Almost every team in the American Hockey League makes fun videos about their players, but very few find the success of the Syracuse Crunch lip sync videos.
I was fortunate enough to interview the brains behind this operation - Megan Cahill, the Syracuse Crunch’s PR wonder woman and Alex DeRosa, the multimedia genius at Fully Focused Media (@FullyFocusedMed).
Born in the mind of the Syracuse Crunch front office, carefully crafted and cast by Cahill, and beautifully orchestrated by DeRosa, the lip sync videos were the perfect medium to help fans connect to the team.
As it turns out, that’s exactly what Cahill intended. “A lot of what we wanted this season was to have interactions with the fans via other channels outside of seeing them at games. We really wanted to have that dynamic with people across social channels.” Mission accomplished.
For the duration of this article, I pulled short clips from each video in addition to linking to the full videos.
Beyoncé - Single Ladies [Full Video]
The first song the Crunch recorded was the 2008 hit “Single Ladies” by Beyoncé. If you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend watching the full video. For those of us who have watched it a few (dozen) times, here’s a quick snippet to refresh your memory.
Clockwise from the front and center: Daniel Walcott, Henri Ikonen, Jake Dotchin, Adam Wilcox.
Cahill said they were searching for a song that would be fun for everyone. “We thought, ‘What would be hilarious for hockey players to sing to? What would make sense? Single Ladies - it’s so perfect.’”
DeRosa was curious to see how hockey players would respond to being put in this situation. “I think once they got through that initial uncomfortable stage of standing there dancing in front of the camera, it became a lot easier. Daniel Walcott’s a huge part of that, he gets them all going.”
Speaking of Walcott, he instantly came across as a charismatic, outgoing guy - a description that Cahill agrees with. “Daniel has always been one of the most outgoing people we’ve had on the team. He thrives in any situation. He would watch the music video and make sure he was doing the same moves that Beyoncé was doing. I think he nailed it.”
Neil Diamond - Sweet Caroline [Full Video]
A few short weeks later came the 1969 classic Sweet Caroline. Love it or hate it, everyone knows this song. That was a deliberate move on the part of Cahill and her team. “We picked songs that would resonate with our fan base here, stuff that people would remember.” It seems like a simple point, but a valuable one. Crunch fans span multiple generations, so it was important to include music that everyone could recognize.
In order of appearance: Matt Taormina, Dylan Blujus, Luke Witkowski, Joel Vermin.
The first time I saw Luke Witkowski pop up like that, it genuinely made me laugh. Joel Vermin couldn’t keep a straight face through his sequences and avoided dancing.
Cahill admits Vermin was a little hesitant to participate. “Joel was one we had to coax. He said, ‘No no no. I don’t want to do it.’ We were like, ‘No. You’re going to be in it.’ He was worried that his voice would be on it. We told him not to worry. Just move your lips, say the words, and you’re done.”
Donna Summer - Last Dance [Full Video]
For their third installment, the boys caught disco fever.
From left to right: Ben Thomas, Matthew Peca, Tye McGinn
This was yet another group that seemed to just be having a good time. Cahill was a little surprised at how comfortable they were filming the video. “The guys that we put together for Last Dance were guys that we thought, ‘Okay. They’ll be funny but we don’t know if they’re really going to be into it.’ It was hilarious. Once Peca started dancing and Thomas started dancing, we were wondering, ‘Where did this come from?’ We had no idea.”
I think that’s part of the magic of these videos. As a fan, you get to discover a new aspect of a player’s personality - or at the very least figure out who you’d like to hang out with at a karaoke bar.
The Righteous Brothers - You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' [Full Video]
From left to right: Mike Halmo, Jake Dotchin, Adam Wilcox, Daniel Walcott
Mike Halmo seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself and showcasing his personality. “He made us laugh the entire time. There would be times where we didn’t know what to do,” said DeRosa. “He’d say, ‘Okay. I’ve got this. I’ll do it,’ and he’d do something ridiculous or funny - something you weren’t expecting.”
As far as the decision to cross their legs over each other, Cahill credits that idea to the players. “We said, ‘Hey guys. Just sit on those stools.’ We watched the scene from Top Gun where they have that song playing. We thought they could act like they’re sitting at a bar, singing along to it. Just being the guys they are, they sat down and started putting their legs over each other. We let them do whatever they wanted and it ended up being pretty funny.”
The B-52’s - Love Shack [Full Video]
In order of appearance: Daniel Walcott, Mike Halmo, Matthew Peca, Yanni Gourde, Slater Koekkoek.
Okay. Love Shack is a song that everybody knows, right? Apparently not. “It’s fun with the players not knowing the songs,” said DeRosa. “Surprisingly, there were a lot players that didn’t even know Love Shack.”
According to Cahill, that wasn’t a problem for Slater Koekkoek. “Any time we asked Koekkoek, he always knew all of the words, was ready to go, and had it down. We asked him to do Love Shack, he had everything memorized. He knew exactly what he was doing.”
This video was originally slated to feature four players, so how did they end up with five guys? “Walcott wasn’t even supposed to be in the video, but he was there and he decided to stay to be a guest appearance,” said DeRosa. “We were just using him to move around the background. He just kept doing stuff on his own while we were shooting the rest of it. You can tell that most of his part of the video was his own ideas.”
Patrick Hernandez - Born To Be Alive [Full Video]
From left to right: Kristers Gudlevskis, Adam Comrie, Stefan Fournier, Michael Bournival
Another set of four new guys having a blast. DeRosa was responsible for the canes that feature prominently throughout the video. “I gave them canes because they had them in the little music video that existed. The canes just gave them something to do. Once you give them something to use as a prop, it becomes a lot easier.”
