In their own words: An oral history of the Syracuse Crunch Early Days

Sports

It is hard to imagine now but there was a time when the Syracuse-market was considered a hockey wasteland.

Before Syracuse hosted the first outdoor game in league history, before the Carrier Dome became the home to the game’s indoor attendance record, and before the Crunch set the city on fire with two runs to the Calder Cup Finals, the hockey experience in the Salt City was virtually nonexistent.

Syracuse had hockey before. Seven times the city had representation on the ice. Some were successful too. The Stars were the first franchise to take home the Calder Cup. The Blazers played for 15 years and are still highly thought of in Central New York.

But it’s the 14 years between franchises, the years from 1981 to 1994 where crowd noise went silent and the lights at the War Memorial went dark. Hockey fans in CNY had no professional home.

That all changed leading up to the 1994 American Hockey League season. Along with the Springfield Indians moving to Worchester to become the Sharks, Springfield was awarded an expansion franchise, the Falcons. But most importantly for fans in Syracuse, the Hamilton Canucks were sold to a group from New York City, led by Howard Dolgon and Alan Taylor.

They became the Syracuse Crunch.

This is their story, in their own words.

HOWARD DOLGON, CRUNCH PRESIDENT/CEO/GOVERNOR: In 1993, we were representing a brand called Black Velvet Whisky. It was owned by a company formerly known as Heublein (which is now Diageo) and we were representing a bunch of their brands in sports. They called me up and said; “Listen, we’ve been approached by the American Hockey League to do a sponsorship. We would like you to negotiate that deal. So, this guy comes to my office. His name is Bob Ohrablo, the director of marketing for the AHL. Ironically, Bob had interned with a world tennis organization like ten years earlier, and my partner Alan did the PR for that. So, he kind of knew Bobby. Bobby comes up and we negotiate a sponsorship. We talked and hit it off. We get to talking, he knows I’m a big Rangers fan, and months later, “You ever think about owning a hockey team?” He said, “There is a great opportunity in Syracuse.”

VANCE LEDERMAN, CRUNCH SENIOR VP OF BUSINESS OPERATIONS/CFO/ALT. GOVERNOR: We lived about ten minutes away from each other on Long Island. Our wives were very good friends. And we used to run every night. We’d put the kids to bed and run. So, we’re running one night, and he says, “If I ever owned a minor league hockey team would you want to get involved?”

I said, “What the hell are you talking about? A minor league hockey team?”

He was talking to the American Hockey League, and the connection there is that the marketing director of the league interned with Howard’s PR firm. So, Howard became very good friends with the chief marketing officer of the AHL at the time.

DAVE ANDREWS, AHL PRESIDENT FROM 1994-2020: The league in those days, when I started, was at 15 or 16 teams. We were really challenged because we were in competition with the International Hockey League. We had plenty of markets that had a limited shelf life in how they were doing financially. There were a lot of problems for franchises in Canada because of currency issues. So, when I took over as president of the league, we needed to move quickly. That’s when we brought our development rule into place and redefined the league as a devoted place for player development.

DOLGON: I fly up to Syracuse. We meet Bob Ohrablo up there. He had driven up from Springfield. His leg was in a cast. He picks us up from the airport and we meet with Brian Elwell, who played with Blazers years back and now owned a couple of nightclubs and restaurants. At that time, he was the face of hockey in this community. He had done a lot to generate excitement. We also met with Ed Kochian, the former Onondaga County Deputy County Executive, and when Vance and I leave, I say, “Let’s look into doing this.”

LEDERMAN: Also, at the same time, Brian Elwell was calling the league and telling them that Syracuse was putting money into their arena to try and get a team back.

DOLGON: Really, they put in a new ice system, and they took out the asbestos, but they really didn’t do much more.

TOM MITCHELL, FORMER EVP OF HOCKEY OPERATIONS FOR BINGHAMTON RANGERS (CURRENTLY THE BINGHAMTON DEVILS): I remember the year before they went there. We actually moved one of our regular-season games to Syracuse. We played the Hershey Bears there. I remember they beat us. And it was a Blizzard. It snowed all day and we thought the attendance was going to be down, but I remember we wound up turning about 1500 people away for that game. It was snowing like crazy outside, and I think that just added impetus to Howard and Vance, to continue on with their efforts to.

