There’s fun to be had in Syracuse’s old hockey barn, and possibly a Cup, too

What does a hockey fan yell at the ref a dozen times a game? Drop the puck!

What does a hockey fan yell at the ref a dozen times a game? Drop the puck!

What says Memorial Day Weekend in Syracuse more than an American Hockey League playoff game in the Onondaga County War Memorial?

How about it, I asked my dear wife Karen as we enjoyed our Saturday afternoon. Wanna go?

All joking aside, the signs pointed to yes. Good hockey and a bite in the air were both in the forecast for the evening.

The Syracuse Crunch haven’t exactly been in the Memorial Day mix much, usually exiting the playoffs early … or not playing well enough in the regular season to qualify at all. This year, though, started a new affiliation, a switch from the Anaheim Ducks to the Tampa Bay Lightning as the NHL squad from which the Crunch’s players, coaches and philosophy filtered down. And last season, tagged to the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals, the roster and strategy earned the Calder Cup.

The Crunch had handily won the first two series, in fact sweeping both by taking seven games in a row. The Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins had accomplished the near-impossible in round two, losing the first three games to the Providence Bruins before rebounding to win four straight.

Game one, a Saturday night hootenanny in our old hockey barn? Let’s see what kind of seats Ticketmaster has to offer five hours or so before game time. Section 4, Row E, seats 3 and 4. Make that center ice, right on the red line, five rows up on the upper concourse. I’ve seen enough hockey in my life to know … take ’em. And the click-to-print feature should prove to be a bonus, to skip any late-decision walk-up line at the box office.

We scurried up to our seats and I saw I was right. Fantastic vantage point to soak it all in. I knew the gent two seats to the right from past festivals and parties. His college-aged son to my right obviously knew his hockey, and his Crunch. When I said I snagged the tickets online that afternoon, a woman in the row in front turned around with an amazed look.

I could have had my pick of any seat in the corners of the rink. No sell-out, this, with a crowd announced in the 5,000s. Looked like less to me. Owner Howard Dolgon was correct when he talked to Crunch beat writer Lindsay Kramer during the last series. Our little barn tops out under 7,000. To not fill it in the playoffs for a team on a roll like this year’s Crunch, challenging economy or not, that is an attendance problem.

To be at a Crunch game live is an event.

Crunch Man showing off his fake abs-costume with mad dashes around the concourse. Cheerleaders leading cheers and throwing free T-shirts to the crowd during breaks in play. This generation’s Hanson Brothers recreating the long-hair-and-glasses-look made famous by the trio of eccentric and hard-knock players in the Paul Newman classic old-time hockey movie “Slapshot,” scenes of which, you betcha, were shot right here in the War Memorial. The center ice scoreboard was sharp and quick with replays. Triple-A video sure has come a long way.

And, on the ice, I saw speed and daring and power and the chippy play you’d expect in the conference finals, with both teams just eight wins away from hoisting that coveted Calder Cup.

The crowd hated the two referees and two linesman, loudly berating judgment calls and turning the organ-led Let’s Go Crunch chant into Ref You Suck.

The fans were way into it. As a Syracuse University football season ticket holder the past four seasons, I’ve sometimes felt like the lone wolf baying at bad calls and boner plays in a Dome of silence. At a Crunch game, I was a quieter member of a loud pack.

The Crunch lost, 4-2. Don’t fret too much. They won Sunday night, 3-2. There will be a game five in our city, Saturday night. There is fun to be had.

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