Utica, N.Y. - Training camp is over, the preseason is in the books and now it's time play out the 2019-20 American Hockey League season.
The Comets, who finished last year at 34-34-6 and missed the playoffs by six points, are re-energized this season with a healthy lineup and what looks to be, on paper at least, to be a very deep roster.
After two preseason games over the weekend and a weeks worth of hard practices to finalize the roster ahead of the year, the team is ready to do it all for real.
"It’s been a long couple of weeks," said Comets head coach Trent Cull. "It was nice to have a couple of games last weekend, a long week this week to get kind of geared up and a lot of fine-tuning. I think players, staff, everybody is excited to get going."
With 15 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies listed on the roster, the team has a lot of options each night.
The Comets return many veterans including leading scorer Reid Boucher and they get back a lot of players lost to injury last season, including defenseman Olli Juolevi and goalie Richard Bachman.
Last year's team also lost a lot of key players to call-ups such as defensemen Ashton Sautner and Guillaume Brisebois, who return to the Comets start this season.
Sautner, Brisebois, defenseman Jalen Chatfield and forward Zach MacEwen also had extended stays up in the NHL during training camp with the Vancouver Canucks.
All of that experience can prove highly valuable as the AHL season begins.
"This is my fifth year here and [Utica] is a great place to play hockey," said Sautner. "It’s exciting to be back at The Aud again and everyone is ready to work."
Players such as those who have spent some time with the Canucks over the past year know that they have the attention of the parent club and may have the opportunity to make it to the NHL on a more consistent basis this year.
However, with the first week of the regular season arriving for the Comets, those players are focused solely on bettering themselves and the team here so that individual success can be created through team success.
"It’s day two of practice for me [in Utica] to get going here and it’s looking really good with the guys on the ice right now," said MacEwen. "Just being back in Utica and playing for these fans again is going to be really exciting, for sure."
The team knows that adjustments will have to be made early on and that every point is important, even in early October, after seeing how tight the division race has been over the past couple of years.
They will look to come out of the gates as strong as possible so that they can set the tone and put themselves in a good position off the get-go.
"Saturday is a big game," said Sautner. "We’ve got to go into Binghamton and take care of business."
The Comets open up the season at Floyd Maines Arena against the Binghamton Devils on Saturday. Puck drop is at 7:05 p.m.