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Point Hogs

By SPENCER DAVIDSON

The Comets dropped a tough one to the Rockford IceHogs last night in front of another sell-out crowd at The Aud.

As has been the theme of late, Utica got the party going, getting on the board first before giving up two goals en route to a close, one-goal loss. However, despite falling last night, the Comets have been very promising in their last few games, winning 5 of their last 7, and earning 11 out of a possible 14 points in that span.

After a slow start to month of January, the Comets finished very strong winning their last 5 of 6 in the year's first month, including a thrilling 3-1 win over thruway rival, Syracuse Crunch on the month's final day.

That win was probably their most impressive effort on home ice to date, and had the crowd over over 3,800 on their feet for "Pink the Rink" night. Aside from the awesome pink sweaters that the Comets wore during their winning effort, the organization also won off the ice, as their night dedicated to help in the fight against breast cancer was a rousing success.

Ever since their arrival during the summer of last year, the Comets have been dedicated to not only give the fans something to cheer about on the ice, but also to give something for the community to cheer about off of it. Whether it’s a night like Friday, or just a simple hospital visit from the players to a child with an illness that brightens their day, the Comets have been a home run (ok not the right sport, but you get the idea) during their stay in Utica thus far.

Back on the ice, the Comets have been one of the best teams in the AHL over the last couple of months, breathing life into a season that seemed doomed after the first week. In fact, sitting just 10 points out of the final playoff spot, currently held by last night's opponent Rockford, the Comets still have 5 games at hand on the IceHogs and are just a couple of wins away from making things very interesting.

Had it not been for the tough start in the first month of the season, the Comets may have been right in the thick of things at this points. However, even if it is not the case, the team is still heating up at just the right time and really looking like a team that has a chance to make a push.

Things really seem to be clicking for the team's right now, and even when they lose, they are never out of a game. Between the offense generated consistently by Alexandre Grenier, Benn Ferriero, Pascal Pelletier, Darren Archibald, and many others, and on the other end, the stellar play of AHL Player of the Week, Joakim Eriksson in net, the Comets seem primed to get themselves at least into the conversation within the final 2.5 months of the season.

The team has also proven to be able to play with the top dogs in the league. Last weekend, the Comets beat the once red-hot Abbotsford Heat in OT on two consecutive nights (with Ferriero scoring both winners), on the road, to make it 6-straight wins against the 4th seeded team. After that weekend, the Heat's starting goalie had 6 loses on his record for the entire year...4 of those loses came to Utica.

Then this past week, the Comets came home to face the Lake Erie Monsters on Tuesday night. It appeared as though the team was a bit sluggish after traveling back to the East Coast, as they were not nearly as crisp as they had been in the previous few games. However, even with their game not totally there, they still battled hard and forced the game into a shootout before dropping the contest to the Colorado Avalanche affiliate.

This was a gut check game for them, and while they didn't get that second point, they proved that even if they are not firing on all cylinders, the team can still find a way to give themselves a chance to win. For an AHL team that struggled mightily in the beginning of the year, this is a monumental improvement in a relatively short amount of time.

Following the loss, the Comets bounced back with a convincing win against the struggling, yet always dangerous Syracuse Crunch. It was the loudest that I have heard The Aud since the home opener on October 23rd, against the Albany Devils, and the electricity in the building showed just how far the team has come to generate interest in the Mohawk Valley.

It was quite an experience for myself, in my hometown, to experience that professional hockey playoff-type atmosphere, as I'm sure it was for all fans in attendance and the players/coaches as well. That emotion certain showed, as the Comets took it to the Crunch in the 2nd and 3rd periods after a scoreless first, to get the place rocking and earn their first win against Syracuse, in what should be a very exciting (non-conference) rivalry in the years to come.

The win solidified Utica's place among the "Thruway Division" of NYS, which would include the Comets, Crunch, Albany Devils, Rochester Americans, and Binghamton Senators, and really drove home the feeling of everything that we have to look forward to with this team in town.

So despite not sweeping the homestand, and not earning a very important 2 points, the Comets still continued to do what they have done for the better part of the entire inaugural season, make things interesting.

With their recent strong play, and a team chemistry building more and more with what seems to be every game, I think it is a pretty sure bet that the Comets should continue to make things interesting until the final buzzer sounds on this first season.

There will still be plenty of tough losses, but there will also be plenty of thrilling wins. And in a city that has been searching for this kind of excitement for the last 20 years, could you really ask for anything else?

With Super Bowl Sunday upon us, and the nation divided between the Seahawks and Broncos, one thing in this area remains constant. With every day it seems to grow more and more...WE LOVE OUR COMETS!

Here's to the many more exciting moments in this first AHL season back in Utica!

Till then...

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