fans realize how lucky we are that we have a stable environment to hang out in. We know we'll have a season next year. You all don't, and for that you have my absolute sympathy. It probably seems petty and small to be complaining about such a tiny issue right now, but bear with me. This is the only news we've had in forever.
St. John's is 1,800 miles away and one time zone ahead of Syracuse. To contrast this, Tampa is actually about 400 miles closer (just in the opposite direction). Our boys (relatively speaking) are going to start their time with the Crunch very far away from home. The games aren't actually being held in St. John's, as the club is moving them around to spread hockey love through the fine province, but you get the general idea. The IceCaps are probably rather familiar to some of you, as Norfolk faced them in round 3 of the playoffs last year. The Crunch also faced the IceCaps earlier in the playoffs, losing to them in round one. St. John's was a good team, and I'm sure having our guys face them again in pre-season will be a fantastic challenge and a good way to get those familiar juices flowing.
The Tampa Bay Lightning apparently have another reason they wanted our schedule to be this way. Last year, Norfolk played out their pre-season on a similar road trip to the Canadian province. We all know how Norfolk's year ended. Two years ago, the Baby Sens also did the same...and also went on to win the Calder Cup. If one believes in coincidences, there does seem to be something magical about starting off your hockey year there. So, I suppose I can allow our hockey season to start a bit later than usual if it means good results further on down the line.
But accepting it doesn't mean I'll be super happy about no exhibition hockey. It was always nice to go watch a game that didn't really mean anything. Stress-free hockey can be a plus sometimes. You don't want it all year, but once or twice is nice. The Crunch has historically done very well in pre-season, no matter how their real season ended up. I can only remember losing a small handful of games over the seasons I've been watching. The highlight of our pre-season for a few years was a charity game played at SUNY Oswego, my alma matter, a college with a gorgeous rink and an amazing facility that houses it. Unfortunately, that game hasn't been played in two seasons, and obviously won't be played this year. This might be because the AHL schedule is starting later, due to a request from the NHL clubs last year that our season be shorted by four games. Whatever the reason, it was too bad to lose that particular contest.
The team has made some mention of a possible scrimmage game for the fans to see in Syracuse. Although certainly not the same as a real game, this will just have to tide Crunch fans over until opening night on October 13th. Pre-season games don't get coverage in the AHL--no radio play-by-play or anything--so we'll be left mostly in the dark on what's up with the team until that weekend. I wish them all a good start, nonetheless. Our full schedule should be released this week or next, so I'll have another update once we get those dates in our hot little hands.