On Saturday night, while the eyes are often turned to Hockey Night in Canada or their local junior or college club; the attention may and should shift to the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York, where the Frozen Dome Classic is being held. At the Carrier Dome, the Syracuse Crunch and Utica Comets will do battle in front of one of, if not THE, largest indoor crowd to see a hockey game in North America. What this could lead to it even more people in the future taking swats at that record and seeing how much they can profit off of it, but this event will be the trailblazer for anything after it.
For those who have not followed the events of the Frozen Dome Classic or just need a refresher on what to do– I’ll take this time to do my best for those who want to know more.
Looking At A Record
One of the big aims for this event is to break the indoor record for attendance at a hockey game in North America. Current, it stands at 28,183 when the Tampa Bay Lightning hosted the Philadelphia Flyers at what is now known as Tropicana Field. The Lightning used what they called “The Thunderdome” for parts of three seasons and drew plenty of interest from local fans due to the team success and how new the sport was in the area.
Another big deal of this event is to see what it could do for sports in Syracuse. Last year, the Carrier Dome and the Syracuse Orange hosted the Duke Blue Devils in a basketball game that drew an on-campus record of 35,446. If the attendance of the Frozen Dome Classic were to top the hockey record and maybe get close to the 30,000 mark; it would be the second time in less than a year that the Carrier Dome and the Syracuse region would have hosted a big event– pretty much helping its cause when it came to being looked at as a serious sports center in the Northeast.
With the teams just an hour away, the territorial rivalry is in full bloom. Plus, both of these teams are at the top of their divisions and conferences, which means this game is definitely more than just a gimmick– they want to be able to keep their standing in their respective places. Even though the teams aren’t in the same division or conference, the heated match-ups of last season showed that despite Utica being away from the AHL for a few years, the rivalry remains. Last season, all the games except one went to overtime, Syracuse winning two in OT, Utica winning one in OT and the only get in regulation. With this being the first match-up of the season for the two teams, emotions will be running even higher than usual with all the pomp and circumstances going on in the Carrier Dome. However, with both teams coming off games on the road on Friday in different parts of New York (Utica in Rochester and Syracuse in Glens Falls), the energy of the event will be needed to help some possible weary legs.
That last game aside, the Crunch and Comets match-up pretty evenly. The Crunch are currently second (by account of less wins) in the Northeast Division and fourth overall in the Eastern Conference with a 9-4-3 record. Lead offensively by Jonathan Marchessault (6g, 10a; 10th in AHL scoring), Yanni Gourde (7g, 5a), and Mike Angelidis (6g, 3a); the Crunch provide a balanced attack, while Kristers Gudlevskis tries to hold down the fort in net with the defense allowing 28 shots a game.
Conversely, the defense of the Comets has allowed them to have the least amount of goals against so far, mostly thanks to the stellar run of Jacob Markstrom in net, who has four shutouts in his eight starts and has yet to lose in regulation. Cal O’Reilly has been the set-up man for the Comets with 16 of his 17 points coming as assists with Nicklas Jensen (6g, 2a) and Brandon DeFazio (5g, 3a) providing the goal-scoring prowess that has put the Comets at the top of the North Division, the Western Conference, and the AHL.
More over than that is the off-ice “rivalry” between Syracuse Crunch owner Howard Dolgon and Utica Comets president Robert Esche. It is a friendly sort of rivalry, mostly entailing opponent jerseys being worn to pay off a bet and just overall yucking it up for cameras in order to get more fans in the seats for the games. While there is a little bit of jabbing for the media, the mutual respect that Dolgon and Esche have for each other definitely shows through all the gimmicks; as both men have admiration of each other and how they’ve run their teams. Dolgon stumped hard for Esche to win executive of the AHL last year (which he did) due to all the work he did to build the Utica area back into a hockey hotbed, while Esche knows how much Dolgon has worked in his 21 years of ownership of the Crunch to make and keep Syracuse buzzing about hockey, which may have in-turned allowed Utica to get another chance as an AHL franchise.
Day Long Event
While the Utica/Syracuse game is the main event, the undercard has Oswego State taking on Utica College. Going into the weekend, Utica College has a tough haul facing ECAC- West Division leading Neumann University on Friday before going to Syracuse to take on Division III #2 ranked Oswego State, who is undefeated this season. Utica has only one win on the season, but the atmosphere and the knowledge how big a stage this is could take them to another level.
Not to be outdone, there will be a high school game Friday evening and the Syracuse University club team will take on West Virginia on Friday night. Also, Saturday afternoon will feature a Police and Fire Fighter game to kick the whole day off right.
Looking To The Future
Howard Dolgon said that if the Crunch break the indoor hockey record, coupled with the SU/Duke game, then Syracuse should be given the title of “pound-for-pound” best sports city in America. Dolgon believes that so much that he had a title belt commissioned for the event in order to have it handed over to him and then to the city of Syracuse for hosting such big events in a calendar year. While it’s a bit presumptuous to do that, Syracuse definitely deserves all the respect they get from the AHL and other minor league hockey cities.
The Crunch have been at the forefront of many new things in the AHL in the last few years– including the first outdoor games in the AHL in 2010 and, should we believe what Dolgon says, the highest attended AHL indoor game, surpassing the 20,673 that the Carolina Monarchs got inside the Greensboro Coliseum to face the Kentucky Thoroughblades. The success of this event could yield more special games to the Syracuse area– maybe another outdoor game, maybe an All-Star Game, who knows. The point is that the drawing power of Syracuse when it comes to big events cannot be denied and the selling power of Dolgon is second to none in minor league hockey.