Monday, March 30, 2015

Rochester Americans 2 at Syracuse Crunch 0 (AHL) - March 28, 2015

The AHL schedule maker was kind enough to slate a Syracuse Crunch game on the Saturday between the NCAA tournament days. The visitors were nearby rival Rochester Americans and this would be the eighth and final meeting of the season between the two, who happen to play in opposite conferences in the wacky setup of the AHL.

After an afternoon spent gorging at the original Dinosaur BBQ (this Syracuse standout is worth the four-hour drive from NYC alone), Sharpy and I headed over to the War Memorial Arena, just a few blocks south of downtown and easily walkable. The Crunch had a brilliant promotion, putting flyers in hotels advertising $10 off tickets to entice basketball fans who were not heading to Albany to watch the NCAA women's regional. The promo worked as the game was sold out; unfortunately those getting their first taste of AHL hockey probably won't return.

Before getting to that, a quick word on the arena, one of the more interesting in the league. Opened in 1951 as the Onodaga County War Memorial, it is now part of the OnCenter complex that includes a convention center and theaters. The Crunch are the fourth AHL team to play here, and are celebrating their 21st season this year.

After entering, you take a set of stairs to the main concourse (above). The seating bowl is hidden behind several sets of doors, so before you enter, take the time to find the tribute to the Syracuse Nationals, NBA champions in 1955.

There will be a 60th-anniversary celebration on April 10, the date of their 92-91 Game 7 win over the Fort Wayne Pistons that was held at this very venue. Note that the NBA regular season doesn't even finish by April 10 these days! Sadly for Syracuse hoops fans, the Nationals moved to Philadelphia in 1963, but the championship banner remains.

In the same alcove is a plaque commemorating the creation of the 24-second shot clock, which happened in Syracuse in 1954. There is an actual clock downtown with the same plaque, but they did not change the wording on the one here in the arena, so it refers to "This clock" when there is no clock around.

Having completed the requisite tour, you can enter the horseshoe-shaped seating bowl, with the top of one end displaying a message honouring veterans (below). There are seats in this section, but the angle and distance from the ice makes them a poor choice.

The best option is sitting high up in the middle of the ice which give you a mostly unobstructed view of the action. All tickets are $24 on game day (discounted to $14 with the flyer) and $3 cheaper if bought in advance.

The visitors wore their home whites (the AHL has smartly kept this tradition while the NHL cynically promotes the third jersey concept with home darks) and it has to be one of the most timeless uniforms in sports. The Amerks logo has remained essentially unchanged since 1970 (save for a season when the Vancouver Canucks messed with it, foreshadowing that franchise's long road through uniform hell). It looks really sharp, particularly when compared to the Crunch's cartoon superhero.

Returning to the game, the first two periods were scoreless, and although each team generated their share of shots (23-21 in favour of Syracuse), there were few scoring opportunities. Four minutes into the third, Allan McPherson one-timed a beautiful pass from Dan Catenacci that beat Kristers Gudlevskis high on the shoulder side. That was all the Amerks needed as Catenacci added an empty netter with eight seconds to go, giving Andrey Makarov (above) the shutout and the first star.


My first AHL game was in Rochester when the Crunch visited in the middle of a snowstorm back in April, 2003. The Amerks goalie was Ryan Miller, completing his rookie season as a pro. I also saw Makarov play in Saskatoon back in 2011. I expect I'll see him in a Sabres uniform next time. Update: Makarov never stuck with the Sabres and as of January 2018, is playing in the KHL.



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