Now that I'm back in Columbus, I've had time to reflect on my trip to Syracuse last week to call the Mirabito Outdoor Classic on the NHL Network. The game featured the Blue Jackets' AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, and the Binghamton Senators.
I spent 10 years working for Crunch owner Howard Dolgon and I know that he always thinks big. He was attempting to do what no other team in the AHL has ever done, play a game outside. While it sounds easy, it's anything but. First of all there are a lot of costs that need to be covered. Because Onondaga County wasn't willing to help with any of those, the original idea of playing at the Triple-A baseball stadium died during the summer. When the idea was resurrected, the site became the New York State Fairgrounds. A rink was built on a stretch of dirt racetrack that ran in front of the grandstand. Additional seating was brought in to try and break the AHL single game attendance mark of over 20,000 people.
I'll admit that I was afraid not all of those people would show up, but when I arrived in town on Wednesday, all of the talk was about Saturday's game. What was even more surprising was that Syracuse University was playing Georgetown, in college basketball on Thursday and the talk was still about hockey. That's when I realized this might be really special. When I attended practice Thursday afternoon, I couldn't believe the job the Crunch staff had done. Led by VP Jim Sarosy, a staff of roughly 12 people (with help from others in the community) had created a scene that resembled any of the NHL Winter Classics. Of course, it was on a smaller scale, but no detail was overlooked.
My broadcast partner, Danny Gare, showed up on Friday morning and we attended the Crunch's morning skate prior to their game against Lake Erie. All of the players talked about how much fun they had practicing outdoors the day before and how they couldn't wait for Saturday's game. Unfortunately, they had to play Friday's game first and lost to the Monsters 6-4. You couldn't help but wonder if they were looking past that game.
The early indication that Saturday's game was going to be crowded came when we had to wait in a line of traffic, at 10 in the morning, just to get into the parking lot. People were tailgating all over the place when we got there. The party had already begun. Derek MacKenzie broke a pane of glass, during the warm-up, which delayed the game and gave those in the long line more time to get in.
After an Air Force flyover and the first puck being delivered by a skydiver, the game got underway. It took 1:50 before tough guy Jon Mirasty had a sensational fight with Binghamton's Jeremy Yablonsky. Later in the first period, Alexander Picard scored the game's first goal. I felt great for him, remembering the last time that he was called up to the Jackets, he told me how much he was looking forward to playing in this game. David Liffiton scored with 12 seconds left in the second period and Kevin Lalande stopped 36-of-37 for a 2-1 win. Mike Blunden also finished the game with two assists in front of a record crowd of 21,508.
The day was one of the most special that I've had in my career. I'd like to thank Howard Dolgon of the Crunch and Doug Logan of Time Warner Cable Sports, for the invitation to do the game on the NHL Network, and to the Blue Jackets management for allowing me to go. I'd also like to thank Danny Gare, who was a treat to work with and made my job very easy.
There is a chance the Crunch will do another one of these games. If they do, I recommend you get there. I think you'll find it to be a day you'll remember for the rest of your life!
*Throughout the season, AAA will bring you the Broadcaster's Blogs - "Bobby Mac", "Davidge Dishes" and "Rimer Ramblings." The Columbus Blue Jackets radio and television analysts will try to keep you updated on all the season action through their blogs, especially when the Blue Jackets are on the road.