November 19, 2014

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) When Howard Dolgon bought a minor league professional hockey team in this snowy city more than two decades ago, he was ready for the challenge.

Several teams previously had tried and failed, but the game is popular in upstate New York and Dolgon figured he could make it work with the right marketing.

''The great phrase at the time was this was a hockey graveyard,'' Dolgon recalled. ''Why come here? Teams came here to die.''

That was in 1994, and Dolgon hasn't looked back. His Syracuse Crunch is now the senior independently owned team in the American Hockey League, and for him the sky's always been the limit.

Which brings us to Saturday, when the Crunch will host the first - and most likely the only - professional hockey game inside the Carrier Dome.

Right where Jim Boeheim Court rules at this time of year.

The Frozen Dome Classic will include three games: a benefit featuring fire department teams from Syracuse and nearby Utica; a game between Division III schools Oswego State and Utica College; and the finale - the Crunch against the Utica Comets in the evening.

Fans also will be able to view Hockey Hall of Fame exhibits, there will be several interactive games for kids, and one fan will get a chance to shoot a puck at a target to win a prize of $444,444 (Syracuse Orange fans will understand the meaning of that number). Special guests are also expected.

''We want this to be something people will remember,'' said Dolgon, who proposed the Dome game a couple of years ago to Syracuse University. He said athletic director Daryl Gross and the entire department embraced the idea.

''Daryl likes to do big things,'' Dolgon said.

Crews began transforming the Carrier Dome after the Syracuse men's basketball team finished its game against Hampton on Sunday evening. When the work is complete on Thursday, about 30,000 gallons of water will be frozen and the Crunch will hit the ice for their first practice.

Dolgon's goal is to set an attendance record. The AHL's first outdoor hockey game was a rousing success in 2010, attracting a crowd of 21,508 to the State Fairgrounds in the Syracuse suburbs.

Dolgon says the Crunch already has sold enough tickets to break the record for the largest crowd to ever watch an AHL indoor game (20,672 for the Kentucky-Carolina game on Jan. 18, 1997 in the Greensboro Coliseum). The professional indoor record in the United States is 28,183 for a Stanley Cup playoff game between the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning in the Thunderdome on April 23, 1996.

Last February, the Duke-Syracuse men's college basketball game attracted a Carrier Dome record crowd of 35,446, the largest ever to see a basketball game on a college campus. The Dome can seat more than 36,000 people for hockey.

Dolgon said Syracuse could potentially brag about two attendance records.

''We'd be able to anoint Syracuse as the best pound-for-pound sports city in America,'' he said.

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