LEDERMAN: The last time Syracuse had a team was the late-70s, early-80s. So, the marketing guy (Bob) calls Howard and asks him what he thinks about putting a team in Syracuse?

Honestly, we grew up in Brooklyn, so we’ve heard of Syracuse, but I don’t really know where it is. We did a lot of market research and we felt that the time was right. Between the local hockey groups and the fans that still loved the older teams, we said, “Maybe we hit on something here.” 

DOLGON: So, we ironed out a lease with the building and they gave us a deadline of like February of 1994 to get this done. We started in May of ’93. We started talking to people.

LEDERMAN: Everything is timing, right. We felt the time was right. We met with the league, the county, and local businesspeople. The excitement level with local businesses was incredible. We would leave the meetings and we were like, “I think this can really work.”

DOLGON: Back then there were two leagues, the AHL and IHL. The IHL was paying more money to NHL clubs for affiliation agreements. We started getting traction with Vancouver who had their AHL team in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The Hamilton team was owned locally but went belly up midseason.

BRIAN LONEY, PLAYED FOR HAMILTON DURING THEIR FINAL SEASON: Man, we had no fans. You know we’re in a steel town that was not doing well. It was kind of like the epitome of Slap Shot (the movie).

It was not fun, and all our trips were so far away. I think our closest one was Rochester. Which was probably four hours away. We were all excited to get to the states, that’s for sure.

There were talks during that year we were going to move to Syracuse at Christmas.

DOLGON: Vancouver had to pick up the franchise and finish the rest of the season. George McPhee, the Canucks VP of Hockey Operations, called me up and asked if we could finish the year. Things though didn’t work out for them to finish the season in Syracuse.

ANDREWS: We were not in a strong position at that time. In 1994-95, IHL franchises were selling for five times what ours were selling for. They had a much deeper group of owners, financially, and they were already in a bunch of strong markets. The one thing we had was history as a league and a good relationship with the NHL. 

DOLGON: I’m still talking with George and few other teams when the deadline comes, and I tell the county I need more time. I felt something happening with the Canucks and I tell the county, “If you pull this from out under me – you’re not going to get a team.”

So, they kept extending the deal. And then finally, I get the call from the CFO of the Vancouver Canucks, we’re good to go.

The journey Dolgon took to becoming the face of Syracuse hockey seems like it comes out of left field. How does a PR-guy from NYC bring a team to Syracuse? A city, before 1994, Dolgon had no ties to. When you take a look at Howard’s background, the story becomes clear. You get a sense that everything he’s been through, and everything he has accomplished, Howard seemed destined to own a sports franchise.

DOLGON: Growing up we were lower-middle class, (living in an) apartment building. My brother and I shared a room. I think until I was 14. When I was younger, we actually lived in a one-bedroom apartment and my parents slept on a pullout couch in the living room. We were pretty much no thrills. I probably got a better street education than I did a scholastic one. That is something that I’m real proud of because it made me who I am.

LEDERMAN: We grew up in Brooklyn together. We’ve probably known each other 55 years. We had a group of like 12 guys. Some you gravitated to more than others. In the third grade, we were in the same class, we put together a newspaper. It was called the Dolman. We went door-to-door in the apartment building to try and sell this. We got our start back then. The roots really took hold in the third grade. 

DOLGON: Sports were heavy-duty in my life. I was passionate. It wasn’t peripheral. Like, let’s go to a game every now and then. It was, I can’t miss a game. We used to go to 20-25 baseball games a year. We used to cut out the Borden’s milk carton. You would get a coupon on the back. If you collected ten of them, you’d get a free ticket.

LEDERMAN: I used to go to his house on Friday nights. His dad and I used to watch Knicks games. It was pretty much every Friday night. I was close to his dad because I didn’t have a dad growing up. We were all into sports. We were just sports guys. We played ball everyday – all day every day. The old saying in Brooklyn, when your mom called out: “It’s time for dinner,” it was time to go home. 

