Utica, N.Y. - The Utica Comets completed the 2018-19 season at 34-34-6-2, sixth place in the north division with 76 points, and eight points out of a playoff spot. The team cleared out their lockers at the Adirondack Bank Center, Monday, parting ways for the off-season.
"It was a frustrating year," said captain, Carter Bancks, prior to his departure. "We were in a decent place around the all-star break and the last couple of months were tough."
Though it wasn't the result the team had wanted, they never doubted their abilities at any point throughout the season. They also never doubted their desire to win.
"It wasn't a lack of effort, it wasn't a lack of compete, it wasn't a lack of commitment," Bancks said. "It was just probably the most frustrating run of games I've ever been a part of because we were putting some really good efforts forward and we were just not able to collect points."
This was the same sentiment echoed throughout the locker room, with players feeling as though they emptied everything in the tank, even after losing 14 of their final 19 games.
"[It's] obviously not the finish we wanted, but to a man everyone in our locker room battled and gave it all we got," said Comets center, Cam Darcy, a pending free agent. "We just weren't getting the bounces towards the end of the year and ended up going on a pretty bad skid there which ended up hurting us.
But I think as a whole we competed hard every night and it just didn't end up going our way."
The team dealt with a plethora of key injuries and call-ups, losing players like goalie Richard Bachman, along with defensemen Olli Juolevi and Evan McEneny to season-ending injuries throughout the year. Other guys like center Wacey Hamilton and defenseman Jalen Chatfield also missed significant amounts of time this year.
"You hate when that happens, you know it's some adversity that you know you're going to go through every year, but you hope that it's not as big a deficit as we had again this year," said center, Brendan Woods, another pending free agent. "But it's good for young guys too, they had to step up in a bigger role than maybe they had expected coming into the year.
It's only going to be a positive outcome for them moving forward and for us as a team next year."
The team also lost key defensemen Ashton Sautner, Luke Schenn and Guillaume Brisebois, as well as, top forward prospect Adam Gaudette, and perhaps the biggest, goalie Thatcher Demko, in one-way call-ups to Vancouver before the NHL trade deadline in March.
Trades were also a major factor in the status of this year's lineup. The Comets saw some of their top scorers sent away in trades, such as Darren Archibald, Michael Carcone and Jonathan Dahlen. Utica saw no immediate benefits come the other way in any of those trades. In a deal in early February, forward Tanner MacMaster was swapped to the Toronto Marlies for defenseman Stefan LeBlanc.
With the year now over, the players are trying to focus on looking ahead rather than looking back. Many said they plan to use the experiences this year as a learning tool to help them stay more motivated heading into the off-season and through the next season.
"It definitely lights a fire under us, for sure," said alternate captain and center, Wacey Hamilton. "It's going to be a longer summer than we would have hoped, but I think you're going to see guys take a couple of weeks off and then it's right back to work, getting in the gym and trying to improve.
Since they have no other option, Hamilton chooses to see some benefit to a longer summer. In terms of being able to get healthier, and have more time to work on some things that need attention, Hamilton said that it can bring what is a relatively young team back and better than ever in the fall.
"For all the young guys that we have, I think it'll be good for those guys to have a big summer and come back with confidence going into next year," he said.
While the team is disappointed that they will not be making a run for a Calder Cup this season, the third time missing the playoffs in the six year existence of the franchise, the leadership group sent a very strong message to the rest of the core guys as they split for the summer.
"Remember what it felt like playing these meaningless games because we don't want that happening again," Bancks said. "We've got next year coming and obviously a summer ahead of us here and whatnot, but remember that feeling of packing up your bags early, and not getting a chance to play in the playoffs because we don't want that happening again."
The Comets will return to regular season action for the franchise's seventh season in October.
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