What can you expect at Crunch home opener? Here’s a Q&A with COO Jim Sarosy

Syracuse Crunch

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — After almost two years, fans of the Syracuse Crunch will be able to attend home games in the Salt City – if they are vaccinated. 

The Crunch announced on August 31st they will require a proof of vaccination to enter the venue. Since then, numerous other teams in the American Hockey League have put in similar mandates. So, as the Crunch prepare to host the Utica Comets Saturday at 7 p.m., team COO and Alternate Governor Jim Sarosy talked about the process in executing this vision. Plus, the many fun festivities the team has planned to celebrate its 28th season in Syracuse, which includes a visit from the most recognizable trophy in sports. 

Big weekend for the Syracuse Crunch, not only are you celebrating the origins of the organization but the success of the parent club. Give us a breakdown of what fans can expect this Saturday at Upstate Medical University Arena. 

It’s season 28 which is something we would celebrate in amongst itself. So, we’re going to kick it back to 1994 and we are going to represent with the old – well, I shouldn’t say old, I should say original jerseys that we wore September 30, 1994. 

The concept there was really simple. It has been 603 days since we have been fortunate enough to play in front of (our home) fans. The last time we went through a (drought) that long was (when the city went without AHL hockey.) 

Usually, we bring in a special guest on opening night in human form, but this year we are going with – in the hockey world – as special of a guest you’ll ever find but a non-human with the Stanley Cup coming here to pay homage to the back-to-back championships in Tampa Bay.  

How close will fans be able to get to Lord Stanley this Saturday? 

As long as they don’t mind a little bit of a line, the plan is to get everyone who is interested a picture. So, very much like we have done in the past, after the pregame ceremony, the plan is to put the cup in Memorial Hall. We’ll have the official cup keeper here, though it is not Phil Pritchard, who I think most people associate with it. It’s Howie Borrow, who you will recognize right away from all the pictures with the cup and the presentations.  

It’ll be there through the end of the second period, and we will have tons of staff there to help out, and we can’t wait. We were trying to think of the last time we had it in Central New York at a function like this, and we had it at the 1998 all-star game. It shows just how infrequent this beauty trophy makes an appearance.  

I imagine you have had some close encounters with the Stanley Cup. Have you been able to touch it since the Lightning have gone back-to-back? 

I had what every sports kid dreams of, I was at game five of the Stanley Cup Final this year. I was invited into the room right after they won. Those next three-four hours went by in like 15 seconds. Those photos and those memories will be something I’ll have forever.  

That is what makes this so special for us. It’s not a corporate appearance. We didn’t have to call the NHL Hall of Fame and say ‘Hey, want it this year.’ This is our day with the cup. As the affiliate for Tampa Bay, Syracuse gets a day and we thought it was appropriate to have it on opening night where we could share it with everyone. It’s not going to just be with corporate partners or VIPs, it’s coming here as a celebration for everything that our fanbase and our staff and our partners did to help Tampa Bay achieve those victories. It’s something I don’t want lost on people. They always say, ‘It takes a village.’ And we’ve talked numerous times about how much goes into the development of these athletes. 

The Crunch have made a stand this year and were one of the first teams to mandate that fans be vaccinated to watch games at home this year. In other events with similar standards, there have been issues with getting fans inside the venue in a timely manner. What are the plans for the Crunch to help get fans into the building quickly? 

It’s definitely a concern. I think we have a good plan, and even in that plan, I have left a lot of room for the unknown. A program that we put in place is a Crunch ID card. It is everything plus what I hoped it would be. Really for the past month, our ticket holders, vendors and partners have been able to come in and we check them for proof of vaccination. We take their picture – it looks like a little credit card – and that means you get to skip the vaccination proof line when you come to the game. It’s like a Disney fast pass. It is going to save countless minutes getting in here.  

This is what the new Crunch ID card looks like. Fans who go through the process of getting one will be able to bypass the proof of vaccination line for games they go to.

We have been very aggressive with our prescreen plan, which starts Thursday. Fans can come in and get a wrist band, which is very similar to what they are doing at ‘The Amp.’ So, when a fan comes to the building, what they can expect is two lines. One will be a pre-screened line and that means an ID or the wristband. They are both one-in-the-same. It means you have been screened by a Crunch official and you can go in. Then the other line, which is the proof of vaccination line, I expect to be quite a bit slower. Will be what the fan will see. 

What I’m doing to help combat that, we have 18 volunteers coming in. Our full staff will be out on the streets going up-and-down that line (who can look at your proof of vaccination) and they will wrist band you right there. I know it is going to be a challenge. I know stuff is going to come up that we are not planning for, but I think if I throw enough folks at it, it can only help the process. 

It’s important for us that people have a good experience when they come here. We don’t want people waiting outside. That is not what we are about. I was telling someone the other day; I have spent my whole professional career trying to remove obstacles for people to come to a Crunch game. We want to make it as easy as possible for people.   

It’s hard not to get down because some people have been pretty aggressive when they don’t agree sometimes with what we are doing. The message is simple, if we do A, B and C, whether I agree with A, B and C is not the question. Whether it is league, the state, staffing, but if we do A, B and C, we’ll play hockey and I want to play hockey. That’s what I want to do and that is what we are doing.  

Have fans come to the realization that if they are not vaccinated, they will not be able to attend games this season? 

Without question it has. That first week (is one) that I am not going to remember fondly for sure. People have strong opinions. What I kept trying to get across, even with our people here, we are not making a statement, this is a safety policy. Countless hours of consulting with, not only the county, the doctors in Tampa Bay, our team doctors, our staff, it was what puts us in the best position to succeed and this is where we landed with everything. But what has happened, and I’ve been doing this a long time, I have never seen something like this. Things have changed where maybe it was two negatives for every positive, and now, it’s almost ten positive (comments) to every one negative (comment) with people thanking us letting them feel safe in the arena.  

Now, as things change in the world, this is not a forever thing. We want everybody to know that they are welcome back here. We’re Crunch fans. We are not trying to do anything but get us through the season safely and be able to complete our mission. Which is to play all the games and ultimately win the Calder Cup. 

Tickets are still available for Saturday’s game vs. Utica. The Crunch recommend if you do not plan to take advantage of their ID or prescreening program that you get to the arena earlier than usual. 

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