DOLGON: I was the editor of the high school paper. I had my own column in college. That was my goal. After college, I went out to California. I drove out there with a buddy of mine to get a job at a newspaper. In the meantime, I applied for a job at the Associated Press. So, I did a lot of odds-and-ends jobs in California before landing a job in the sports department of the AP. Two-and-a-half years later I got a job in PR. I like creating the news rather than reporting it.

JIM SAROSY, CRUNCH CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER/ALT. GOVERNOR (JOINED THE FRANCHISE AS AN INTERN IN 1995): I was so lucky that I was in PR and his background was PR. My skillset really grew. What I always say about him, Howard is demanding, he holds people accountable, but my goodness, does he give you the freedom to try new ideas. 

Go to the NY Daily News and he is one of the most influential people in sports. There’s two people, him and David Andrews, the former president of our league, that if I have to give a speech, I’m not worried about the people in front of me but in the back. Because this is what he’s done for a living. So, I’d have butterflies with him being around but if you can channel it in the right way, then I always thought it was so beneficial.

ANDREWS: Back in the day, when I took over, there was not much of a marketing presence with the AHL. We had very little corporate support. We had very little, in terms of a PR program. The league’s work was just putting on the games. Hiring the officials and organizing meetings for the board.

MITCHELL: I remember going to Board of Governors meetings and it was pretty much all hockey people, great people. Jack Butterfield was president of the league until ‘94, and I remember at those meetings, if somebody brought up the word marketing, it was an indication the meeting was over. Then all of a sudden, we had to find new revenue streams and marketing became a factor. 

ANDREWS: When I came in, we had the vision to do more than just grow the league from a broadcast perspective. So, having Howard come in at the same time as myself was really valuable to the league. We also had other owners come in who had a similar vision and expertise. We all pulled together and made things happen.  

DOLGON: I understood how the media worked. Most people who go into PR are ignorant as to what a media person needs to be effective. Media people get turned off by people who don’t understand what they do. Like, they’ll call media people on deadline. If you call a sports anchor who’s producing the 6 o’clock sports at 5:45 p.m., he’s putting together his show. So, you could have the best pitch or the best story ever, and he’s not listening to you.

This is a non-scientific business that we do. We have to convince people that what we have is of value to them. Emotion is a big part of what we do. We give people release. We get people for two-and-a-half, three hours. That is a captive audience. It’s like, you could talk to somebody on the phone and then ask the person out on a date. But when you’re out with them, that’s when you either impress them or you don’t.

With the deal set and Syracuse gaining an AHL franchise for the first time since 1980, one might think the work for Howard and Vance were done. When, in actuality, it was only beginning. Syracuse had a team and an NHL affiliate but there was still plenty of wrinkles left to iron out.

DOLGON: We were so pumped. What also helped is we came to town with our fanfare. People were writing about us. They were like, these New York marketing guys are working with Pele and Michael Jordan. And they’re coming to Syracuse. That helped us. Someone wrote, “You’re getting Letterman when you’re used to Carson.” And he was right. So, we had expectations.

LEDERMAN: It was almost like chaos. We announced we had everything done in May of 1994 and we were starting in September of 1994. So, we had four months to get everything together. It was quite nuts. Certainly, from my point of view, the hockey world is way different than the corporate world. 

I had to build a financial system, basically from scratch. Making sure people get billed and making sure we pay people. The balance sheet for a steel company and the balance sheet for a hockey team are way different. It was a learning curve for me as well.  

DOLGON: It was a contest to get names, but we were always going to pick the name. It was too important. Early on we had picked Crunch. What’s ironic, is at the time, 80% of Nestle Crunch bars were made in the Nestle plant in Fulton, N.Y.

So, one of the first trips we made down here, Vance and I toured the plant. At the time, we were flying in small planes from NYC, and Nestle gave me (a huge) Crunch bar. We had to bring them back on the plane.

LEDERMAN: They gave me like a five-pound Raisinet. It was goofy, but it showed us that the market and the surrounding market were very into it. And trust me, the Raisinet was gone in three days.

DOLGON: We liked that the name was an action, it was a one-syllable name, and it epitomized what we thought hockey was. Syracuse is a blue-collar market and we always wanted to have our own name. Like, Binghamton always went with their affiliate’s name. I always felt you have to have your own brand, but a lot of teams didn’t.

