Syracuse Crunch in the basement

Generally, most sports teams dread the phrase “in the basement” because of it's connotations to standings. But in this case, a real basement is where the Crunch loves to be.

The Crunch is on an away swing right now, so the last time I actually saw them play was November 23rd. That night, the Crunch lost to the Baby Sens, struggling through a lackluster two periods before trying to make a comeback in the third (where have I heard this song before...?). As often happens - often, not always - the comeback fell short and the final score was 2-1 Binghamton.

The team's next two outings were more successful, with the Crunch winning both and setting a new franchise record for road wins with nine consecutive victories away from home. That record would stop at nine, however, as the Crunch were again unable to complete a third period comeback against the Baby Pens this past Friday. Saturday night was a win (a successful comeback against the Connecticutt Whale) , while Sunday was a fairly ugly loss to Binghamton.

Given that I haven't seen these guys play in a bit, I wasn't sure what I was going to talk about in my update. I've always had a hard time talking about a team I haven't seen. But then a stroke of good fortune fell into my lap and suddenly I had an entry all planned out.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to join the Crunch's Fan Advisory Board. The Board meets three times a year and has fifteen members on it. We vary in age, sex, season ticket holder packages and connections, but the one thing we have in common is our love for the team. During our meetings, we have the opportunity to talk with the front office about anything on our mind, from game atmosphere to concession stand prices.

Our first meeting of the season was this past week, and I was in attendance. For a rundown of many of the points made during the meeting, you can see my latest post at Chairman How's. Many of them are of more concern to local fans than you may care to read about, so what I wanted to talk about here was a tour I took with Chief Operating Officer Jim Sarosy after the meeting.

The meeting was held across the street from the War Memorial in the OnCenter. We were chatting away and somehow the conversation got around to the Tampa Bay Lightning and the differences they've made already in the early stages of our affiliation. One of the major things that was brought up was the basement renovations that happened over the off season in the Memorial's basement. When Jim brought up the idea of having us go over there and take a tour, many of us jumped at the opportunity.

I couldn't help but feel a little giddy as our small group followed Jim through the winding maze of halls and concourses inside War Memorial. First stop was the locker room, complete with new, professional-grade lockers, a gorgeous Crunchman carpet, and that smell that is just uniquely hockey. The walls were painted blue, though Jim told us Coach Cooper wanted them to be black. He didn't get his way there, but he did in his office. I had never been in the locker room before, so from a fan aspect, that was just pretty cool.

It didn't compare, though, to what was next. We followed Jim down another flight of stares, where we were presented with a locked door and a keypad. Jim, blocking the keypad from our view James Bond style, put in the right code and we all went into another world.

The storage stuff was just things that I've seen over the years. It was there more to give an idea of what the whole picture used to look like before all the new shiny stuff was built and added onto.

The storage area in a basement inside a standard arena isn't pretty, and the one beneath our barn is no exception. It consists mostly of things and space that haven't been touched by the magical Tampa Bay hand that has swept over the Crunch franchise. Things within the space below are still ugly and crowded with just about anything and everything you could imagine would be in storage, sort of a catch-all space for everything the War Memorial arena doesn't know what to do with or can't use any more: risers, old seats, new seats, old machines, new machines, containers, carts, smelly receptacles, odd buckets hanging from the ceiling for unknown reasons. It isn't exactly a magical place.

So, to have an organization like the Bolts come along and decide to help us out with transforming the rest of the building has been amazing. Like Jim said, we really didn't like the fact that a hockey player's reward for working hard and making the pros was a one-way ticket to the War Memorial's "catch all" basement. It didn't present the best image for us, and probably didn't make players too thrilled to be with us (although I never heard that anyone complained).

Now, though? Now we have a facility that's in the top three in the league. And it shows. It really shows. The coaches' offices, the training room, the shower room, the treatment room, and the equipment room were either repaired, redone, or expanded. The training room was especially impressive, with all kinds of sparkly new machines and pretty objects meant to turn our players into hockey machines. Jim said that Julien BriseBois himself not only picked out all of the equipment but also hand-cleaned them. That kind of dedication impressed us all for sure.

One of the things the Crunch was most proud to show us was the hospitality room. It's such a simple thing, really, just a well-stacked room with a fridge, couches, chairs, a microwave and some food. It's a place where families, girlfriends, wives, and friends of the players can hang out and wait for the guys after the game. It's not that big, but it makes a really great impression on both the players and the people important to them when a team has something like that.

We didn't have one until this season. We've been in existence for 19 years, and for 18 of them never featured a place like this in our building. For players to feel welcome and happy, we need to show them we care about them and the people important to them. This is huge. We now have that ability.

I felt really lucky to be able to see and hear all this, and I thought it would be great to share this with Lightning fans. No other organization has ever taken an interest in us like this. It's just a fantastic feeling, and something I'm very thankful for.

  • Regular season record (wins-losses-OT losses-SO losses): 13-5-1-1
  • Place in the conference standings (top 8 make the playoffs): Tied for first (Springfield Falcons)
  • Place in division standings: First
  • Top scorer: Tyler Johnson, 15-8-23
  • Top scoring defenseman: Mark Barberio, 4-10-14
  • Top defenseman, +/-: Dimitry Korobov, +14
  • Top rookie: Alex Killorn, 3-9-12
  • Game attendance: 11/23: 5,79

  • (Photo by Scott Thomas of Scott Thomas Photography and used with his permission. )9