Crunch serve Central New York

Photo: Scott Thomas

by Megan Cahill | AHL On The Beat

For 30 seasons, the Syracuse Crunch have been a staple in Central New York. That kind of longevity is no accident. Part of the organization’s mission statement is to establish a reputation of integrity and professionalism through initiatives sensitive and responsive to the community the team represents.

The team does this through the Crunch Foundation. Established in the early years of the franchise, the Crunch Foundation works to positively impact the Central New York community by providing support and funds to nonprofit groups, educational programs and community initiatives.

The team’s premier charity event for the Crunch Foundation is Crunch At Your Service. This season, the Crunch grew the event by partnering with Kinney Drugs to raise funds for both the Crunch Foundation and the Kinney Drugs Foundation.

Crunch At Your Service is an annual fan-favorite event that allows Crunch players to trade their skates for an evening of entertainment and fundraising. This year’s event featured a silent auction along with a comedy set by Syracuse native Moody McCarthy and performance by mentalist David Jaison.

For the main event, players served tables and collected tips for the two foundations. Fans were also welcome to tip players to dance, sing karaoke, make phone calls to friends or family, draw pictures and anything else they could come up with all in the name of charity.

Telling a room full of hockey players that they will have to get creative to compete for tips as servers can lead to some puzzled looks from guys whose strengths include systems and game plans.

“Crunch At Your Service is a lot different than everything else we do,” Crunch forward Daniel Walcott explained. “Guys are walking around, performing, doing push-ups or whatever it is, so it kind of breaks the ice a little bit especially this year when we had a comedian and mentalist that also helped with that.”

“When the front office first pitched the idea to us, we wondered if it was going to be weird, what is this event really going to be like,” said forward Gabriel Fortier. “As the night went on, everyone loosened up and we all enjoyed our time.”

As the athletes spent more time with their tables, they began to chat and joke around with the group they would spend the evening serving.

“You get to know everyone on a little more intimate level and have some good laughs and share some good stories,” defenseman Max Crozier said. “This fan base has supported us through and through and we know they have for the past 30 years. We like doing whatever we can to give back. It’s the little things that matter. It’s a small token of appreciation to them.”

“It’s really important,” Fortier said of spending time with the fans. “These fans come to the game and they cheer for us every week. It’s fun for us to get to know these people a little bit. It’s fun for the guys.”

“I love the event, obviously, because it allows the guys to show a little more personality off the ice,” said Walcott. “It’s a good way to interact with fans and allow them to see players in a different light.”

“The crowd really brought the energy and that allowed us to kind of get out of our shells a little,” said Crozier. “We’ve got some shy guys on the team, but everyone was able to walk away with a positive review of it. It was a lot of fun.”

For Crunch fans, events like Crunch At Your Service shed a new light on the athletes. Fans get to know the team in a way they never have before.

“People might have a preconceived idea of who the Crunch players are by the way that they play,” Walcott said. “It could be completely different. You look at a guy like Shawn Element who’s very hard-nosed – he fights, he looks mean – and then you get to meet him off the ice and you realize he’s just a big teddy bear. I think it’s important for fans to see that and they’re always really surprised. He’s someone they love a lot because of that contrast of personality between what you see on and off the ice.”

“We’re not just a number,” Fortier said. “We’re people, we have families, we have values, we have stuff that we like. This event allows fans to get to know us and we get to know them too.”

It’s events like Crunch At Your Service that help players evolve from visitors in the city to members of the community.

Now in his ninth season with the Crunch, Walcott has developed deep personal ties to Syracuse and sees himself as a part of Central New York.

“I’ve been here for so long and I feel like any community event is now giving to my future. I’m expecting a child in this city, my wife is from here, I’ve really embraced Syracuse. It’s my home and I love interacting with everyone.”