Those who know me know that I harbor no real love for Syracuse University sports, or college sports in general. My own alma mater (which is not SU) has a pretty stellar hockey team nearly every season, but by the time I was a sophomore in college I was starting to fall for the Syracuse Crunch and the rest didn't matter. In fact, I am probably one of a very small handful of sports fans in the Central New York area who hasn't watched a game at Carrier Dome, SU's famed sports complex.
That will change today when I head "up the hill," as they say, to watch my team take on the Utica Comets in an AHL matchup in front of a record-breaking crowd. The indoor crowd record for a hockey game, set by the Tampa Bay Lightning (of all teams), has fallen as a reported crowd of 29,000+ has already bought seats. The Crunch is aiming for more than 30,000 by game time at the ice rink that has been built for this one weekend only.
I do have a different connection to the Dome, though, one that is very fondly remembered, even if talking about it comes off as an awkward first date confession. When I was in high school, I was a band geek. I played the violin in the orchestra and marched in the marching band's color guard. Although I enjoyed both activities, I credit a lot to the four years I spent with the marching band especially. I performed with a group that was a proud member of the National Class of the New York State Field Band Conference (NYSFBC). My best friend became my best friend during those years, and my life would be drastically different and much less enjoyable if it wasn't for the bond we formed during our time in marching band.
The NYSFBC holds their championship event every year at the Carrier Dome. I spent the final Sunday of every October in high school performing on the turf of that Dome, and I still have so much pride in every moment. Although we never won the National Class championship - we lost first place my senior year by .90 of a point - it always felt like we had done something special as a group on that Dome floor.
Today, the Syracuse Crunch hockey club, then centerpiece of the hockey community that has given me back many of the same feelings of pride I had while performing with my old marching band, is going to do something special on the Dome's floor, too. There's ice installed on that floor now and I won't be the one out there, obviously, the Crunch will be. But, still, the connection is no less deep for me.
Two seasons ago when the Crunch made it to the Calder Cup Finals, Brent Axe made the comment that the buzz around the team was something the Crunch could be proud of because they did it all on their own. That buzz was very reminiscent of the one that happened in 2010, when the Crunch put on the first outdoor game in AHL history, the Mirabito Outdoor Classic. The Crunch set an attendance record that day of 21,508. It was also much like the attention and energy that was around the team during the 2008 Calder Cup playoffs, playoffs the Crunch reached by going on a 15-game winning streak to end the regular season.
The Crunch has had some help with the Frozen Dome Classic. They've had the powerhouse of SU's reach behind them. But no one can deny that the Crunch organization was the push behind getting this done. They worked to get the fans on board, reached out to every source of ticket sales they could think of, and were the driving force in building the rink and completing the transformation. They have gotten guests that people want to see and set up a schedule of events that appeals to many fans, not just Crunch fans.
The sheer effort and man-hours that has gone into this is incredible. Anyone who follows the Chief Operating Officer of the Crunch, Jim Sarosy, on Twitter has seen his middle-of-the-night tweets from the Dome. The Crunch's front office has been on the front lines of this thing, and it's been intense. But, as Sarosy told me a few days ago, it's been a good intense, one I'm sure he wouldn't trade right now.
Central New York should be darned proud of all of this. Not only has the Crunch created an amazing fan event, they've also created a fabulous opportunity for the prospects of the Lightning. The opportunity for those players to play a game in front of an intense, NHL-sized crowed right in their own backyard, can't be understated.
Howard Dolgon, owner of the Crunch, likes to quote the fact that Syracuse was once called a hockey graveyard. The city had a string of unsuccessful professional franchises at different levels that came and went before the Crunch, starting with the first team to ever win the Calder Cup championship back in 1937, the Syracuse Stars. Now, that very city is holding an event that will break the indoor attendance record for a hockey game.
Much to be proud of indeed.