Welcome to Syracuse! A guide for visiting hockey fans

One of the great things about living in New York State is that there's a lot of hockey. A lot. New York is home to 5 AHL teams, 3 NHL clubs and an ECHL team, plus countless pee-wee, high school, and collegiate programs. My hometown/alma matter, Oswego, does pretty darn good with the SUNY Oswego Lakers. Basically, if you want hockey, you only have to throw a dart at the map of our state and see where it lands. Chances are, there will be something to feed your appetite within a few miles of that dart.

Unfortunately, New York has something going against it: it's rather far away from Florida. 1,200 miles separate Syracuse and Tampa, give or take. So, chances are, if any of you are planning on coming up for a game, you're going to want to stay for a bit. Take in some sights. Hang out.

That's where I come in. I'm here to tell you where to stay and what to do with any free time you might have. So, come on in and take a look around!

I have the rather unique advantage of not living in Syracuse. Oswego is about 50 minutes away from the arena (or 40, depending on which one of us in my group is driving), so I've actually had to partake of some of the hotels and the like the area has to offer. I've stayed over night in Syracuse for various reasons, some snow related, some celebration related. We've also sampled various places to eat and hang out through player appearances and a general need to whet our appetites.

As far as accommodations go, one of the places I can highly recommend is the Crowne Plaza Syracuse. Rising up above Interstate 81 in a rather spectacular-but-dated circular building, the Crowne is the official hotel of the Syracuse Crunch. It's where players stay when they come into town when they're called up / demoted or don't have their own place yet, and the Crunch recommends it as the place to stay in Syracuse. It's about a five minute drive from the War Memorial, a definite plus if you're coming for a game. My friends and I have stayed there twice, once because of a snow emergency and once because of a birthday. We're planning another stay soon. The rooms are a bit on the oddly shaped/small size because of the circular nature of the building, but they're big enough for three people to stay quite comfortably. The rooms come equipped with the usual stuff, but the one thing that keeps us coming back is the shower. I'm not kidding. It's a rain shower, with the grate in middle of the ceiling, so when you stand under it the water falls down like you're caught in a luxurious spring storm. If I could take that shower home with me, I so would. It's that good.

Dining at the Crowne is also a nice, relaxing experience. The hotel's Redfield's Restaurant has gotten local acclaim both in newspaper reviews and by word-of-mouth talk. I've eaten there and found it to be amazing. The service was polite, the place was clean and polished, and the food was amazing. The hotel's room service, provided by the restaurant, isn't too shabby, either. We ordered some dessert during the aforementioned birthday stay stay, and all three dishes were spectacular.

If you're looking for more comfort than convenience, I can also highly recommend Embassy Suites in East Syracuse. Although the hotel is about a fifteen minute drive from the arena--and the best way to get there involves getting in the thru-way for an exit--it's a gorgeous hotel. There's actually quite a few places to stay in that same area, so if you want to get away a bit from the hustle and bustle of downtown, you can look into East Syracuse. The only place I've stayed, however, is at the Embassy, so it's the only place I can really recommend. The lobby was beautiful, the included breakfast was yummy, and our suite's bed was quite possibly the best bed I've ever slept in. I believe my friend said it was so soft it must have been sewed by angels. So...yeah. It was good.

All right, you have your accommodations set, but the game isn't for another few hours. Maybe not even until the next day. What are you going to do with all your free time?

Well, depending on the age of your group, you actually have quite a few options. If you're all adults and you're looking for some nightlife, you can't leave Syracuse without checking out Armory Square, Syracuse's historic downtown drinking district. College students know Armory Square well, but there's enough variety in the place to appeal to different types of drinkers. You might even be able to find a more quiet hole-in-the-wall if you look hard enough.

If you're just looking for something to eat or drink before or after the game, I'd be horribly remiss if I didn't direct you to Ale n' Angus Pub. Ale n' Angus has been a favorite watering hole for Crunch fans for years. It's located right around the corner from the arena, and its calm interior and stocked bar--plus amazing food--has made it a local favorite. I can highly recommend their real Angus burgers and blackened chicken. The Crunch usually has at least one celebrity bar tending appearance here a year.

I'd also be neglecting my duties if I didn't recommend Tully's Good Times. Syracuse is actually home to like three of these places, but the only one I recommend you go to is the one closest to the arena, on Erie Boulevard. I've had awful experiences at the other locations--food undercooked, slow service, etc.--but have never had a bad experience at the Erie location. And I've eaten there a lot. They have a grilled cheese the size of my head and their drinks are cheap but good. That alone is enough to keep me coming back. The Crunch also visits these place several times a year for bar tending and autograph sessions.

Speaking of appearances, be sure to check the team's promotional schedule before you plan your trip. The Crunch does a ton of community work, making the players accessible to the fans in all parts of Syracuse and the surrounding areas. These appearances are great ways to snag autographs and pictures with your up-and-coming prospects. The Crunch's website is usually updated with dates, players, and locations once the season gets going.

I feel like a traitor writing this, but even I need to admit that hockey isn't the only game in town. So, if you like college basketball or football, be sure to check in with Syracuse University Athletics to see what they have to offer during your stay. The Dome is a pretty neat place to see something, even I can admit that. The War Memorial is also home to the Syracuse Silver Knights, an indoor soccer club that plays in a league that uses hockey rinks because they play with the dasher boards up. Yeah, I was confused, too, but it's nice to have another club in the building. They obviously play when we're not, so if you're in town for a few days and want to see something different, check out their schedule.

Hockey fans tend to be diverse people. One fan might be screaming for blood at a game one night, then calmly quoting Shakespeare or talking about the aesthetic aspects of a sculpture the next. If culture is more your game, be sure to check out the site for Syracuse's Connective Corridor. The Corridor is a series of bus lines, all connected for free, designed to better integrate cultural experiences created by Syracuse University with the rest of the city. Their website as a list of events. The Everson Museum has a variety of displays and programs throughout the year, and has the added benefit of being right across the street from the War Memorial.

Is shopping your game? Oh, boy, do I have the center for you. No trip to Syracuse is complete without the spectacular lie that is Destiny USA. The good people of Syracuse were bamboozled by this pipe dream that was supposed to include a giant indoor water park/aquarium, several luxury hotels and conference centers, and other wonderful things I can't remember anymore. What we got in the end, as many predicted, is a giant mall. Woo. However, if you want to shop, then Destiny is your destination. One of the mall's strengths is its variety. The mall has a mix of middle-and-upper stores and restaurants, and features something very special: a real, old school carousal that your kids can ride. Before it became Destiny, the mall was simply known as Carousal Mall. The carousal is located at the end of the food court in a glass window enclosure that really does look very pretty.

Speaking of kids, Syracuse offers many different options for families, as well. Be sure to check out any festivals that might be going on in Clinton Square at the time of your stay. If you come around the holidays, the city puts up a giant Christmas tree--and other culturally relevant December symbols, of course--and puts a huge outdoor skating rink in front of the tree. Syracuse also sports the Rosamond Gifford Zoo and the MOST. The MOST is a huge museum of science and technology that's build so that your kids can learn while they play. The MOST also features an IMAX theater that shows both fantastic educational films and real motion pictures. For instance, I believe it featured the last two Batman films, and will probably show the next. Check out their schedule, you might find something for everyone.

That's probably enough to get you started. If you ever do plan a trip and have any specific questions, please feel free to ask me or check in with the team itself. I'm sure they'll be more than happy to help out!