Much has already been said about the Frozen Dome Classic, the record-breaking hockey game held inside Syracuse University's Carrier Dome Saturday. It was an incredible event, one that wasn't to be missed if you lived anywhere near Central New York. The Syracuse Crunch and the Utica Comets got together with sports fans from all over and broke the indoor hockey attendance record with a total count of 30,715. The game was made even sweeter, at least for Crunch fans, by the 2-1 Syracuse victory.
This game meant different things to different people. For the fans of both the Crunch and the Comets, it was a chance to see their team duke it out in an NHL-like atmosphere. The ice rink that was built for the game was regulation size, which is actually bigger than what the Crunch plays on at the Onondaga County War Memorial. Although the War Memorial has plans to enlarge their rink this coming off season, it was good for the Crunch's fans to see them play on a larger ice surface.
It was also good for the team itself to experience a home game atmosphere with such a large crowd behind them. It's probably a guarantee that the players on the Crunch will remember the noise that the Carrier Dome erupted with when both of their goals were scored for a long time to come. To give credit where it's due, Comets fans also made quite a bit of noise when their team scored its lone goal. What more motivation might a team of young players need than to experience that kind of noise after scoring a goal, or even hearing that large of a crowd respond to a saved goal or a successful penalty kill?
However, the game probably meant the most to the Syracuse Crunch front office, the group that was the brain and the brawn behind the event. An idea that started with the organization's Chief Operating Officer Jim Sarosy grew into something big for everyone once Crunch owner Howard Dolgon got on board. Local writer Brent Axe summed up Dolgon's influence on this event, and on all of Central New York, quite succinctly:
Syracuse Crunch owner Howard Dolgon is not from Central New York, but he sure likes to think of ways to show the world what we are capable of.
Let's put a hockey rink in the Carrier Dome, he said. Let's show the sports world that Syracuse is the best "pound-for-pound" sports city in America.
Hockey in the Carrier Dome? Is he serious?
But we've learned that doubting Howard Dolgon is not a wise play.
Just like when he was told 21 years ago that Syracuse was a "hockey graveyard" and having a record-breaking outdoor hockey game in Syracuse wasn't a wise idea.
If Howard Dolgon says you are going to the moon, don't question him. Just ask what you should pack and what time the rocket leaves.
Don't question him, indeed.
"No, never,'' Andrews said when asked if he could have envisioned that ( a game in the Carrier Dome). "It's a spectacle that I would have never imagined. To walk in a couple of hours before game time and see an ice surface in here, and the configuration for a hockey game. I mean it's fantastic. Then, obviously, the fan support here has been incredible, and everybody is having a great time. It's sensational, really.''
"Not only with events like this, and the first outdoor game (in 2010), but just generally speaking his franchise has set a great example of being able to be in a smaller market in our league with an older building and make it work,'' Andrews said. "He's made it work by connecting in the community with his fans, he's connected in the community with the political support that you need to do things like this, the community connection to come into the Carrier Dome in Syracuse and marry up the university with a community sports team. All of those things are not easy, but he's willing to do the work to make it happen.''
The Crunch is a strong AHL franchise, one that has beat the moniker of a hockey graveyard, one that has come through parent club drama and changes to be even brighter and stronger than it was before. And, to be totally fair and honest, it has to thank the Tampa Bay Lightning for some of where it stands today. Yes, the city and the organization has proven that it is a great place for future NHL players to develop and prosper. However, I'm not so sure that this game would have been as successful as it was if it wasn't for the Crunch's run to the Calder Cup finals in 2013. The prospects and the talent that the Crunch has seen rotate through its doors the past three seasons-Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Mark Barberio, Radko Gudas, Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov--have all helped the notoriety and the popularity of the Crunch, even through the lack-luster months of the 2013-2014 season and the rough beginning of this season.
It's easy to imagine that the Crunch would have put on the Frozen Dome Classic without the Lightning and their influence, given the determination of the team's front office staff, but the stability and the strong commitment to winning hockey that Tampa Bay has provided and promised the Crunch has certainly increased their popularity. The Crunch had a strong two weeks leading up to the Frozen Dome, earning 12 out of 16 possible points, but two single weeks of good hockey would not have been enough to pack that building alone. The 2012-13 season helped, the "Miracle at the War Memorial" last season helped, even the arrival of Jonathan Drouin helped. The Crunch has been able to build a strong hockey legacy on top of an already firm foundation thanks to the Tampa Bay years.
The Crunch itself wasn't perfect Saturday night, but they didn't need to be. The defense was scary at times, but goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy shined, stopping 26 of 27 shots. The offence withered a little in comparison to their last couple of games, putting up only 23 shots, but the two shots that needed to get through got through thanks to Joel Vermin and Yanni Gourde. Those goals were enough to get the win in a history-making game. There's still work to be done, but, for this moment in time, what has been done is more than enough.