MITCHELL: Well, we kind of thought that we would like to have our own name here when the Devils came up, but your parent club has some input on the logo, the name of the team, and in a lot of cases the hockey side of the business.  It’s a marketing thing, I guess, but usually, you have to bend and comply with what your parent club wants.

ANDREWS: Dolgon has an incredible feel; going back to even the beginning for the name of the team and the mascot, you’re going, “This is weird.” But it worked. He’s got a great feel for all of that. People respect that.

LEDERMAN: Everyone always asks me; “Did you name the team after Crunch Bars?” No, we did not. It just felt like a great name. One syllable. Crunch. It was catchy, and we were all about the show. And that’s what I thought we brought to the market early on. It established our brand quite nicely.  

DOLGON: I think the old Crunch man ages well. Look at what’s popular now. It’s all superheroes. We wanted something that kids could relate to.

Fresh from Hamilton, the new-look Crunch get ready for their inaugural season. (WSYR-TV Archives)

The brand secured; the Crunch raced towards their inaugural season in Syracuse. With opening night quickly approaching, the organization wanted to accomplish two things: secure local financial support and make sure the building was packed for September 30, 1994.

LEDERMAN: We felt it was very important to have local money involved. We felt they would be our goodwill ambassadors. They talk up the team and it worked out.  

DOLGON: The first night we had to kick it off big. We had Riddick Bowe, Gordie Howe, Michael Buffer and people were like… wow! And we kept with that. We still keep with that. It goes back to, what makes news?

LEDERMAN: It was a Hollywood-style opening. That’s what we wanted to accomplish. We were all about the show. I think it really set the tone for us. It said, “Hey, these guys aren’t like the others.” We like to be a little edgy. It’s our personality to be a little edgy at times. There’s a lot of creativity inside the organization and that first night was like a Hollywood premiere. 

Riddick Bowe and Gordie Howe take the first ceremonial faceoff at the Crunch home opener.

TIM FOX, REPORTER FOR NEWSCHANNEL 9 IN 1994: The fans were ready to blow the top off the War Memorial. It didn’t matter if it was opening day or midway through the season. There was such a passion for hockey in this town. It had been so long since there had been a hockey team, they just couldn’t wait for a team to get here.

DOLGON: It’s a blur, man. My mom passed away in August of this year. And I’ll tell you of how much I forgot of this night in ’94. She had come up opening night. And she had this folder. In the folder was the rally towel from opening night and the program from opening night. But it was the invitation from the pregame party, which had Bowe, Howe, and Buffer. And I had totally forgot about the party.

I just remember as people were walking in Alan Taylor and I were greeting them. We wanted to, as owners, for you to know who we were. I think that set the tone, because we’ve never been the guys to sit alone in the suite. We’re always with the fans. We’re always walking along the fans in-between periods. We’re always approachable.

SAROSY: I don’t think a lot of people here know this, but I was actually at that game as a fan.

I remember a lot of smoke. I remember Gordie Howe. I remember Michael Buffer. I remember thinking to myself, this league is crazy. Without question, back then I wanted to be a part of hockey and that just sealed the deal.

I didn’t know them at the time, but all the owners were in tuxes at the door shaking hands with everyone that came in. Subsequently, the hand that I shook was Alan Taylor’s. Those are the things that stuck with me from that night. 

The Crunch hosted the Albany River Rats September 30, 1994 and battle to a 7-7 tie. The game was one of many that season to be broadcast on News Channel 9. (WSYR-TV Archives)

FOX, RINKSIDE REPORTER FOR NC9’S TV BROADCAST OF OPENING NIGHT: I had never worked a hockey game before. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect. A couple got engaged when we were on the air. I opened up (the broadcast) in the middle of a throng of hockey fans just to welcome hockey back to Syracuse. I interviewed Pat Quinn, general manager (and head coach) of the Vancouver Canucks. He was just a gentle bear to talk to. I remember we had Howard Dolgon lined up (for an interview) but there wasn’t a stoppage of play and Howard took off. He couldn’t wait any longer. So, we never did talk to Howard Dolgon on the air. 

