The Mirabito Outdoor Classic, also known as the 2010 AHL Outdoor Classic, was an outdoor game played in 2010 between the Syracuse Crunch and Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League (AHL). It was the first outdoor game in the history of the AHL as well as the first outdoor minor league hockey game. Syracuse won the game 2–1 with the help of goaltender Kevin Lalande, who stopped 36 of the 37 Binghamton shots, and Alexandre Picard, who scored the first outdoor goal in AHL history. The game was played in front of a then AHL record crowd of 21,508, on a rink constructed at the New York State Fairgrounds on a dirt auto racing track.
Crunch owner, Howard Dolgon, pursued the ideal of having his team in an outdoor game, but unlike the National Hockey League's (NHL) Winter Classic the Crunch were responsible for funding the entire event. In order to afford the cost of hosting an outdoor game sponsorship deals with several independent organizations were made including Mirabito Energy Products, which lent its name to the title of the event. In part because of his success in putting on the event, Dolgon was awarded the James C. Hendy Memorial Award as the AHL's outstanding executive. Following the success of the Mirabito Outdoor Classic other AHL Outdoor Classics were held by other AHL teams.
In late November 2009 Syracuse Crunch owner, Howard Dolgon began attempts to have an American Hockey League (AHL) outdoor game for his franchise. Cost estimates for hosting the game were close to $1 million. Unlike the National Hockey League's (NHL) Winter Classic, the league did not run the event, meaning the Crunch had to finance the entire project. The high cost of hosting was a reason for other franchises not pursuing outdoor games prior.
Dolgon originally wanted the game to be played at Alliance Bank Stadium in Syracuse and asked the Onondaga County Legislature to help fund the game. A proposal for the county to put in $350,000 was voted down by a 16–2 margin. After the proposal was denied, Dolgon thought the project was dead, then he received a phone call from United States Senator Chuck Schumer encouraging him to go forward with the game. Schumer later stated his encouragement stemmed from the opportunity for the event to be "a national event focused on Upstate and Central New York".
With the game plans moving forward, Dolgon managed to recruit corporate sponsors to help alleviate the cost. The Crunch received $350,000 from several sponsors, including Mirabito Energy Products which lent its name to the events title. Time Warner Cable, Toyota, Labatt Blue, Coca-Cola, Dunkin' Donuts, Wynit, Renaissance Syracuse Hotel, Citgo, Hershey's and the Syracuse Conventions and Visitors Bureau were also sponsors of the event. Mirabito decided to sponsor the event because they were opening stores in the Central New York area and wanted to establish their brand name. Mirabito Energy Products is a New York based company that sells heating oil, propane, natural gas, coal, gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and other products. New York Governor David Paterson secured a $75,000 grant from the Empire State Development Corporation and helped the Crunch gain use of the New York State Fairgrounds free of charge. Even with the additional funding the Crunch still needed to pay upwards of $550,000.
The rink was built on the fairgrounds in front of a 15,000-seat permanent grandstand on a dirt auto racing track and leveled with what was described as "tons of granite". With demands for over the 15,000 seats occupancy of the grandstands, the Crunch rented additional temporary bleachers. Since there was no scoreboards on or near the track Syracuse rented two large video screens to show the score, time remaining, penalty times, and other information. The installation of the temporary rink cost an estimated $400,000 and took a month and a half to complete.
As plans moved forward the decision was made not just to play the game but make it an event celebrating New York hockey history. For the game the Crunch played their intrastate rivals the Binghamton Senators. The days before the game local youth hockey teams played on the ice, and then the day after there was a pond hockey tournament played on the rink featuring 16 local teams. The fairgrounds also featured VIP tents, fan zones, bands, and ice sculpting for the celebration, as well as appearances by former players for New York's various professional teams.
