The best thing about having a team-issued credential to cover the Lightning is that I'm a Lightning fan, and I like to believe that being a credentialed member of the media allows me to be an ambassador on behalf of fellow fans who will never get to experience the game of hockey that way. Through this weekly column, I'll be sharing peeks behind the magical media curtain with you. Today, we're going to talk about those who fill this role on behalf of the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch and their fans.
Here at Raw Charge, we do our best to bring you coverage of all the teams that play under the Tampa Bay Lightning organizational umbrella. That includes the Lightning (of course) as well as their minor league affiliates, the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings and even, when possible and pertinent, the Magnus League’s Lyon Hockey Club (aka the LHC Les Lions) in France.
At this point in time, we don’t currently have any writers in France (although, if a position becomes available, with a per diem for some nice wine and other delicacies, I might be interested). And with Kalamazoo currently in their first season as a Lightning affiliate, our coverage is not thoroughly immersive and comprehensive [In defense of Justin, we’ve been working him hard of late! - Acha].
Especially when compared to our coverage of the Crunch. We’re very strong in Syracuse, if you haven’t noticed. That’s appropriate, though, since Syracuse serves as the Lightning’s primary affiliate and main feeder of players, something you probably couldn’t help but notice, especially lately.
I have it pretty good, covering the Lightning at the NHL level. It’s not terribly stressful and as previously mentioned in this column, it’s kind of posh to work in the media at the major league level. Sure, there’s uncertainty and unpredictable things that happen to a team’s roster that can be a challenge. But there are inherent levels of uncertainty and unpredictability that our Syracuse writers have to deal with that don’t affect me in the least.
For those who have never had the pleasure of supporting a minor league team, let me give you a brief tutorial. The arenas or stadiums, depending on the sport, are more intimate, tickets and concessions are generally less expensive and there’s more leeway for minor league clubs, free from the shackles of a buttoned-up major league, to have fun with their marketing and promotions (think: teddy bear toss).
The primary draw for most minor league fans is the opportunity to see young players first, watching them develop and reaching their potential. The other side of that coin is heartbreaking, because those talented players are not going to be around for very long. Basically, the better the player is, the sooner he’s going to leave. That’s the nature of player development. If you’re a fan of a team, because of hometown, civic pride or whatever reason, you’re at the mercy of a home office far away pulling strings and messing with the make-up of your roster.
I worked for a number of years in minor league baseball, for teams that played in the Florida State League. If we managed to have a winning team with championship aspirations, it was virtually guaranteed that our best players would get called up in August, leaving a shadow of the competitive team that played so well during the season to go forth into the playoffs.
It was sort of a level playing field because the same thing happened to every team in the league. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t straight-up suck, because it definitely did. The decisions made by the parent club weren’t done out of malice. Nobody wanted to “screw” the affiliate or their fans. To the fans, those decisions might have seemed unfair, incomprehensible and/or ill-advised (and sometimes that is the case), but the motivation behind them was always to improve the parent club.
If the Crunch win a Calder Cup this season, or any time while affiliated with the Lightning, it will be celebrated as an achievement, but it sadly can’t be the organization’s primary focus. For obvious (read: monetary) reasons, the Lightning are beholden to their fans and sponsors in the Tampa Bay area, at the NHL level.
Again, that doesn’t mean they should hinder the minor league team out of spite, but why would they do that? Sports is fueled primarily by emotion and it’s hard to remove that from the equation in order to look at a situation objectively, but sometimes it’s necessary.
The point of this is that for whatever difficulty I have to deal with in this job (which is admittedly not that much to begin with), it’s definitely less than my colleagues who cover the Crunch have to deal with, and as much fun as supporting a minor league team can be, I don’t envy them.