DOLGON: I didn’t have time to be concerned. Our biggest concern going into game night was our ticket problem. We sold more tickets than we had seats. So, how do we not piss off 600 fans.

LEDERMAN: I’m the one who realized we did it. I’m like, okay! We didn’t fix it. (Laughs) Everybody had a good time though.  

BRIAN LONEY, MEMBER OF INAUGURAL CRUNCH ROSTER: Most guys played in the WHL where you didn’t get fans back then. I remember Howard brought in the boxer Riddick Bowe and it was like you’re in NYC for opening night. It was crazy.

The big thing was they had a laser show and had a mascot skating around the ice. There’s no such thing as mascots on the ice for hockey teams back in our day in Canada, you know.

I actually laugh at myself because I was looking at a video of opening night. The National anthem is going on and I didn’t even take off my helmet. I was all nervous. So, I’m watching that video and I’m like, oh my God, imagine if that was to happen today. I’d be crucified on social media.

FOX: It was just so exciting. It was unlike anything we had ever been to. I had been to Blazers games when I was in college. It was great hockey and some great characters, but this was promotion. Every time there was a stoppage of play, they’d give something away. There was promotion between periods. There was music and lights flashing. And there was some hockey too.  

The opener ended up an exciting 7-7 tie. Lonny Bohonos scored the franchise’s first goal. As exciting as that opener was, promotions were the way the Crunch made their name. Even if the product on the ice wasn’t the greatest that first season. Syracuse finished last in the South Division standings in 1994-95. The organization prided itself on presenting a top-notch entertainment experience. Most of them ended up being hits. Some of them, not so much, but in the end, it put the Crunch on the map.

SAROSY: Back then, every conversation I had with a member, a potential corporate partner, or a potential season ticket holder was … why? Why would I do anything with the Crunch? This is a graveyard of hockey. You can see all the teams that have come and gone. 

We can’t control the product on the ice, but we can control everything else. This seems commonplace now, but I can’t stress enough, when we came here if you gave out a t-shirt with a ticket you were considered master marketer. It was unbelievable. It’s stuff you don’t think about now. It’s so commonplace. 

ANDREWS: Howard brought so much to the table. I think our first all-star game Mastercard was a sponsor. One of the strategic plans was to bring an all-star game back after 35 years. We wanted to have a showcase event where we could attract national television. Howard basically brought that Mastercard opportunity to the table. When you launch an event and have a multi-national company stepping in as your title partner, all of a sudden, we were on our way. He really helped to get us going on a number of those fronts. He’s a very smart sports marketer. 

I can’t say we always agreed on everything. But Howard always had the best interest of the league.  

DOLGON: We were the first team to sign Gordie Howe to come back and play. Now he never played for us, but it was all over North America. Headlines in Canada were whooping us for making a mockery of the game.

ANDREWS: Yeah, they ruffled feathers. They were my feathers. (Laughs) We just felt that it was inappropriate. Howard wanted him to actually play. At that point, to get him on the ice for a shift really brought into question the integrity of our competition for our players. To have him skate in a warmup, or be in the building, is one thing but to actually have him sign a contract to play in the American League for promotional purposes, for me, was disrespectful to the game. And I still feel that way. 

DOLGON: We said, listen, he wants to come back and play. Our phones were ringing. We couldn’t get off of our phones. It was crazy. How do you deny that – for him to play? Things like that is where we use our PR and marketing background to fit our brand. Our fans love it. Our fans like the fact that our brand resonates outside of Syracuse. It does.

SAROSY: Our parent club at the time wasn’t very happy with it. It unraveled, there were some health issues with Gordie, but those are the kind of things we would do to get people talking. 

FOX: Sports traditionalists, no matter what the sport, are going to have their feathers ruffled time-to-time because successful sports entrepreneurs have to go beyond just the core fan. They have got to reach out to the families. They have got to reach out to the college kids. They have got to reach out to the couples. There are so many other pockets of potential customers that they have to reach out to be successful, because as they’ve found out, the core hockey fan, since the ‘70s, just hasn’t been quite enough. 

