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Syracuse Crunch: Inked

by Marisa Brunetti

They differ in size, color, shape and placement. Some players have one; some have an entire arm’s worth. Some flaunt theirs proudly; others are more discreet. Some players have had theirs for years, while others have some that are barely dry.

Brandon Sugden and Alexandre Picard have theirs across their upper backs. Andy Delmore has one, but he will not reveal its identity. Darcy Verot has two.

Even the Crunch’s athletic trainer, Mike Derecola, has his share.

Few people realize that many Crunch players have tattoos hidden underneath their uniforms.

Probably most famous for the multitude of colorful ink on his body is goaltender Andrew Penner. His eyes may be the only part of his body fans see during practice and games, but when he’s not blocking flying pucks, a more colorful side of Penner can be seen in his many tattoos. Besides his last name inked across his lower back in graffiti letters and a barely-dry tattoo dedicated to his brothers on his thigh, Penner is most famous for the sleeve of tattoos he wears proudly on his right arm. The sleeve is a colorful tribute to Japanese culture, including cherry blossoms, coy fish, a snake and a traditional Hanya mask used in Japanese theater.

“Coy fish are supposed to bring prosperity and good luck,” said Penner. “They also say that if you have a snake tattooed on your body, it is supposed to protect you.”

Penner also has a recent tattoo dedicated to his two brothers, ages 21 and 19, on his thigh. The tattoo is of three King playing cards with the word “Brothers” written below in script.

“I wanted to get something about the three of us,” said Penner. “It was just something cool to do for them.”

Penner knows that tattoos are more acceptable in others sports like basketball and that for many professional reasons, they shouldn’t always be shown.

“I still get a hard time from my coaches because tattoos are still associated with heavy metal and bikers,” Penner said. But heavy metal is what Penner grew up with, clearly shown by his tattoo of Darrell Abbott, the late lead guitarist of Pantera, on his inner ankle.

“Tattoos are an attitude and cultural thing,” said Penner. “But I also identify with them because I am a competitive and intense person.”

What does Penner’s family think of his armful of tattoos?

“They’re cool with it,” said Penner. “My dad’s into Kiss, so he understands the culture, but they are also okay with it because they know I can cover them up if I need to. My grandparents, though, they don’t like them because they’re old school.”

Many of the other players on the Crunch choose to express their love of ice hockey through one or more tattoos.

“Mine’s a (Tasmanian Devil), a hockey-playing Taz,” said Verot. “I got it right after I got my driver’s license and it was the first tattoo I saw when I got there. Plus, I used to play a little crazy like that.”

Verot also sports a flaming hockey puck tattoo on his back with the Canadian flag, a tribute to his birthplace.

Other Crunch players share Verot’s sentiment of honoring their history. “I wanted to get a tattoo that meant something to me and my Norwegian roots,” said Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, speaking of his tattoo of a Viking playing ice hockey.

Former Crunch forward Greg Mauldin, like Verot and Tollefsen, shows his love of ice hockey with a recent tattoo of an ice hockey player wearing his original number 14 on his upper back. But Mauldin is most proud of the two tattoos on his arms in honor of his father who passed away in 2000 when Mauldin was a senior in high school. On his left upper arm, there is a Chinese symbol for “Papa” and on his right upper arm, he has a tattoo of the Grim Reaper standing over a gravestone with the dates of his father’s birth and death.

Mauldin explains that most people thought it was inappropriate to associate his father with the Grim Reaper, but in actuality, it was death that relieved his father from suffering.

“The Grim Reaper is a misunderstood character because ultimately he is the middleman,” said Mauldin. “He has a bad rep because he’s associated with death and so many people are afraid of death, but death is a natural thing, especially when it takes someone from suffering.”

Mauldin is also planning a fourth tattoo: an inspirational quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he discovered on his daily calendar: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”

Many Crunch players also use words and numbers as representations of themselves.

“I have a number 9 with a red and black design on my upper back,” said Alexandre Picard. “Nine was my ice hockey number when I was a child.”

Brandon Sugden has the word “SUGAR” tattooed largely across his back in Olde English lettering. Sugar was a nickname given to him by a previous ice hockey coach.

“My first year pro, I was fighting on the ice,” said Sugden. “My coach saw me and told me I looked like Sugar Ray Leonard.”

Sugden also has a tribal arm band tattoo on his upper left arm.

“The tribal band really has no significance,” said Sugden. “It is there to cover up a word that was tattooed there, but we won’t go there.”

Even the Crunch’s athletic trainer of four years, Mike Derecola, supports the trend. He has more than one tattoo and would like to get another. Eighteen years ago, he got his first tattoo of the Grateful Dead skull and lightning bolt, on his ankle.

“The skull has no significance,” said Derecola. “I never even listened to the Grateful Dead.”

Derecola also has a fairly recent patriotic tattoo on his upper arm of an eagle and the American flag. True to his love for all things country, he would like to get another tattoo, possibly of a horseshoe.

“If my wife lets me,” he said.

Although extremely tough on the ice, some players weren’t afraid to admit how much getting their tattoos hurt.

“On a scale from one to 10,” said Penner, “I’d probably say an 11 or 12.”

Others were quick to deny any pain.

“It didn’t really hurt,” said Delmore. “But some spots on the body are more sensitive than others.”

For the most part, the Crunch players with tattoos believe that the pain was well worth it. They feel that the tattoos represent what they are most proud of and willing to permanently display.

“If all I’m worried about when I’m 65 is how my tattoo looks,” said Penner, “I’m doing pretty good.”