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  • Writer's picturePaul Baker

Upstate Medical University Arena – Syracuse Crunch

Photos by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.14

Oncenter War Memorial Arena 800 S State St Syracuse, NY 13202

Year Opened: 1951

Capacity: 6,159


In Memory of our Service Veterans

If there is one thing that can be said about the arenas of the American Hockey League, it is that they are varied and unique. Some of the teams play in modern, spacious buildings that they share with NBA teams, such as the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Others play in fine mid-sized arenas, like the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, while others play in tiny bandboxes that are filled to the rafters with noise and fans, such as the Utica Memorial Auditorium. Buildings like Syracuse’s Oncenter War Memorial Arena belong in yet another category. What this building may lack in amenities and creature comforts, it more than makes up for in history and character.

While many venues are called memorials, the Oncenter War Memorial contains far more than just your standard vague plaque honoring those who sacrificed their lives for this country. Built over the course of three years from 1949 to 1951, the War Memorial is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which means it has been deemed worthy of preservation. While this may hamstring any tenant wishing to make renovations to the arena, it ensures that the wonderful memorial will remain for years to come.

The Crunch are the fourth AHL team to call the War Memorial home, following the Warriors, Eagles and Firebirds. The National Basketball Association’s Syracuse Nationals played here from 1951 to 1963, winning an NBA title in 1955. The building has hosted an NBA All-Star game in 1961, NCAA Frozen Fours in 1967 and 1971, as well as AHL All-Star games in 1998 and 2016. Perhaps more importantly to many hockey fans, scenes from the legendary hockey film Slap Shot were filmed here.

Food & Beverage 2

The concessions menu at the War Memorial does not stray far from arena basics. There are several stands scattered throughout the two concourses which offer hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken tenders, French fries and pizza. Snacks such as pretzels, popcorn, nachos and assorted candy can also be purchased here.

Fans looking for a more unique item should try the Crunch Dog, which is a Hoffman’s hot dog topped with crispy onions, bacon and cheese sauce served on a pretzel roll. Also, with Syracuse being so close to Canada, poutine is on the menu. For those unaware of this Canadian delicacy, poutine consists of French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds.

Thirsty Crunch fans can choose from several brands of beer, including Molson Canadian and Miller Lite. Offerings from local brewer Beak and Skiff are also sold here. Pepsi products are featured at the War Memorial.

Atmosphere 3

The Crunch offer the standard game day presentation, with giveaways, loud rock music, t-shirt tosses, and other features which have become common in minor league sports. The team employs a mascot, Crunchman, who interacts with fans throughout the game. In addition, there is a dance squad who provide distraction during play stoppages. In a building as old and historic as the War Memorial, some of these touches seem strangely out of place.

Hanging from the rafters of the War Memorial are banners honoring the Crunch’s one division and conference title, banners honoring championships won by the old Blazers and Stars, as well as banners honoring local Welterweight boxing champion Carmen Basilio and the Syracuse Nationals, NBA champs in 1955.

Neighborhood 3

Despite the War Memorial’s downtown location, there is little to do in the immediate vicinity of the facility. The Ale ‘N’ Angus Pub is the only restaurant immediately adjacent to the rink. The area around the War Memorial is usually very quiet and safe.

Armory Square, an area with several fine bars and restaurants, is just over a half mile from the War Memorial. Local favorites Dinosaur BBQ, Empire Brewing Company, and Pastabilities can all be found near here. Syracuse University is located about a mile away in the opposite direction on University Hill.

Fans 3

Syracuse averages around 5,500 fans per game at the War Memorial, which is good for the middle of the pack in the AHL. As is the case with most minor league clubs today, the Crunch market themselves as affordable family entertainment, and the crowd in attendance on any given night reflects this philosophy. The crowd is a mix of families out for a night of entertainment and die-hard fans who live and die with each shift.

Many fans will notice a group of Crunch superfans who attend each game dressed as the Hanson Brothers from Slap Shot, complete with mullet wigs and black horn-rimmed glasses. At some point every game, usually at the opposition’s first penalty of the night, the PA system plays the Bonanza theme, and the Hansons run along the aisle, high-fiving fans along the way and encouraging fans to make some noise.

Access 4

The War Memorial is part of a larger complex, which also consists of the Nicholas J. Pirro Convention Center, Civic Center Theaters and Everson Plaza. Together the buildings are known as the Oncenter.

The Oncenter War Memorial is located in downtown Syracuse, just blocks from Interstates 690 and 81. Plentiful parking can be found within a few blocks of the War Memorial. Driving directions and a parking map can be found here.

Fans will enter the War Memorial on either side of the building. There is a small entry lobby on both sides, a welcome feature when battling a cold central New York winter. Once passing through a quick security check, fans will find themselves in the cramped horseshoe-shaped concourse. Fans will find a table set up with various Crunch merchandise across the hallway. The Exhibit Gallery, featuring life-size replicas of actual Syracuse area veterans representing the Revolutionary War through the Vietnam War is located on this concourse.

Interestingly for a building of this size, the War Memorial has dual concourses. Fans with upper level seats will climb a set of stairs to the upper concourse, which contains its own set of concessions, restrooms and the Veteran’s Honor Wall, which recognizes over 63,000 service men and women who have resided or currently reside in Onondaga County.

Once inside the arena, fans will immediately notice the stage at the far end of the arena adorned with the phrase “in memory of our service veterans.” Some seating is located here as well. The seating bowl is split into upper and lower sections, each featuring individual folding seats. The upper level is bisected by a walkway located about halfway up.

Return on Investment 4

Tickets for Crunch games range in price between $16 for stage seats to $20 for lower level seats. Waiting until game day to purchase your tickets will cost an extra two dollars. Youth tickets cost $16. In addition, the Crunch offer a variety of group ticket deals to further increase value.

Parking in the many lots surrounding the War Memorial starts at five dollars. Concessions, while not cheap, are not out of line with other venues of this size. Overall, catching a Crunch game at the War Memorial is an affordable entertainment option for central New York sports fans.

Extras 3

The War Memorial is more than just a building with a plaque attached to it honoring those men and women who sacrificed everything for their country. Walk the halls of the arena, and you will come across an impressive display containing life-sized mannequins dressed in the actual garb of local residents representing uniforms from the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam conflict. A large display also houses a significant amount of historical items. If you are a history buff, it’s worth getting to the arena early to check out. On the upper concourse is the Veteran’s Honor Wall, which lists over 63,000 Ononganda County residents who served in various branches of the military.

Scenes from perhaps the most iconic hockey movie ever made were filmed here at the War Memorial. In an homage to the film, three Syracuse superfans have been coming to games dressed as the Hanson Brothers. What started as a Halloween costume has turned into a Syracuse hockey tradition.

Hidden away in a small alcove on the upper concourse is a display commemorating the War Memorial’s significant place in basketball history. The Syracuse Nationals played here during the 1950s and 1960s, winning an NBA championship in 1955. Syracuse hosted the first game to use the 24 second shot clock. Nationals’ president and founder Danny Blasone was a proponent of the shot clock, and was instrumental in getting the NBA to adopt its use.

Final Thoughts

As a hockey venue, the War Memorial does nothing that will blow you away. It is infinitely more interesting as a memorial and as one of the locations in the iconic movie Slap Shot. For hockey fans who have an interest in our nation’s history, the War Memorial is worth a visit.

Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter @PuckmanRI.

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