Not cool: The Crunch took the Marlies to seven games in the second-round, but failed to advance. Michael Davis photos.
But for a wild few weeks, the Crunch gave its fans something… anything. After winning in overtime all four games of their first-round series against the Manitoba Moose, the team seemed to be full of fire, ready to roll up the Marlies and smoke the team that led the American Hockey League’s North Division all year long. The positive vibration was looking like it was going to echo over into the third round as the Crunch jumped out to a 3-1 series lead, with probability in their favor.
The Marlies won game five in Toronto. Still leading the series 3-2, the Crunch returned to the War Memorial May 12 for a game six scuffle with the home ice on their side. As a sign of solidarity for the playoffs, the team—as well as front office brass and even mascot Al the Ice Gorilla—adopted a uniform fashion: Enter the “Mohawk Nation.” T-shirts were sold at the War Memorial concession stands with that territorial rallying phrase on it and many zealots in the audience sported both shirt and hairstyle.
Thank God Syracuse wasn’t labeled the “Mullet Nation” although one fan was so hell-bent on showing his enthusiasm, he disregarded his chrome dome and still found a way to party in the front, and party in the back: strip of hair at the top of forehead, pause for bald spot, mohawk continues down back of head. He shoots, he scores, for unintentional birth control!
Maybe it just took six games for the Marlies to stop laughing, as the mohawks couldn’t pump the team up in game six. The Crunch seemed to just be going through the motions—like a hooker turning a hat-trick in Little China—and played with no sense of urgency as the Marlies left the Crunch on the short end of the roach clip, winning 3-2 and evening the series 3-3.
“I think are chances are good,” said Skelleftea, Sweden native and Crunch left-winger Joakim Lindstrom after game six about the deciding contest. “There is a big difference being up one and being tied, but we’re not going to panic and look too far ahead and just stay focused on the game at hand like we’ve been doing all season.”
Lindstrom has been with the Crunch since 2004 after being drafted out of the Swedish Elite League. He was recalled March 5 earlier this year by the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Crunch’s National Hockey League affiliate, but returned to Syracuse April 2 to help cap off the regular season with an impressive 16-game win streak. He finished with four goals and three assists in the 2008 playoffs.
“It’s been a great atmosphere in here this whole year, probably the most energy I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” he added about the War Memorial. “The fans might not think we pay attention, but we do notice when they’re into it and it does give us a kick out on the ice.”
Those loyals waved their unbridled freak flag like any rabid sports town and showed up in droves to express their blind regional hatred for the Canadian cities of the Crunch’s two opponents. Average attendance for their six playoff home games was 5,188; the seating capacity at the War Memorial is 6,230, which by the logistics of Syracuse participation math, is as damn near close to 100 percent as it gets. People were on their feet for every second of every power play and cheered and jeered at every near-fight and shot on goal. And when the Blue Oyster Cult Saturday Night Live clip was played multiple times per game on the scoreboard with Christopher Walken saying, “I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription, is more cowbell,” the uproar of the symphonic cacophony of people clanking or stomping whatever was in-hand or nearby—except other humans—just about cracked the ice.
“No matter what the outcome is, it’s just nice to have something in this city to rally around,” said mohawked fan James Finney, who was attending the game with his girlfriend Shannon. “I’m not even that big on hockey, but I thought I’d go for broke and ride the wave because it’s cool when something actually happens around here. Plus, I didn’t shave my head for a quiet night in front of the television, although my girl probably wishes that’s where we were staying tonight with me in this hairstyle, since we’re hitting up Hanover Square after we leave here.”
But now, Finney and the rest of the fans are stuck home for the immediate future, taking a good long look in the mirror, facing the Crunch-less reality that there is no cure, for having to strut around, with a mohawk.