by Isaac Berky || AHL On The Beat Archive
Last Saturday night marked a special night in Syracuse hockey history, as the Syracuse Crunch raised banners from the 2012-13 season and celebrated 20 years of hockey. A look back at the history of the team shows why this team has been successful in a city once labeled a “hockey graveyard.”
Before the Crunch arrived in 1994 seven pro teams had come to Syracuse and left. When owner Howard Dolgon brought the Crunch to Syracuse something changed. A new excitement around hockey rarely seen before in Syracuse was created. A crowd of 6,750 fans came out to see the first game on September 30, 1994.
On the ice the product has been exciting. Through the years, fans have watched prospects like Scott Walker, Mike Peca, Adrian Aucoin, Matt Cooke, Derek MacKenzie, Derick Brassard, Zenon Konopka, Mathieu Darche, Kyle Palmieri and Cory Conacher develop into NHL-caliber players. Others like Lonny Bohonos, Reggie Savage, J.F. Labbe, Mark Hartigan and franchise scoring leader Brad Moran also had success in Syracuse as part of impressive professional careers.
“Big Bad” John Badduke remains a fan favorite in Syracuse years after his Crunch career ended. Badduke is the only player to have his jersey hanging from the War Memorial rafters. That honor was given to him after a fan vote chose the Calgary native as a fan favorite after the 1998-99 season. Badduke collected 649 penalty minutes in 114 games with the Crunch.
Quirky promotions and great events have kept fans coming back. In 2010 the Crunch made AHL history: After 74 years and 37,254 games the American Hockey League played the first game outdoors as the Crunch hosted the Mirabito Outdoor Classic at the New York State Fairgrounds. A league-record 21,508 fans packed into the fairgrounds to watch the Crunch defeat the Binghamton Senators, 2-1, with David Liffiton scoring the game-winning goal.
Three years later another major milestone was reached. With Tampa Bay bringing their affiliate to the Salt City, the stage was set for the best Crunch season to date.
As the 2012-13 regular season wrapped up Tyler Johnson became the first player in Crunch history to be named AHL MVP. The East Division champions made quick work of their opponents in the first two rounds of the Calder Cup Playoffs, sweeping both Portland and Springfield.
Advancing into the Eastern Conference Finals with a 7-0 record, the Crunch faced off against division rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Syracuse lost Game 1 of the series but rebounded to win the next four, claiming the franchise’s first Eastern Conference title.
The Calder Cup Finals was a different story as the Crunch fell just short, winning two elimination games on the road before finally falling to Grand Rapids in six games.
Always with an appreciation for the past and passion for winning, the Crunch embark on their 20th season as the oldest active independently owned franchise in the AHL. Continuing to silence critics, the Crunch are eager to further cement their place as the most enduring and most successful hockey team in Syracuse history.