When the Utica Comets take the ice this Friday for a contest against the Toronto Marlies, it will begin the third straight weekend with three straight games.
With the baseball season beginning, it seems almost fitting that a weekend series would be the theme. However, the schedule has been highly unusual for the boys in blue-and-green lately.
No Rest for the Weary
After two straight weekends with a Friday, and Saturday slate of games to begin the month of March, the Comets followed with two weekends of adding Sunday to the mix of scheduled contests.
On the weekend of March 21-23, the team began at home Friday against the Adirondack Phantoms (loss), before traveling that Saturday west to Pennsylvania to take on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (win). Then it was back home at The Aud on Sunday for an evening match-up against the Milwaukee Admirals (OT win) to round out a very busy, yet successful weekend.
Then last weekend, March 28-30, the Comets remained in Utica for three straight at home. It was a tough beginning as they faced the fifth-place Abbotsford Heat gaining only one out of a possible four points in the Friday/Saturday set, with the lone point coming in Friday's loss in overtime.
Saturday was a nightmare for Utica, who dropped a tough one in front of the home crowd by a final score of 7-2, with the team looking flat throughout most of the game.
On Sunday, it was back at it less than 24 hours after the big loss as they hosted the Iowa Wild for a 3 p.m. matinee, and the rust was evident. The game began with the Comets quickly finding themselves down 2-0 after the first period, and it appeared as though the fans were once again in for a rough ride, with hopes of the playoffs quickly fading away.
However, the team has made a name for itself this season as the "Comeback Comets," with no quit in their minds and the willingness to fight until the final buzzer.
On Sunday, they did it again, scoring two goals in less than one minute, including a shorthanded goal (their third of the weekend), to knot things up.
In the third the team would pull ahead for good, with Brandon Defazio taking a beautiful feed from Pascal Pelletier back door on a 2-on-1 and one-timing it to the back of the net, and the Comets, led by Pelletier's goal and two assists, would earn a BIG two points in order to remain in the playoff hunt.
On the Horizon
This upcoming weekend, April 4-6, the Comets will once again take the ice for 90 minutes of hockey in 72 hours when they host the Marlies on Friday, before hitting the road for a game in Syracuse against the Crunch, Saturday, and back at it against the Marlies in Toronto on Sunday.
In what has to be one of the most exhausting schedules in the AHL, if not THE most exhausting down the stretch, the Comets have rallied to emerge very much alive in the playoff race.
Despite having 10 weekend games in the month of March, the Comets sit just seven points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, with nine games to go.
It's a tall task for a team to face, but if any team can make it happen, the Comets have shown it can be them. They have two games at hand on the Charlotte Checkers, who are currently in that 8th spot, and if they can take advantage of that, can gain four points on them, and hope that teams ahead of them continue to lose.
Again, it's a tall task, but with each point so vital at this stage of the game, the Comets need to play with the comeback mentality that has gotten them this far. After a dismal start to the season in October, Utica has played itself into a position no one could have even fathomed them to be in during the final month of the regular season.
But guess what, they're there, and they have shown us that they will not stop fighting until the final buzzer sounds in the final regular season game.
Whether or not they do, in fact, end up in the postseason is something that we won't know for a couple of weeks. However, in that time, regardless of the situation, I'm sure that we can all expect their very best, as they have given us all year.
This weekend will be tough, and every game is more important than the last - but if they take it one game at a time, play their game, and all the stars become aligned (pun intended), we may actually get to see playoff hockey here in Utica this year.
Yet even if they don't qualify officially, their play these last few months and entering these final few games has given us that playoff-type atmosphere, and for that, it has been one heck of an experience during this Inaugural season!
The home stretch is here, brace yourself for impact.