SAROSY: Our arguments with our peers were: “Who cares that you were on the cover of the Ottawa Sun? It’s not going to sell you another ticket.”

And Howard always taught me, the national stuff that he did, it reinforced our brand to our partners. If you’re a mom-and-pop deli that was with us, we wanted you to be proud about what “little Syracuse” was doing.

ANDREWS: Every once in a while, feathers got ruffled by Howard, but he took on things that others wouldn’t and took on things we were skeptical of. Like the first outdoor event at the fairgrounds, was an incredible success. We weren’t sure it could be pulled off at the AHL level and they did a great job with it. 

SAROSY: I don’t think independent owners would have the courage back then to do that outdoor game. Now, they’re commonplace, but back then, he could have set himself back 2-3 years. What if it snowed that day and we couldn’t hold the game? The courage he has is always something I’ve admired.

MITCHELL (HIS B-SENS PLAYED THE CRUNCH IN THE MIRABITO OUTDOOR CLASSIC): Howard is a marketing guy. He comes up with great ideas. We want to beat the hell out of every each other on the ice, but on the business side, there’s a lot of cooperation between teams. We’ve always had great cooperation with Syracuse.

ANDREWS: I always appreciated Howard’s innovative approach and being willing to do almost anything to gain attention for the franchise. 

The game at the Carrier Dome was an outstanding experience. He’s hosted two all-star games, and I have great memories of some of their deep playoff runs. And a lot of great memories of that building. It’s a great building. It’s old-school hockey. You’re right on top of the game. Syracuse has just been a real big part of the league. 

In 1996, the Crunch gear up for their first ever postseason run. (WSYR-TV Archives)

Along with the off-ice headlines, on-ice success would eventually follow. In the Crunch’s second season, the team behind players like Bohonos, Michael Peca, Reggie Savage and Brian Loney would lead the franchise to its first-ever postseason experience. Syracuse road a Cinderella-run to the Eastern Conference Finals before falling to the Rochester Americans.

SAROSY: I remember driving back from Rochester after Reggie scored to clinch our first-ever playoff spot. The run was special. Everything was so new to us. We beat Binghamton, which was a big rival. For the 7-game series against Baltimore, I went down with Howard to watch the game. We were losing heading into the 3rd period of game seven. The emotion of those rides back and forth. It was pure joy.

LONEY: That was the highlight of my playoff career.

(Though) that whole trip was weird. I hadn’t ever been to Baltimore. We went, for a lot of us, to our first Major League Baseball game. We’re in the middle of playoffs, it’s not like we can sit and have beers in the stands. It was a team event and it ended up being, at the time, one of the longest baseball games in history. And I was just like, come on let’s go back to the hotel.

Former Crunch Dane Jackson played the role of spoiler in the ’96 conference finals. Here in this WSYR-TV throwback Jackson talks about playing his former teammates. (WSYR-TV Archives)

SAROSY: I’ll never forget the goal that Dane Jackson scored against us that won the series for Rochester in the conference finals. As happy as you were coming back from Baltimore, you’re equally upset coming back from Rochester. 

Brian Loney, Lonny Bohonos, Mike Fountain, Mike Peca, they’re engrained in lore. You go to that first playoff run (in 1996) and we made a big trade with Atlanta for Reggie Savage. He became the face of the franchise. He scored some big goals for us. He then left and came back for the final year of the Vancouver affiliation, and also the first year of the Columbus affiliation. He helped us bridge the gap. We brought in a whole bunch of members from that first year for our 25th anniversary. They’ll always have a special part of what this franchise is. The fact they all came back is great. 

LONEY: I look back at my career and I played in a lot of different places. I played a lot of games, and you don’t realize how lucky you are in the moment – you don’t. You’re too young and you don’t know enough to hold onto moments.

As the Crunch get closer to thirty years in the market, the fanbase and the success continue to grow. Dolgon’s franchise continues to set trends with history-making events and keeps a competitive edge on the ice, fielding teams in championship contention almost yearly. What they’ve also managed to maintain is balance. Both in competition and in the front office. Howard, Vance, and Jim have been mainstays since the beginning. Numerous other employees are either at or near 20-year anniversaries with the team. This is almost unheard of, not only in hockey but in all of minor league sports.

