Feb 22, 2010 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
They said it couldn’t be done.
When the county rejected his efforts to stage the first-ever outdoor American Hockey League game at Alliance Bank Stadium, Crunch CEO Howard Dolgon refused to take no for an answer. He shifted his focus to the New York State Fairgrounds and that’s where the historic game was played Saturday afternoon before 21,508 stalwart souls who paid $30 or $40 to sit at the old grandstand in the freezing cold and watch professionals push around a puck.
Dolgon resisted the impulse to boast, “I told you so,” but he certainly had the right to use those very words. He had told everyone the Mirabito Outdoor Classic would be great, and it was.
How great? Well, kids staged snowball fights amid the ice sculptures. Crunch players improvised a soggy soccer game outside their makeshift locker room before the hockey game.
The Crunch Ice Girls gathered in full force, all 11 of them clad in white parkas and white fur leg warmers complemented by red gloves and headbands as they danced to the beat of the Ting Tings. Mark “Big Sexy” Hayes stripped down to his blue swim trunks before splashing heavily into a conveniently placed hot tub.
Oh, and the hometown Crunch won a 2-1 thriller against their Interstate 81 rival, the Binghamton Senators.
While the game was well-played, competitive and close, the magnitude of the turnout and the historic nature of the event left the hockey almost beside the point.
Nevertheless, let the record show that Crunch left winger Alexandre Picard scored first, a doozy of a goal beating Binghamton netminder Mike Brodeur on a breakaway after receiving a crisp 120-foot pass from Mike Blunden. The Crunch allowed the Senators an unlikely short-handedtally early in the second period when Josh Hennessy buried a Martin St. Pierre pass from the right post past Kevin Lalande.
Overall, LaLande proved almost impenetrable. The Crunch goalie ended up earning first star of the game honors with 36 saves.
Then, with just 12 seconds to go in the second session, defenseman Dave Liffiton iced the contest with a pretty wrister on a well-timed feed from center Dan Fritsche.
So the home team prevailed despite a stiff wind out of the west and an ice surface that turned the pucks into Mexican jumping beans. The big story, however, was the big crowd, the largest ever to witness an AHL game.
Hundreds of ticket-holders found themselves idling in their vehicles along Route 690 for more than 30 minutes, as the 1 p.m. game time drew near. When they finally reached the parking lots, many motorists were surprised by the $10 parking fee. While the game was briefly delayed as workmen repaired a section of broken Plexiglas,thousands of fans lined up at the turnstiles. Once inside the creaky, leaky old grandstand, hundreds queued up for souvenirs and concessions.
Grown-ups quaffed $7 beers and $3 coffees while kids gobbled $5 burgers.
Politicians like Joanie Mahoney and Chuck Schumer ate crackerjack,while Gov. David Paterson ate crow. The state’s first black governor was roundly booed by a loud majority of those in attendance. The boos were so sustained and sonorous that barely a syllable of Paterson’s short speech could be heard.
The crowd prefers downstate daredevils to downstate politicos.They cheered wildly when Long Island parachutist Ray Maynard made an inelegant crash-landing just west of center ice to deliver the ceremonial first puck to the rink.
With the victory, the record attendance and all the attendanthoopla, only a few fans dared to complain, grousing about the parking fee, the 150 port-o-johns (grandstand plumbing is turned off for the winter) and anapparent lack of security. A couple minor fights were reported in the stands, while on the ice Crunch enforcer Jon Mirasty battled to a draw with Senators brawler Mike Yablonksi.
Those two have been mixing it up since they were kids playing on outside rinks in Saskatchewan. Their punchfest Saturday, staged less than two minutes into the game, was strictly pro forma. After all, what’s a hockey game without a few fisticuffs?
And, let’s face it, Howard Dolgon had to win a few fights himself to make this game a reality. Syracuse hockey fans are thanking their lucky stars that Dolgan’s always ready to put up his dukes.