The game was the first outdoor game in the 74-year history of the AHL and the first minor league hockey outdoor game. The attendance of 21,508 set a new AHL record surpassing the old mark of 20,672 set in 1997 at the Greensboro Coliseum. The record was later broken by subsequent Outdoor Classics. Prior to the game the 174th Fighter Wing of the New York Air National Guard performed a flyover, and recording artist Jessie James sang The Star-Spangled Banner. For the ceremonial puck drop, a skydiver delivered a puck from the National Hockey League's first foray into outdoor games from the 1991 Las Vegas exhibition game. There was a slight delay in the start of the game as some of the glass needed to be fixed. Once the game was under way it took just 1:50 before the Crunch's Jon Mirasty and the Senators' Jeremy Yablonski engaged in the first fight in Outdoor Classic history. Mirasty had previously stated that he was going to be involved in the first outdoor fight. The physical play continued and minutes later at the 3:29 mark Paul Baier and Mike Radja were given matching roughing minor penalties. Not long after the matching minors Mike Blunden made a pass to Alexandre Picard to sent him on a breakaway. Picard became the first player to score in an Outdoor Classic when he beat Senators' goaltender Mike Brodeur putting the Crunch up 1–0. The score remained the same at the end of a penalty filled first period. Eight total penalties were called on the two clubs through the first 20 minutes of the game.
Early in the second period the Crunch got another power play opportunity when Senators' captain Drew Bannister took a hooking penalty. The man advantage did not benefit Syracuse as the Senators tied the game 1–1 when Martin St. Pierre found an open Josh Hennessy, who put the puck past Kevin Lalande for the shorthanded goal. Binghamton seemed to be gaining the advantage in the second period outshooting the Crunch 16–9. But, with just 11.7 seconds remaining in the period, Crunch defenseman David Liffiton scored the go ahead goal from the high slot. During the third period the score remained the same, when with just 1:30 left in the game Syracuse's Kevin Harvey took an interference penalty giving the Senators a chance to tie the game on the power play. Binghamton was unable to score in the first minute of the power play and pulled Brodeur to give them the six on four advantage. Even with the two man advantage the Senators failed to post a second goal on Lalande, who stopped 36 of the 37 shots he faced during the game helping the Crunch to the 2–1 victory. His performance earned him the first Star of the Game. The game was a penalty filled affair with 26 infractions called on the two teams and a total of 18 power plays awarded. Neither team was able to capitalize on the opportunities, with Binghamton going 0–10 and Syracuse 0–8.
Reception and legacy Edit
The event was considered a success not only did it set a new attendance record it also generated considerable exposure for both the Crunch and the AHL. The game was originally going to be aired just in New York by Time Warner Cable, but was picked up by the NHL Network for broadcast across Canada and the United States. The players and coaches appeared to enjoy the game as well. Crunch head coach Ross Yates stated, "it was unbelievable. It's hard to describe". Liffiton described the game as "a little taste of what it feels like to play college football" while Picard added, "I’ll do that every game for the rest of my life." AHL President Dave Andrews further noted that it made him proud to be a part of the league.
Due in part to his success of putting on the event, Dolgon was awarded the James C. Hendy Memorial Award as the AHL's outstanding executive. With the success of the Mirabito Outdoor Classic, multiple outdoor games have subsequently been held by AHL teams.
Team rosters Edit
^ ‡: Holt and LaCostat dressed as the back-up goaltenders and did not enter the game.
Source:AHL Box Score
Game summary Edit
- Scoring summary
|1st||SYR||Alexandre Picard||Mike Blunden||6:47||1–0 SYR|
|2nd||BGN||Josh Hennessy (SH)||Martin St. Pierre||5:09||1–1 TIE|
|SYR||David Liffiton||Dan Fritsche, Mike Blunden||19:48||2–1 SYR|
- Penalty summary
|BGN||Brandon Svendsen||Holding the Stick||10:20||2:00|
- Power play opportunities
- Three star selections
|1st||SYR||Kevin Lalande||36 Saves (.973)|
|2nd||SYR||Alexandre Picard||1 Goal, 5 shots|
|3rd||SYR||David Liffiton||Game winning Goal|
Source:AHL Box Score
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