It takes a special kind of person to want to spend a winter afternoon in central New York watching a minor-league hockey game at a state fairgrounds. Lucky for you, the Reverend Zamboni and Mr. Bad Example are special kinds of people. And, so, here are some of the sights and, as a special bonus to you, Faithful Reader (and we use that not as an all-encompassing term, but as an actual description of the one person still likely reading this blog), some words to describe the sights of the Mirabito AHL Outdoor Classic between the Syracuse Crunch and the Binghamton Senators.
After an attempt to sidestep the lines for parking, a subsequent detour through scenic Solvay, NY, and our eventual decamping in a less busy though significantly less close parking lot on the New York State Fairgrounds, we headed into the game around noon, picking up our complimentary Outdoor Classic towels as we entered. We soon checked out our seats for the day.
Not too shabby for $30. For $30, I imagine I could have sat on the sidewalk at the House of Blues and listened to the NHL Winter Classic at Fenway, so this wasn't bad at all. We hung around the seats long enough to throw a blanket down and then went to soak in some atmosphere on the ground level. Soon after we got down there, the glass behind the goal shattered during warmups.
It didn't look like anyone got a glass shower, but there was no time to confirm, because I needed my picture on the Ice Throne. So I, a 33-year-old man, queued up behind a group of children to ascend the Ice Throne. They could've sped things up, but I think it was worth the wait.
After our Star Time with Bobby Nystrom, we were turned away from cutting through the VIP area to get to the other end of the ice (where the hot tub was...no kidding), so we headed back to our seats. The start of the game was delayed a bit as they replaced the glass, but soon the pomp and circumstance began. Special guests (including Nystrom and former Sabres Danny Gare and Rob Ray) were introduced and then the mike was handed to Governor David Paterson who, judging by the crowd reaction, might want to rethink his upcoming gubernatorial campaign. I have heard politicians booed before, but, good lord, never with such passion. He aint my governor (we've got our own problems in Jersey), but based on the interview I saw on the game telecast later that night, in which he said he grew up watching the Islanders win the cups and, then, "nothing much has happened there since" (or something like that), I'll boo him the next time I see him, too.
Once the puck was dropped, we realized that it was a bit of a struggle to see the ice, particularly on the near-side boards. So we looked around for better vantage points. Then we were interrupted by this:
Even the linesman loved it.
At the first TV timeout (and after Alexandre Picard's goal for the Crunch), we moved to the general admission bleachers, which were a potential-lawsuit-safe distance away from the ice, which meant they were practically in Auburn (shoutout to Prison City). But at least we could see more of the ice now. Of course, it's hard to focus on the game when the guy in front of you is wearing a hat and jacket covered with Cheez Doodles. You will only find that sort of lunatic at an outdoor game in central New York, where the people are a special kind of crazy that is rarely seen in the rest of the human race.
Since we were pretty far away from the ice, I went on a reconnaissance mission to see what the situation by the boards was. As near as we could figure, no one anticipated that, if you left the area around the boards unimpeded by any sort of barricade, people would just park themselves right on the glass to watch the game. But they did. And so we did for the entire second and third period.
Despite the brisk winds, most of the crowd stayed until the bitter end, watching the hometown Crunch take a 2-1 victory. They were rewarded by being given the opportunity (or perhaps just taking the opportunity) to walk out with boxes of the giveaway Dunkin' Donuts plastic cups as they headed back to their cars. The final entertainment of the day was the Great Slip and Fall that took place in the tunnel that was on the way to the parking lot. We saw about five people go down hard (and a bunch more come close) amid a constant chorus of "Whoa!"s from the drunken hockey lovers of central New York. I probably would've paid $30 just to watch that. (So you don't think I'm completely heartless, everyone that hit the ground--including the guy behind us who turfed out with a sickening thud--bounced right back up. Here's to the resilience of the hockey fan! And the numbing effects of alcohol!)
So, for $30 plus fees, we got to hang with Bobby Nystrom for a few minutes, see a skydiver brave the Syracuse winds to drop onto the rink, watch two-thirds of a pretty competitive AHL game about ten feet from the ice, see an awesome hockey fight, and watch drunk people fall down. Plus my body didn't start shaking involuntarily from the cold at any point (that Inauguration 2008 training came in handy).
A pretty damn good day. And another reason why hockey (and the AHL) kicks ass.