Utica, N.Y. - It’s been 325 days since the Utica Comets took the ice for a game. It will be even longer until they do it in front of fans.
“Obviously, you miss the fans, you miss going out there. I came out and watched warm-up for a bit, it just seemed surreal without them, you know, we miss our fans of course,” said Trent Cull, Comets head coach. “But once you get involved in the game you’re just rolling with the game, right. When you get a goal and the horn goes and no one’s cheering, it seems a little strange. We miss that but it is what it is.”
“It’s moments like these where you don’t really know what you got ‘til it’s gone. We miss them out there but, obviously we have to make do with what we have,” said Kole Lind, Comets forward.
On March 11, 2020 the Comets hosted the Syracuse Crunch for what would ultimately be their last game for the foreseeable future.
On Saturday, nearly a year later, Utica is in the same scenario, except in an empty arena and new teammates from the Midwest.
Fourteen players have been assigned to the Comets from the St. Louis Blues including forward Sam Anas who opened up scoring for Utica 9:19 into the first period on a power play. Anas would score again early in the third period and add an assist to his line in the second.
Comets’ forward Kole Lind, who played the center position this game, would tally two goals of his own (2nd 11:37, 3rd 10:00) and assist on two goals.
“Face-off-wise I think I was really good tonight. I’m not sure what I ended up but I won my fair share of draws tonight, for sure. I think the biggest thing to get used to is D-zone play and knowing where my responsibility is and where I have to pick up. But obviously, this past week and the week coming up I’m going to work towards that,” said Lind.
“We’ve spent a good amount of time whether it is after practice, talking about our tendencies and what we like and things that have worked for us in the past. I think the three of us (Anas, Lind, Baertschi) think the game very similarly and I think that should translate to success,” said Anas.
Sven Baertschi, Kole Lind and Mitch Reinke each assisted on two goals.
“I thought Kole did a good job. We had that experiment last year, we tried it out of necessity and it was just something I thought about over the summer a little bit and I thought it was a good opportunity too with our team and how we’re going to lay it out in the last two weeks,” said Cull. “I talked to Kole even this week and alluded it to him about a week ago about it and he’s up for the challenge. It’s one of those things that I think it’s always easier for a center to reset to the wing than it is for a winger to reset to the center. I thought that line was pretty good, they certainly had some chemistry.”
Blues’ assignee defenseman Tyler Tucker (1st 9:32), forward Nolan Stevens (3rd 18:05) and Canucks’ assignee forward Jonah Gadjovich (3rd 2:03) each found the back of the net.
Utica would outlast the Syracuse Crunch, winning 7-5.
For the new Comets’ and returning players, building chemistry in a short amount of time will be the determining factor of their success.
“It’s been 10 months. So it’s going to take some time – two, three, four weeks – where guys can actually blow the dust off and feel good about how we’re playing as a team and themselves,” said Cull.
“It’s such a short season, it’s very important to build chemistry as fast as you can and clearly we were able to do that today,” said Anas. “I think we’re just going to use that and snowball effect and just keep this thing rolling as good as we can.”
With only one exhibition game this preseason, Utica is just happy to get real-game experience ahead of the start of the regular season.
“It was huge,” said Lind. “I think a lot of us needed this for sure, even a couple more (games) would’ve helped but overall just to get one game really helps us a lot. Combining two teams, just building that chemistry and that trust in each other is going to help us a lot in the long run for sure.”
“First and foremost we played a hockey game because we saw some games around the American Hockey League that have been canceled,” said Cull. “We work very hard, just the trainers, the front office, and the work that everybody’s putting in. There’s a small budget in the AHL system but with a lot of guys doing as much as we can in different jobs to try to make this all happen. Of course, the players, too, they take this serious. We have 100 days. You don’t want to be careless and then all of sudden bring something in the room. It might happen by accident but our guys are focused, they want to play, they want to be a part of this.”
The Comets open up the regular season on the road against the Rochester Americans on Friday, February 5.
Utica’s home opener is scheduled for Wednesday, February 17 against Syracuse Crunch.