I’ve got season tickets to Syracuse University football in the Carrier Dome, and it was not a good season. One win, in double-overtime in the season opener against Football Championship Series Subdivision foe Villanova, and then five straight bone-numbing losses to rob fans of any sense of spirit. Maryland (OK, the win for my alma mater at least made ME feel better on that side of the ledger), Clemson, Louisville, North Carolna State, Duke. Ouch.
And then an event called the Frozen Dome Classic came skating in on Saturday, Nov. 22, to save the fall.
The Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League — that’s the top North American league under the NHL, for those of you wondering what stature of professional ice hockey I’m talking of here — had a rink set up in the big indoor stadium under the teflon air-supported roof and invited the squad from 40 miles west, the Utica Comets. Crunch owner Howard Dolgon likes to think big, even though since he brought hockey back to this city in 1994 his teams haven’t even consistently filled the 6,000 or so seats at the Onondaga County War Memorial.
Syracuse, you see, had the reputation as a “hockey graveyard.” Even though much of that memorable Paul Newman 1970s hockey comedy classic “Slapshot” was filmed in the War Memorial — and somebody in the crowd two rows down from me Saturday wore an “Ogilthorpe” jersey and black ‘Fro’ wig in tribute, and three cousins (two guys and a girls) dress up as the Hanson Brothers at every Crunch game, several minor-league franchises closed down. That would be teams called the Stars and Warriors and Eagles and Firebirds and Braves and Blazers. The Stars even won the AHL’s Calder Cup back in 1936-37.
But Dolgon has persevered, jumping around with NHL affiliations over 20 years with the Vancouver Canucks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, Anaheim Ducks and, since 2012, the Tampa Bay Lighning. That first season with Tampa Bay, the Crunch made it to the AHL Calder Cup finals, but lost.
In 2010, Dolgon had them play outside, at the New York State Fair Grandstand, and 21,508 showed up to see them win over Binghamton. At the time, that was the largest outdoor crowd ever for an AHL game.
And, oh, what a night it was Saturday in the Carrier Dome, when 30,715 people watched Syracuse beat the Utica Comets 2-1. That was the largest crowd to see an indoor professional hockey game.
It made for a tight squeeze on the concourse in between periods, that’s for sure. The quarters were cramped standing in line to wait to use the rest room or trying to buy food or a beverage. I’d say it was like Mardis Gras, or Times Square on New Year’s Eve … but I’ve never been to Mardis Gras or Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
I did, however, see a woman wearing a balloon hat sitting in front of my daughter Elisabeth. That caused a bit of a stir for her boyfriend George as well as my dear wife Karen and I. But the woman took the ridiculously high hat off her head just before the game started.
And good times were had by all.
I wrote my weekly community blog for Syracuse Public Media site waer.org about the event.
If you’d like to read my column on the site, click the link below.
Are you usually up for a hockey game, and if so, which is your favorite team, and why? What would you pick to see in the Carrier Dome, Syracuse football, Syracuse basketball, Crunch hockey, or Monster Trucks, and why? What’s the biggest crowd you’ve been part of for an event, and would you go again?