Night Ranger, Howe, Hanson Brothers announced for fan fest

By Gary Liberatore

Utica Comets President Rob Esche and other team officials announced Monday morning the team will have an All-Star Game-type Fan Fest, sponsored by Bud Light, before the team's first home game on Oct. 23.

Esche says he's fired up, not for himself, but for the community.

"The more this gets closer and closer, the more I get excited about it," he said.

Also involved in Monday morning's press conference was Galaxy Communication President Ed Lavine.

Galaxy is organizing the Bud Light Fan Fest, and its local radio station 94.9 K-ROCK will broadcast the Comets' games.

Lavine says he's excited about the Bud Light Fan Fest and is especially eager to see hockey great 85-year-old Gordie Howe drop the first puck for the franchise's inaugural home game.

"To me, Gordie Howe is Mr. Hockey," Lavine said. "And to be able to say 20 years from now, we had Gordie Howe here in Utica at the Utica Aud dropping the puck for the first-ever Comets game and appearing at our Bud Light Fan Fest, I just thought, 'You couldn't pass that up.' "

Comets Chairman Frank DuRoss also spoke at Monday's press conference and says the Fan Fest is going to be a gigantic community event.

"I've been through a few of them, including the Rochester Rhinos, but this is probably the biggest Fan Fest I've ever been involved with," DuRoss said.

Lavine says 1980s rock band Night Ranger will perform a free concert before the game and the Hanson Brothers, from the movie "Slap Shot," which was shot at the Aud, will be on hand as well. Plus, he says, there will be plenty for the kids to do.

"We're going to have a Kids Zone with all kinds of hockey skills (and) giant blow-up ice skating rinks to try their skills out there," Lavine said.  "So whether you're a hockey fan or not, you have kids or no kids, there's going to be something for you at the Bud Light Fan Fest."

Esche says it's been his dream to bring a professional team back to his hometown and he has been involved with the renovations of the Aud every step of the way since the announcement in June that the Vancouver Canucks were relocating their AHL team to Utica. 

Esche says he remembers when his uncle came to visit this summer and asked him a question.

"He was staying at my house, and asked how he could help.  I said, 'Yeah, I got a terrific job for you.'  I go, 'You can help us paint.' So we changed all the colors in the Aud; we painted the pillars. It was a lot of fun, and the painting... oh, do I hate painting."

After the press conference Monday, Esche was working with the contractors installing the ice.  He says he doesn't mind putting in all of the hours he's putting in, because it will all be well worth it.

Esche adds he often overhears people he doesn't  know talking about this upcoming season and knows he's already made a difference in this community.

"You know, making it to the NHL was huge ... it was a dream come true and this is nothing shy of it.  I mean, I think when you see all of the work that went in -- in doing the locker rooms; we're a few days away from that -- the team coming to town, the impact that you have on a community creating jobs ... it's something I'm really proud of."

Also announced on Monday: Single-game tickets will go on sale at the Aud at 10 a.m. Oct. 5.

For those of you not lucky enough to get a ticket to the home opener, you're still invited to attend the free Bud Light Fan Fest, which starts at 4 p.m. Oct. 23.  The game itself is set for 7:30 p.m. against the Albany Devils.

Team officials say they believe the opener will sell out fast once single-game tickets go on sale, and they expect between 8,000 and 10,000 fans outside the Aud that night before the game.

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