by Megan Cahill | AHL On The Beat
The Syracuse Crunch are a community-oriented organization that proudly supports the local fanbase that has cheered on 26 seasons of hockey in downtown Syracuse.
Along with season-long initiatives like Change For Change, a program created by players in 2012-13 that aims to raise money for pediatric cancer research at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital and Upstate Cancer Center, and the Crunch Foundation, the holiday season offers numerous opportunities for the team to get even more involved.
To the team, community service comes as second nature.
“We should always be trying to do more and strive to do as much as we can to help the community out in any way possible,” said defenseman Cameron Gaunce. “When we are in a situation like we are, we have the opportunity to give back and we should do everything we can to do that.”
“Part of my job being in Syracuse is actually being a hockey player, but another is being a role model,” added forward Danick Martel.
From partnering with local businesses to volunteering time, the Crunch are heavily involved in community events, especially through the month of December.
“I’ve always been someone who likes going out and being generous with my time and helping out,” said forward Daniel Walcott, who also serves as a Big in the local Big Brothers Big Sisters program. “I remember growing up we had a local team and the players would come on the ice with us and I always thought that was unreal. It was so great to see those guys, they seemed like superstars. I just hope I can have that same impact on kids.”
Every year around the holidays, the Crunch get the opportunity to visit patients at the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital. Banker’s Healthcare Group hosts a party that brings patients out of their rooms to enjoy being a kid. The annual party features arts and crafts while players hand out holiday gifts.
“They are strong kids, very strong families as well because the families are there going through it with them every day, so you just try as much as you can to be a bright spot in their day,” said Gaunce.
Another annual tradition are player-decorated ornaments donated by Painting With A Twist Dewitt. The team spends time after practice listening to holiday music and getting artistic, all for a cause. The ornaments are signed and sold at a December game to support Change For Change.
Last season, the Crunch partnered with HumaneCNY to feature adoptable pets in a 13-month calendar. The partnership continued this year with the addition of Gerber Collision to offer a 2020 calendar with player pets and current adoptable animals looking for forever homes at HumaneCNY. The calendars arrived in Syracuse this month and a portion of sales benefit the nonprofit shelter.
Along with efforts of the players, the Crunch front office also gets the opportunity to volunteer their time. Once a month the staff helps out at local nonprofit organizations, but during December, they hold a Week of Assists. Now in its second year, the Week of Assists focuses on a number of small events that together make a meaningful impact. From ringing the bell at Salvation Army kettles to passing out coffee on a cold winter day, the front office has the opportunity to make a difference.
“I’m very proud of the commitment this organization has to helping the local community,” said Chief Operating Officer Jim Sarosy. “We’re blessed to be in a position where we can donate our time. We have had such loyal support from Syracuse for 26 seasons and we welcome the opportunity to give back. The staff is constantly bringing up locations to volunteer at and programs that could benefit people around Syracuse.”
The month of December also brings the annual Old Newsboys Hope for the Holidays fundraiser benefiting the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau. The front office hits the streets outside the War Memorial Arena where they sell a special edition of The Post-Standard for any monetary donation. The collections help fund the Christmas Bureau, which provides gifts and food for local families. This year, the Crunch staff broke a personal record collecting over $1,200 on a Friday morning.
Other initiatives in December are the Love Your Melon games and the annual Stanley Steemer Tired Teddy Toss. Love Your Melon is an apparel brand dedicated to giving a hat to every child battling cancer and supporting the fight against pediatric cancer. The team created a co-branded Crunch and Love Your Melon hat with an option for fans to pass it forward and donate a ticket to a local nonprofit that supports pediatric cancer patients. The ninth annual Stanley Steemer Tired Teddy Toss game set a new team record thanks to local businesses, season ticket holders and fans with 4,895 stuffed animals. All were cleaned by Stanley Steemer and donated to the local Salvation Army.
“You never know what effect it can have on a kid,” Walcott said of the team’s community efforts. “Whether it be them choosing to become a hockey player from then on and be successful in that or just falling in love with the game and having something else to add to their passions. To be a part of that is a blessing for me and I’m sure a lot of the guys on this team feel the same way about it.”
From season-long initiatives to programs created and strengthened by the players, the Crunch are proud to have the opportunity to support the local Syracuse community. Throughout the year and even more so around the holidays, hockey shows what a tight-knit and community-oriented family it is.
“Little details are really important,” according to Martel. “If you want to be a hockey player, you’ve got to be giving back to the community and giving back to the people that come and see you every night and support you.”