Syracuse Crunch put finishing touches on outdoor AHL game

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Jim Sarosy's dream is at hand - the first outdoor game in American Hockey League history.

"It was something that I really thought our organization could put together," said Sarosy, senior vice-president of the Syracuse Crunch. "We try to look at things a little differently, try to be unique and fun, reinvent ourselves sometimes. Even when we were in the planning stages, I thought it would be exciting for our staff and the region."

The NHL's outdoor game has become wildly popular, and Sarosy figured the idea would work at the AHL level, too. He broached the subject to Crunch owner Howard Dolgon two years ago, but the team was in the midst of the playoffs and it was put on the back burner.

It was only a matter of time and circumstance before Saturday's game at the New York State Fairgrounds against the Binghamton Senators became a reality because Dolgon won't ever turn his back on a good idea, no matter how crazy it might be.

Dolgon brought minor-league hockey back to Syracuse 15 years ago, ignoring the fact that several teams previously had tried and failed despite the strong popularity of the game in the region.

"In the past, people just put on games," Dolgon said. "They relied on winning and losing and maybe some pricing. It was a very simple formula that never works. We're marketing people. Our feeling was this was our product to market, and there were no limits. We could be as wild and crazy as we wanted."

Three years ago, the Crunch offered singer Britney Spears a free trip to snowbound Syracuse to provide her "with a stress-free environment and the chance to experience a high level of hockey."

Spears, who had just had her head shaved bald, didn't accept. If she had, the team was prepared to offer any woman who shaved her head a free ticket to a game. Each member of the club's front office staff also would have shaved his or her head.

It's not crazy to imagine the AHL attendance record for a single game might fall on Saturday. It stands at 20,672 and was set at the Greensboro Coliseum on January 18, 1997, when the Carolina Monarchs hosted the Kentucky Thoroughblades. At midweek, ticket sales for Saturday's Mirabito Outdoor Classic were closing in on 17,000 and the Crunch were adding more bleacher seats in hopes of exceeding 20,000.

Dolgon is hopeful that the promising weekend forecast - temperatures right around freezing with an occasional snow shower - will help the team break the attendance record. Around 120 volunteers have been lined up, including the Syracuse University women's hockey team, who will serve as ushers.

"If we had never added a bleacher and went with 15,000, we'd be sold out already," Dolgon said. "The weather forecast looks good. Knock on wood."

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