DOLGON: Loyalty is everything to me. I look at my staff, and specifically, I look at guys like Jim and Vance. Vance and I went to first grade together. You can’t get any more loyal than that. I hired Jimmy as an intern. He is like a little brother. Loyalty to me, and hard work, mean more to me than anything. More than having a master’s from Harvard Business School.

SAROSY: For me, you can almost call Howard a father figure too. He’s been there at every milestone of my personal life, as well as my professional life. This is all I’ve known. My plan was never to stay here. My master plan was to spend two or three years here and then go back to Long Island and work for the Islanders, Rangers, Yankees or someone down there. But I had everything I ever wanted here, and he was a huge part of that. 

LEDERMAN: We’ve really changed our approach in terms of compensation packages. It’s easy to go out and hire someone for X-amount, but if someone internally is doing well and you really like them, let’s take care of them. 

ANDREWS: It’s been really good for the league because it has shown that the small-to-mid-market teams can be really successful in the American League.

LEDERMAN: We had some challenging times. The first three years were phenomenal. We hit it out of the park. By year four, there was a little kink in the armor. There was a year we won 18 games. We were horrible. I’m walking around the stands and I’m trying to put a positive spin on it. I think at that time there was 129 teams in leagues across North America and we’re like the worst team. I mean, number 129.

DOLGON: I’ve seen markets with the honeymoon phase. If you think that is sustainable in anything you do – whether you own a restaurant, sports team, or even in a relationship – that just wears out. We were never unrealistic about that. We’re happy we had the honeymoon period, but we never planned on it staying that way.

SAROSY: You have to stay flexible. Howard is number one in independent owner seniority. Our team is number two in owner seniority behind Hershey. And I think were fourth in longevity in teams. Those are all benchmarks that we are proud of. 

You’re constantly reinventing yourself. Just because you did something cool five years ago doesn’t mean there’s not new groups of people coming. You can’t rest. As soon as you think you know what you are doing you are in trouble. 

LEDERMAN: One thing that separates us from some of the other sports properties in town is our customer service. We really try to take care of the fans. We’re all about the fans. I’m calling fans up during this pandemic to see how they are doing. People really appreciate that. The loyalty to the brand is very strong. And that’s one of, if not the top reason for our success. 

We’re very involved in the community. And you should be involved in the community that supports you.  

ANDREWS: (With) Howard, Vance Lederman, and Jim Sarosy, they make a difference in their own way. For me, that’s what they’ve done so well, and you know it whenever you are in Syracuse. 

The Crunch is still looking for their first Calder Cup as a franchise. A championship would only be the city’s second Calder Cup since winning the first-ever awarded in 1937. And as long as Howard, Vance, and Jim are at the helm of the Syracuse Crunch, a championship will remain one of their top goals. Right behind great customer service, an entertaining show, and keeping their relationship with the market solid.

DOLGON: I love going to the games. I don’t have to go to the games, but I love being with the players and coaches.

I take notes at every game. I’ll get with Jim after the game and I’ll say, listen, this was great, but we have to do this better. We may have a section that is not filled. And then, the kiss cam goes over there, and I’m like, never. I don’t want it there when it’s empty. I want it there when it’s full.

SAROSY: I would give up so much for Howard to get a ring. I know that’s what he wants, and we’ve been close a couple of times. I think we’re with the right people to do it. 

LEDERMAN: The two years that we went to the finals and fell short – you’re kind of on the ledge for a week or so, and then you go right back at it. The thing is, when you get that close, you have to make it happen because it’s not like you’re going to get that close every year. As Howard and I say, “We just want one, man.” If we get more than that, that’s gravy, but just give us that one. We’d be pretty satisfied. 

DOLGON: I’m not surprised we’ve kept the relationship. It’s always been respectful. There have been moments. We’ve had disagreements. We believe our fans are important. And the fans, the community believes the team is important. There’s mutual respect there.

Vance Lederman (left) and Howard Dolgon (right) celebrate the franchise’s 25th anniversary in 2018. (Courtesy: Syracuse Crunch)

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