Utica wasn't built in a day
The much anticipated home opener for the Utica Comets has come and gone, and the result on the ice may not have been the storybook ending for the team's first ever appearance on Aud ice.
However, the energy in the building and the atmosphere surrounding the team's homecoming was something that was truly special, and lived up to the hype of a city hungry to get their first look at an AHL franchise for the first time in 20 years.
The festivities surrounding the game were incredible, with thousands of fans flocking to the fields across from the Aud to celebrate the team's return with music from Night Ranger, food and drinks from Moe's, Hoopla, Saranac, and more. It also had a historic hockey feel with autograph signings from original hockey bad boys, the Hanson brothers from the movie Slapshot (and no, they did not put on the foil for yesterday's event), as well as one of the greatest hockey players to grace the ice, Gordie "Mr. Hockey" Howe.
Once fans made their way into the newly renovated Utica Memorial Auditorium, the energy was electric, as the anticipation came to a head.
With the new sound system, fresh coat of paint, new ice, and massive jumbotrons, the half-century old Aud looked like a modern day pro rink, and the fans marveled at the transformation.
Once the lights went out, and the team was introduced, the crowd rose to their feet and almost blew the roof off the building cheering for their new hometown heroes. With chants of "Let's Go Comets" ringing out from the stands, it finally made the dream a reality...Four games in, but the Comets were finally home. This team is now Utica's team.
For me, I found myself still trying to believe that this was all happening. It still kind of felt like a dream, watching a professional hockey game in downtown Utica? This has to be a tease, a one night affair, a special event like a one-and-done concert where the band leaves right after its over.
But its not...this is real. The Comets are here to stay, and will play in front of this Utica crowd 37 more times this year, including tomorrow night against the new thruway rival, Syracuse Crunch. If the crowd was that loud for a game against Albany, I can only imagine the energy that will be in the building when the Syracuse-Utica rivalry re-ignites.
When Gordie Howe came out to drop the ceremonial first puck, the place erupted with chants of "Gordie, Gordie, Gordie," and it was at that moment that the culmination of all of the hard work and dedication to get this team here finally shined bright, and proved just how much of a hockey town this really is.
There is so much history for the sport of hockey in this city, and getting one of the world's greatest, an absolute hockey legend, to be present for the home opener solidifies that history.
Utica deserved a team, and now we have it!
While the team may have started out a bit hesitant, possibly a result of playing in a new home, in front of new fans, the Comets played hard through all 60 minutes. They ended up dropping the game 4-1 to fall to 0-4-0 on the season, still looking for their first win, but again, they showed signs of promise.
They fell to 2-0 early in the first, taking some of the life out of the building, but a fight by Comets' Forward Darren Archibald against local product Tim Sestito (Rome, N.Y.) of the Devils got them back in it.
The 2nd period was back and forth and the Comets had some chances but were held scoreless through 2, and the period would end the way it started, with a 2-0 Albany lead.
Heading into the third, the Comets desperately searching for answers, would give up another goal to make it 3-0 Albany, and it seemed as though the Comet faithful would end the night in disappointment. But with a few minutes left in the third, and Utica on the powerplay, defenseman Frank Corrado found the back of the net to score the team's first ever goal on Aud ice, and the crowd came to life again.
From there, with chants of "Let's Go Comets" ringing out once again from the crowd, the Comets poured on the pressure with multiple scoring chances to make the final stanza very interesting. They failed to score another goal, and Albany would eventually seal it with an empty netter to make it 4-1, but the scoreboard didn't reflect the feeling inside the building.
Although the team lost, and are still looking for their first 'W,' the Comets saluted the crowd before exiting the ice. Visibly disappointed, the players clearly wanted to give the fans something to cheer for in their first game at home, but regardless of the score...they did just that.
While the Devils came together at one end to congratulate each other on the win, the Aud faithful rose to their feet, cheering on the team they have waited so long to finally see. The team may have lost, but the city had won.
It wasn't the storybook finish that we had been hoping for, but the crowd gave it a different ending, a meaningful one, and one that will last forever.
The team is still trying to figure out how to earn that victory, but to the community, being able to watch pro hockey again trumped the fact that the home opener was spoiled by defeat.
The appreciation that the fans showed for the Comets even after a loss shows the kind of relationship that the community is going to have with this team. And though the team may be struggling early on to win games, there is still plenty of season left, plenty of time to figure it out.
With the home opener now behind us, and the players getting an idea of just how dedicated the fans here can be, I'm sure that it will help these players to finally feel at home, and finally pull it together.
Remember, Utica wasn't built in a day, and neither was this team. It may take some time to gel and find their winning ways, but as long as the team is here, Utica fans will be behind them and support them every step of the way.
Be patient, it's game one of what we hope to be a long line of games to come for the Comets in Utica. For now, just remember what's important, Utica finally has a professional hockey team to call its own. Embrace it, enjoy it, support it. Hockey is back in Utica, and this city is ready.
Friday night, its a clean slate. It's the first meeting for the Comets against the Crunch, and a win at home against the new rival would surely send this city ablaze.
Comets craze is only just beginning, and I am so excited to be a part of it. Aren't you?
Till next time...