Shivering in Utica and Syracuse

Just like last year, this trip began by working a snow event as the day began at 2 AM. No rest for the weary as I immediately hit the road at 11:30 AM to try and thread the needle between the departing snow and returning snow squalls. It worked as the roads were fine as was the strategy of coming up to Utica from the east side (using I-87) to miss weather problems. Utica is a rust-belt city like many others in that initial prosperity faded as manufacturing and the population left. They’re now left with trying to rejuvenate areas and there are a few spots where it looks to be successful, like on Verick St. The interesting aspect of Utica is how it has become the home of many refugees as their stories and work ethic have given this city some lift.

My introduction to Utica was a slap in the face as I arrived to the Memorial Auditorium for outdoor pictures and I stepped out of the car to a biting 40 MPH wind and temperatures in the 20s. The time of year and preceding record warmth made this feel worse. After shivering through an exterior tour of the circular Aud, I checked into the hotel for an attempt at a few Z’s before the game. Dinner was at the excellent Delmonico’s, where I had a traditional Utica dish of Chicken Riggies. Game-time was 7 PM and I got there an hour before to take a tour and I was more than impressed, starting with the exterior. Inside, the small concourse featured so many displays and historical images of the city, arena and past teams, while inside is a rink built in 1960 that has a unique seating design. The most noticeable feature is the fanning out of cable wires, which made me think of MSG. Before the game, I got a good feeling about the atmosphere as Utica jerseys were aplenty and hockey talk abundant. However, when the game started…it was a disappointingly flat crowd. They barely noticed an impending PP and did little to induce noise. The fans did get better as the game went on though and they were quite vocal in the last two minutes. I also loved how most of the building lept to their feet after a goal, something you don’t see much of in the AHL. In addition, I know come playoff time, this is one of the loudest buildings in the league. Utica went on to win the game 2-1 and look for a full arena review (on the right) next week.

I woke up the next morning to a beautiful 7 degrees and chose to spend the morning catching up on sleep and reviews. Begrudgingly, I headed out late morning into the cold and made a visit to the Oneida County Historical Society. For lunch, I wanted to try a place really representative of the city and the refugee population has led to many, great ethnic restaurants. The largest group in the population are the Bosnian’s, so I went to Tarik’s Bakery and enjoyed an excellent lunch on a cold day. The owner helped me understand some of the dishes and I went with Burek and finished with a lemon dessert that was similar to Baklava. Great stuff! There is not much else to do in the city, so I stopped at Turning Stone Casino, before heading to Syracuse. I wish I remembered that the Boxing Hall of Fame was in nearby Canastota as the Thruway sign made me regret not doing that instead.

In Syracuse, the last time I was here was to watch the Rochester Amerks win Game 7 in their first-round series against the Crunch in 2005. It was the most memorable game I have ever seen live thanks to the Amerks winning in OT. I do remember issues with the building, like our ticket being duplicated and it being stifling hot inside. Some things don’t change as this re-visit started with waiting in a cramped space too small for Will-Call as it didn’t open until 6 PM, forcing some to wait outside in the frigid cold and snow. Not a good start, but things got better inside as I took my tour around the 60+ year old building. Some stadiums are called “War Memorial”, but Syracuse takes this to heart. Remarkably poignant displays fulfill the concourse and ensure that the building is a true War Memorial. Take a look at some of these dedications (1, 2 and 3). The review has all the arena details and for this game, the Crunch fell in OT to St. John’s 3-2 in an entertaining affair. Overall, this is a building with character and one that is worth a trip in the AHL. Highlight of the game for me: Using the urinal next to a 6’6″ guy wearing a complete Hanson Brother outfit.

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