A record-setting crowd came to the New York State fairgrounds to watch the Syracuse Crunch edge out the Binghamton Senators by a score of 2-1 in the first outdoor game in American Hockey League history. Fans were excited and appreciative of the opportunity to witness such a historic event.
“I think it’s great that (Crunch owner) Howard Dolgon actually took it on his shoulders and got the thing going,” said Crunch fan Brian Chapman of Conquest, N.Y.
Fans started showing up as gates opened at 8:30 a.m. to begin grilling, games and drinking. Thousands of grills cooked protein-heavy spreads to feed throngs of fans playing street hockey, ladders, and even a primitive version of bowling with beer cans for pins and a bocce ball. Hamburgers, hot dogs, and venison sizzled on grills as hockey fans prepared for the game.
A series of pre-game ceremonies preceded the historic game, including an Air Force flyby, a skydiver who landed on the ice, and New York Governor David Paterson, who performed the traditional puck drop. Paid attendance was 21,508.
The game boasted a cast of characters in a number of passionate Crunch fans. Frank Szymanoski, Ray Szymanoski and Brenda Szymanoski, all of Syracuse, dressed as the Hanson brothers from the classic hockey movie Slap Shot.
“We’ve been doing this for 16 years,” Frank said. “It started when we went dressed as the Hansons to a Halloween party.”
One exciting off-ice performance came from Crunch game celebrity Big Sexy. He stood behind the Senators’ bench, stripped to his underwear and banged his chest on the glass behind the Senators players. Big Sexy then sprinted down a snow-covered path, diving head first into a hot tub set up outside the corner of the rink.
Some fans had different ways of expressing their support for the Crunch. Rich Russell of Canastota, N.Y., attended the game with a giant head cut-out of Crunch forward Jon Mirasty. Russell, who works at a sign company in Manlius, decided to make the Mirasty head after seeing the big Jim Boeheim head that has made appearances at Syracuse University men’s basketball games.
After the pre-game festivities, it was Mirasty who got the action started shortly after the puck dropped to begin the game.
Mirasty, a fan favorite, fought Binghamton bruiser Jeremy Yablonski less than two minutes into the game. The fight lasted more than a minute with a combined punch count of more than thirty, and added another memorable tilt to the Mirasty-Yablonski rivalry. The crowd erupted as Mirasty addressed them with two pointer fingers aimed up at the sky in his usual fashion.
“Nobody gets the crowd going like ‘Nasty Mirasty,'” Russell said.
The game was low-scoring, but far from boring. Forward Alexandre Picard and defenseman David Liffiton each scored for the Crunch, with Liffiton's tally providing the eventual game-winner. Forward Josh Hennessy netted the only goal for the Senators. Senators goalie Mike Brodeur was tested regularly in the game and made big stops throughout, but Crunch goalie Kevin Lalande's 36 saves on 37 shots made a big difference.
After the thrill of the highly anticipated outdoor event, fans are already thirsty for their second outdoor AHL game.
“We’re hoping (this happens) every year,” said Doug Kerst of Liverpool. “We’re already talking about plans for next year.”