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Syracuse Crunch a Perfect Fit for Bolts Prospects

by Missy Zielinski / Tampa Bay Lightning

It’s no secret that the Tampa Bay Lightning’s depth chart continues to grow.

Just look at their AHL affiliate the Syracuse Crunch for proof.

The hockey club is coming off of their second consecutive postseason run and their first-ever trip to the Calder Cup finals. Now they are also part of the reason why Syracuse ranks among the Top 10 minor league markets in the country.

Recently, SportsBusiness Journal released a list of Top Minor League Markets in 2013 with Syracuse landing at No. 6.

“They just are a really hardcore group of hockey fans,” said Syracuse Crunch general manager Julien BriseBois. “They’ve been with the Crunch for 20 years now and we feel privileged that our players get to play in front of them going forward.”

The Crunch saw their attendance rise for the third straight time last season and their 2012-13 average of 5,399 fans per game was a team-best since the 2007-08 campaign.

The feat for the snowy city nestled near two other previous Top Minor League Market winners (Hershey-Harrisburg, PA, 2001 & 2009 and Rochester, N.Y., 2005) isn’t just relevant in Upstate New York however, it’s recognized nearly 1,300 miles away.

BriseBois, who’s in his fourth season with the Lightning, believes that because they actually matter in the community of Syracuse, prospects will be prepared for what’s to come once they put on a Bolts sweater.

“I don’t think they can really escape being professional hockey players in Syracuse,” said BriseBois. “Once they get to the NHL it’s going to be the same thing. People will recognize you on the streets; People read about you in the paper, people watch you on the news, so it does prepare them for that reality.”

With Crunch teammates ready to face the hype of transforming from a player to “the player” while living in Syracuse, they have all-the-more time to focus on evolving into NHL-caliber athletes. The Lightning are confident they’ll see the benefits from prospects who make the Bolts roster as early as this year.

“That young nucleus of players has grown up together, won together, have created really strong bonds amongst themselves,” said BriseBois. “I think they’ll help us achieve our goal of winning the Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay.”

And while great fan support is a definite sign of success for the city and franchise, BriseBois likes to think of it as a reward for a job well done.

“I think the main benefit is when they work hard and put on a good show they get rewarded with good fan support,” he said. “I always find it important that our players who work hard and do everything asked of them get rewarded.”

It’s also means a job well done for owner Howard Dolgon and chief operating officer Jim Sarosy, who BriseBois says “do an outstanding job with their whole group there.

“To the extent that anyone deserves credit for attendance going up is the local management group,” he said.

As the farm and the Lightning maintain a mutually beneficial relationship in the season ahead, Crunch and Lightning fans alike should expect a continued excellence in 2013-14.

Other Notable Teams/Venues:

International League Syracuse Chiefs (1961), MISL Syracuse Silver Knights (2011)/NBT Bank Stadium (1997), War Memorial at Oncenter (1952; renovated 1994)

A Look In To The Ranking:

In their fifth year of the study, SportsBusiness Journal conducted research in 235 markets, 47 leagues and 408 teams with each market’s total score being determined based on three categories: tenure rank, attendance rank and economic rank. The Top 10 Minor League Markets were: 1) Toledo, Ohio, 2) Rochester, New York, 3) Hershey-Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 4) San Bernardino County, California, 5) Springfield, Massachusetts, 6) Syracuse, New York, 7) Fort Wayne, Indiana, 8) Des Moines, Iowa, 9) Spokane, Washington and 10) Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Journal’s full list can be found here.

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