I asked both Cahill and DeRosa who the most pleasantly surprising performance was across all the music videos. Both instantly answered Kristers Gudlevskis.
“Being part of the front office, we know his personality,” said Cahill. “ I think he may be one of the guys that fans just don’t really know personality-wise. He was a little tentative at first during the video, then he just went right in. We talked to his wife when she was in town. She was like, ‘Yeah. That’s just how he is at home. It made sense that he was going to be like that.’ We had a feeling going into it he’d be pretty good, and then he blew it out of the water. I think he was definitely a big surprise.”
“I think Kristers Gudlevskis was definitely a surprise,” said DeRosa. “He’s always fun to work with. He’s got a good personality. He’s always willing; it’s just not his thing usually. I thought he did an awesome job. When we got the list of players that wanted to be in each video, sometimes I’d think, ‘Interesting, we’ll see how this one turns out.’ It always turned out better than we thought. Kristers was one specifically that I remember doing a great job.”
Backstreet Boys - I Want It That Way
You are our , the one desire. pic.twitter.com/RmHA9CQnXj— y - Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) April 15, 2017
From left to right in the still image above: Tye McGinn, Daniel Walcott, Matt Taormina, Mike Halmo, Slater Koekkoek, Dylan Blujus.
I’m not going to even try to pull a clip from the perfection that is this video. As a child of the 90’s, I insist that you watch the entire thing. This is the video. It’s the culmination of a season of entertaining lip sync videos, all building up to this moment.
According to Cahill, this finale was always the plan. “We thought it would be hilarious to have a Backstreet Boys one in there. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to do that one, we just saved it for last. When Alex [DeRosa] mentioned that he had someone that could get white suits for us from Giovanni’s Menswear, we thought, ‘Okay. They’re already wearing white suits. Where do we make that fit?’ And it happened to fit perfectly with the music video for I Want It That Way.”
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Backstreet Boys original music video, here’s a quick 15-second clip to give you a sense of what made this particular Syracuse Crunch lip sync so impressive.
The level of detail in the Crunch’s version was no mistake. DeRosa did his best to incorporate elements of the Backstreet Boys video. “I tried to match it as closely as I could, even with editing. From the original video specifically, we tried to match these walking scenes that they did around different areas. We couldn’t have asked for better faces that they made, their own reactions. They were perfect too.”
Well, there is one minor flaw in accuracy. “There are only five Backstreet Boys, but we had six guys that said yes,” explained Cahill. “I just grabbed the first six guys who came out of the locker room who had done lip sync videos before.”
Cahill offered a player-by-player analysis of the six guys in this video.
- McGinn: “Tye would probably tell you he doesn’t like to do music videos, yet he always took a lead role. We ended up finding out that when he was with the Flyers organization, they made one when they were in Lehigh. It’s funny because every time we asked him to do one he said, ‘I don’t like doing those,’ and he would just shine.”
- Taormina: “We had the same problem with Taormina who said, ‘Oh man, do I have to do it?’ and then he would just show up [and impress].”
- Blujus / Koekkoek: “Blujus was one where, ‘If Koekkoek does it, I’ll do it.’ Koekkoek would say, ‘If Blujus does it, I’ll do it.’ That’s how we got the two of them.”
- Halmo: “I guess you could call him a wild card. He would come up with these ideas for what we should do for the videos and they were just hilarious. He has a pretty dry sense of humor, so I think it worked well for him.”
- Walcott: “Walcott handled the choreography.”
Like true 90’s children, the guys knew the song well. “None of them needed lyrics for this one. None of them needed reminders,” said DeRosa. “They all knew all the lyrics. I think that’s part of the reason it turned out so good.”
The players were anxious to see the final cut, even if they had to watch it on Cahill’s phone. “I went down to the locker room with the final version of the video and Daniel [Walcott] was the first person I saw. I had my phone out and I was showing him. Then I turn around towards the end of the video, and I have the entire team all crowded around my little iPhone watching this video.”
Bonus: Blooper Reel [Full Video]
The first scene of the clip features the guys working on their Backstreet Boys dance moves. According to DeRosa, Walcott became the de facto choreographer for the group. “They referenced the video, but Walcott named the moves on his own. I don’t think he needed the video, he just needed to be reminded of the different dances. He came up with it - whatever he was saying in there with the dice. He came up with that himself and taught the rest of the guys it. We just let him go.”
Camaraderie is Key
DeRosa has worked with the Crunch for several years, but noted there was something special about this roster. “This group of players is awesome. It looks like they’re all really good friends and close. If you have problems with each other, you’re not going to have as much fun doing these. We did such a wide range of players. It wasn’t like we just stuck to a specific group. They all seem close enough to the point where they have fun with each other and that was a big part of it.”
Cahill was surprised at how much attention they received. “We had a feeling it would do well. We figured when we put these out on social media, they would get some shares. We put the first one out and then all of the sudden we saw it showing up on Puck Daddy and on Bar Down. We thought, ‘Wow. People really like these.’ People would expect one every month. They would give us suggestions. We put GIFs out for teasers - people loved it. It was really cool to see the fan reaction because they’re always here cheering us on. They support us. It was really cool to give them something that’s a little unique, a little different.”
Cahill is unsure if the Crunch will make any more lip sync videos. “That’s it for this season. We’re on the fence on if we want to bring it back next year. The crew that we had this season, the guys just made it their own. It was hilarious. It’s probably something we’ll consider doing again next year.”