The Luck O'(Reilly) the Irish
It was a perfect ending to a special night for the Utica Comets as Cal O'Reilly wins it on Irish Night for the Comets in a shootout.
The entire game, I couldn't help but get the feeling (and the hope) that somehow, some way, O'Reilly would come through for the Comets to really put an exclamation point on the final home game before St. Patrick's Day, where the holiday was celebrated at The Aud.
So far this year, so many things have happened that have made this season a storybook one, regardless of the end result.
After Colin Stuart is named the first captain in Comets history, he goes on to score the franchise's first game winning goal on November 8th against the Lake Erie Monsters to give the Comets their first ever win, and ending a 10-game skid to start the inaugural season.
Then, the Captain strikes again as he shows why he was the right pick to wear that coveted letter "C," as he records the first hat trick in franchise history, scoring 3 against the Binghamton Senators on December 13th, giving the Aud Faithful an offensive show on home ice.
After the game, Stuart said that it was his first hat trick in the AHL, creating yet another first and another Comets' memory.
Prior to that feat, the Comets had yet another perfect entry into their small, but growing history book as they earned their first win on Aud ice (the first AHL win there in over 20 years), beating potentially their biggest rivals thus far, the Rochester Americans. To add to that win, Joakim Eriksson stopped 33 shots to earn a 2-0 victory, giving the team their first shutout win, in their first victory at home.
Then came, "The Hit."
Darren Archibald put the Utica Comets not only on the AHL map, but on the hockey world map with the hit heard around the world, a bone-crushing check on Monsters' defenseman Karl Stollery that caused the D-man to do a full back flip before landing on the ice. The hit immediately went viral on YouTube, and is still played before nearly ever Comets game in order to remind fans of one of the great, exciting early moments in their short history.
I was lucky enough to be in attendance for that game, my first solely as a fan, and following that hit, the electricity in the building was unbelievable, and really showed how the Comets fan base was starting to solidify. That hit really drove home the point that the Comets were here, and that we better be excited.
Unfortunately, they did end up losing that game, but walking out of The Aud that night, all anyone could talk about was that hit. Since then, the Comets have been one of the hottest teams in the AHL, and although have had their ups and downs, have put themselves into the thick of the playoff mix when after just one month, all hope seemed lost.
And then there was last night. Another one for the ages as the Comets once again brought life to downtown Utica with a thrilling win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
It was Irish Night at The Aud, and so in addition to bagpipes being played and concessions serving green beer, and Irish-themed foods, the Comets sported special green jerseys complete with shamrocks, in what had to be possibly the sharpest looking sweaters that I have seen in a long time (and possibly ever in the AHL).
If those jerseys went on sale, besides the auction last night of course, I'm sure they would fly off the shelves, as I know I would probably be one of those people to line up and drop a pretty penny to get my hands on one!
But back to the game...Comets were all over the Pens in the first period, and it looked like they would strike first multiple times, especially after a bouncing shot from the point with just seconds left, skipped over goaltender, Peter Mannino's, shoulder and just over the crossbar to keep it a scoreless tie.
The second was a different story, as it seemed as though the ice was tilted in the Penguins favor, with Spencer (nice name!) Michacek putting one past Eriksson, who had another great performance last night, to give WBS the 1-0 lead.
It would stay that way until late in the third, when everybody in attendance seemed ready to grab their coats and head home in disappointment, the Comets would give us yet another night to remember here in Utica as Brandon DeFazio tied the game up with just 7 seconds to go to send it into overtime, and send the Utica fans into a frenzy.
...But wait there's more! The action wouldn't end there as the game headed to a shootout, and Joakim Eriksson, who has become more and more impressive with each game, stopped all Penguins shootout attempts, setting up Cal O'Reilly in the perfect position to make this a classic.
And ladies and gents, he did just that. Cal O'Reilly, who has been so good for the team at both ends of the ice this year, created more magic by putting the puck past Mannino on his attempt and winning it for the Comets, earning them 2 HUGE points when all hope seemed lost just minutes before.
It was almost hard to believe...7 seconds away from a crushing defeat, and just minutes later, the Comets would come out victorious in a big way. And who better to do it on Irish Night than the man with Irish blood?
It was an absolutely magical ending to an unbelievable evening here in Utica, and an instant classic for the Comets as yet again they proved to be a team to never give up, no matter how dire things look.
We've seen it all year from them, and no matter what, nothing changes as they will keep working to make us proud until that final buzzer sounds. The end result? A complete resurgence of professional hockey in Utica, and a fan base, who regardless of what happens by the end of this year, will look back with fond memories to this special Inaugural season.
The Comets have had no shortage of excitement throughout the entire year, and last night was just a perfect sample of that.
While they still have some work to do, the Luck O' the Irish was with them last night. Tonight as they head to Binghamton, they have the chance to even up their record and hopefully close the gap even more to that 8th and final playoff spot.
While the season may be winding down, the action is heating up. And regardless of how these last 18 games go, we all need to be thankful for the effort and energy that this team has given us, and the city throughout the last 5.5 months.
With that being said, the playoff push rolls on and the Comets look to ride their 3-game winning streak into Binghamton and inch even closer to that once improbable playoff berth.
Hopefully the luck can stay on their side, as we get set to watch what should be an unbelievably exciting home stretch.
We're on the Back Nine now folks, and it's time for the Comets to make some more magic.