It has to be hard for some American Hockey League players to truly feel like they know the community they play in. For the majority of them, they might stay for a season or two - like current Tampa Bay Lightning call up Matthew Peca - before finding their niche with an NHL team. There are even a few, like current Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov, who stay for an even shorter period of time - Kuch stayed for less than two months before departing the city forever. Others, like former Syracuse Crunch captain Mike Angelidis, stay for multiple years and truly feel like they are a part of the community.
For the cities these players live in, however, their presence is immensely important. Whether they’re with their team for two months or five years, their contribution to their community through the team they play for is, in a lot of ways, immeasurable. In a city like Syracuse, where the Crunch is certainly not the only game in town, that connection becomes even more important. “Community involvement” is the easy answer to the often-asked, “Why do we even need an AHL team, anyway?”
Jason Chaimovitch, AHL Vice President of Communications, had the following to say to us when asked about the importance of teams and players getting involved in their communities:
Across the board, American Hockey League teams understand and embrace the importance of being involved in - and spearheading - initiatives in their local communities.
Our clubs are woven into the fabric of the cities they play in, and our players and coaches are great about welcoming the civic responsibility that comes with being such a visible part of where they live and work.
For the Crunch, community involvement is certainly a jewel in their organizational crown. However, for a team that has always been involved in Syracuse and the surrounding areas, the Crunch has outdone itself this season in several categories that go beyond the usual mascot appearances.
Theme Nights and/or Jersey Auctions
- You Can Play: The Crunch is welcoming the YCP team this weekend. According to the team’s website, “You Can Play Night at the Crunch will celebrate diversity and inclusion in all levels of sports.”
Players will sport pride tape on their sticks during warm ups, and a team-signed stick being auctioned off on the official auction website following the game. Although YCP is not a local organization, it is becoming more recognizable in the hockey world, and it is also one that raises awareness in the same way that local organizations do, including CNY Pride. According to their official website, “The mission of CNY Pride is to serve the Central New York lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and their allies.” CNY Pride is one of several LGBT advocacy organizations that will be present Saturday night.
Saturday night, the @SyracuseCrunch will host a #YouCanPlay Game to support our work and the #LGBTQ community. #HockeyIsForEveryone #SyrCrunch #GoBolts @TheAHL @TBLightning @cnypride— You Can Play Project (@YouCanPlayTeam) February 6, 2018
Don't wait to get tickets: https://t.co/xBaWsq9Poy pic.twitter.com/bS4dN938CM
- She Matters: Pink in the Rink games are becoming quite popular among minor league teams, where proceeds from ticket sales, jersey auctions, and other items go towards raising awareness and funds for breast cancer research. The Crunch took their Pink in the Rink game a bit further this season by linking it to She Matters, an initiative of the Upstate Cancer Center. She Matters is a movement inspired by and supported through members of the Syracuse community. The program “trains resident health advocates to educate, support, encourage, and facilitate mammography screening among women who are over the age of 40 and living in (Syracuse’s disadvantaged areas).”
- Pucks for Paws: You can’t get much more local than the charity that the Crunch’s annual Pucks for Paws game goes towards. The team will be celebrating their 8th year of this game, a night that allows dog owners to bring their pets into the War Memorial to watch the game with them. Festivities usually include a post-game jersey auction, limited edition Pucks for Paws mystery pucks, and a a pet supply drive. The proceeds from the night’s activities go to the Priscilla Mahar Animal Welfare Foundation, a local charity that works “with those in the community to find and help non-profit organizations that work hard to provide animals second chances for a better life.” Local meteorologist (and regular Crunch media game goalie) Wayne Mahar spearheads initiatives for the group.
- Diabetes Awareness Night: This season, the Crunch and forward Cory Conacher hosted the charity Hockey Fights T1D, working to raise awareness and funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. As luck would have it, Conacher was recalled right before the event and wasn’t in Syracuse for it, but the night still went on as planned.
We hope you can join us next Friday 11/24 for our Diabetes Awareness Night with the @SyracuseCrunch. Thank you to @conhockey19 for helping us make this video. Logan and I had a blast hanging out and filming it! #T1DHockey #T1D #NDAM #DiabetesAwareness #JDRF pic.twitter.com/8zCXRA6dGb— Hockey Fights T1D (@HockeyFightsT1D) November 17, 2017
- Movember: Men’s health initiatives are very important to the Crunch. Every season the Crunch participates in Movemeber with various activities. Funds raised go towards prostate cancer research at New York’s Upstate University Hospital. They also work to spread awareness of the disease. The Crunch’s participation in this awareness event is especially important to the Syracuse area, as the county that the city is in has one of the highest rates of prostate cancer in the country and the highest in New York.
Over the years, they’ve done various supporting activities, including a mustache-growing contest with its very own draft and entertaining check-ins with participants:
Throughout the season, Crunch players appear at various bars around the Syracuse area and serve as celebrity bartenders. During these appearances, the players often wear company-sponsored jerseys that are auctioned off towards the conclusion of their visit, and all of the tips they raise go towards local charities. Some of the charities that the Crunch has donated to this season through these events include:
The Crunch often hosts organizations and individuals from the community, giving them a special spotlight. This season, the Crunch has raised up plenty, highlighting their contributions.
- The Central New York Eye and Tissue Bank was featured during the team’s Donate Life Awareness Night.
- Active military and veterans are hosted at Crunch games at a discounted price, while specific area veterans can be nominated for recognition through the Crunch’s Hometown Heroes program.
- Local children from the Syracuse area and beyond can apply to be selected as the Tully’s Youth Player of the Game, where they get a special introduction and get to stand with the team during the National Anthem.
Throughout the season, the Crunch does a lot with charity drives, collecting different items for different causes. Just this season alone, the team has participated in the following:
- The Tired Teddy Toss, with bears and other stuff animals being donated to the Syracuse branch of the Salvation Army.
- A diaper collection for the CNY Diaper Bank, which helps social service organizations in the Syracuse area distribute diapers to families in need.
Crunch charity initiatives
Finally, the Syracuse Crunch itself has two of its own charity initiatives that it has every right to be proud of:
- The Syracuse Crunch Foundation, which “works to positively impact the Central New York community by providing support and funds to nonprofit groups, educational programs and community initiatives.” It is supported in part by team activities like their upcoming Crunch At Your Service Dinner.
- Change for Change:
Change for Change is an initiative created by former Crunch captain Mike Angelidis and his teammates that aims to raise money for pediatric cancer research at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital and help improve the odds for children with cancer.
This season, Change for Change has been supported through various team activities, like when the players painted ornaments to be sold to fans: