|2020–21 AHL season|
|City||Utica, New York|
|League||American Hockey League|
|Home arena||Adirondack Bank Center|
|Colors||Blue, green, silver, white|
|Owner(s)||Canucks Sports & Entertainment|
(leased to Robert Esche)
|General manager||Ryan Johnson|
|Head coach||Trent Cull|
|Media||WKLL (94.9 FM)|
WKTV NewsChannel 2
WUTR Eyewitness News
|Affiliates||Vancouver Canucks (NHL)|
St. Louis Blues (NHL)
Kalamazoo Wings (ECHL)
|Division Championships||1 (2014–15)|
|Conference Championships||1 (2014–15)|
The Utica Comets are a professional ice hockey team based in Utica, New York. They are members of the North Division, of the Eastern Conference of the American Hockey League (AHL). Beginning play in the 2013–14 season, the team plays at the Adirondack Bank Center as the AHL affiliate of the National Hockey League's Vancouver Canucks. The Comets are the second AHL team to call Utica home; the Utica Devils played in the city from 1987 until 1993 and were affiliated with the New Jersey Devils.
The Comets' franchise, one of the oldest professional hockey franchises in existence, dates back to 1932, when the team was known as the Quebec Beavers. In 1935, the franchise moved to Springfield and became the Indians, reviving the name after the original Indians franchise ceased operations during the 1932–33 Canadian-American Hockey League season. In addition to the Indians, the team has been known as the Syracuse Warriors, Springfield Kings, Worcester IceCats and then the Peoria Rivermen. The Rivermen franchise was purchased by Canucks Sports & Entertainment (CS&E), owners of the National Hockey League's (NHL) Vancouver Canucks, in a deal announced on March 29, 2013, and approved by the American Hockey League (AHL) on April 18.
After purchasing the Rivermen franchise, CS&E intended to have the franchise located in a market close to Vancouver, British Columbia. Their initial preference was Abbotsford, British Columbia, which was home to the Calgary Flames' AHL farm club, the Abbotsford Heat. The Heat had been rumored to have plans to relocate to Utica, New York, at the time. Negotiations between the Canucks and Abbotsford broke down by April 22, ensuring the Heat would remain in the city. Media reports speculated that the Canucks would move the team to Vancouver and share Rogers Arena, which is also owned by CS&E, with the Canucks. This proved impossible as Vancouver is within Abbotsford's 50-mile territorial radius provided by the AHL. A reported plan to have the team play in Seattle's KeyArena was disallowed by the NHL, as Seattle was reportedly a candidate to land the troubled Phoenix Coyotes franchise. However, the Coyotes eventually found a new owner with intentions to keep the franchise in Arizona.
By May 2013, CS&E's options for the franchise were dwindling; it did consider keeping the franchise in Peoria, but notified the city on May 13 it would not operate in that city, and the Rivermen were replaced by a Southern Professional Hockey League team of the same name. CS&E did consider placing the franchise in dormancy for the 2013–14 season, with the Canucks loaning their AHL prospects to other teams. Facing an extended deadline by the AHL to find a new home, CS&E agreed to a deal with Utica, New York, to relocate the franchise to the city's soon-to-be-renovated Memorial Auditorium. The deal was confirmed on June 14 with an official announcement revealing the Utica Comets name and affiliation, along with logo and jerseys patterned after the Canucks' blue, green and silver color scheme. The Comets' nickname honors several prior professional hockey teams in the Mohawk Valley, most notably the Clinton and Mohawk Valley Comets, which played from 1927 until 1977 (as the Mohawk Valley Comets, they called the Memorial Auditorium home); the Atlantic Coast Hockey League's Mohawk Valley Comets, which played from 1985 until 1987; and a third team of the same name, which played in the North Eastern Hockey League during the 2003–04 season.
First years in Utica
After the founding CS&E began hiring personnel to run the team. Travis Green became the first head coach in team history, while Paul Jerrard and Nolan Baumgartner were named assistant coaches, and Pat Conacher was hired as the director of hockey operations. Utica played its first game on October 11, 2013, a 4–1 loss to the Rochester Americans. In the game, Pascal Pelletier scored the first goal in Comets history. Utica lost two more games before making their home debut. Before the game, the Comets celebrated the region's hockey history with a slide show, Gordie Howe dropped the ceremonial puck and the Hanson Brothers from the movie Slap Shot made an appearance. Utica lost the game 4–1 to the Albany Devils. One week after their home opener, Colin Stuart was named team captain. The Comets finished their debut season with 35 victories and 79 points, just four behind the last spot of the playoffs. Seventeen of the team's thirty-eight home games were sold out.
Before the 2014–15 season, Cal O'Reilly was named the team's new captain. The Comets saw much improvement in their sophomore season, and after Sven Baertschi and Cory Conacher were acquired in trades, the team soon dominated the Western Conference, finishing the regular season as the top seed. During the playoffs, the Comets won the Robert W. Clarke Trophy as Western Conference champions, advancing to the Calder Cup finals against the Manchester Monarchs; the Comets would fall to the Monarchs in five games. Following the season, O'Reilly would join his brother Ryan with the Buffalo Sabres.
The 2015–16 season saw the departure of many Comets players. Jacob Markstrom became the backup goaltender for the Canucks, Brendan Gaunce and newly-named captain Alex Biega also spent significant time with the Canucks, while Nicklas Jensen and Hunter Shinkaruk were traded mid-season to the New York Rangers and Calgary Flames, respectively. The Comets placed third in the North Division, which was moved to the Eastern Conference at the start of the season. They were eliminated in the first round of the 2016 playoffs, losing the series 3–1 to the Albany Devils.
At the start of the 2016–17 season, Carter Bancks was named team captain, replacing Alex Biega, who became a full-time player for the Canucks. The Comets were unable to clinch a playoff berth, falling four points short. However, the team managed to sellout every home game, extending their sellout streak.
On April 26, 2017, the Canucks hired Green as their new head coach. Green had led the Comets to a 155–110–39 record through their first four seasons. He was replaced by Trent Cull as head coach.
The Comets continued their sellout streak through the 2017–18 season. They qualified for the 2018 playoffs as the fourth seed in the North Division. They lost the opening round in five games to the Toronto Marlies, the eventual Calder Cup champions.
On October 19, 2018, the Utica Comets sold out their 121st consecutive regular season game, establishing a new AHL record. They also sold out all of their 17 playoff games hosted during this span, for a combined streak of 138 consecutive sellouts. They reached 200 consecutive regular season sellouts on February 29, 2020.
The Comets played their first 61 games of the 2019–20 season, but the last 15 games of the season were postponed on March 12, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and then cancelled entirely. The start of the 2020–21 season was also pushed back to February 2021. The Comets also agreed to a one-year dual affiliation with the St. Louis Blues after the Springfield Thunderbirds opted out of the 2020–21 season. Prior to the pandemic-related schedule changes, the Comets planned to host the Syracuse Crunch in an outdoor game at the Griffiss Business and Technology Park in Rome, New York, on February 13, 2021, however, the status of the game is now unconfirmed as of January 2021[update].
|2013–14||76||35||32||5||4||79||.520||187||216||3rd, North||2014||Did not qualify|
|2014–15||76||47||20||7||2||103||.678||219||182||1st, North||2015||W, 3–2, CHI||W, 4–3, OKC||W, 4–2, GR||L, 1–4, MCH|
|2015–16||76||38||26||8||4||88||.579||224||217||3rd, North||2016||L, 1–3, ALB||—||—||—|
|2016–17||76||35||32||7||2||79||.520||195||220||5th, North||2017||Did not qualify|
|2017–18||76||38||26||8||4||88||.579||211||216||4th, North||2018||L, 2–3, TOR||—||—||—|
|2018–19||76||34||34||6||2||76||.500||224||257||6th, North||2019||Did not qualify|
|2019–20||61||34||22||3||2||73||.598||210||186||3rd, North||2020||Season cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic|
Updated February 20, 2021.
There have been four Comets players who have served as the captain. Colin Stuart was the franchise's first captain, who was appointed until he left the team as a free agent in 2014. Carter Bancks was the franchise's longest-tenured captain, who has held the position from 2016 until his retirement after the 2019–20 season.
- "CANUCKS APPOINT GM, ASSOCIATE COACH FOR UTICA". AHL. July 26, 2017.
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- American Hockey League (March 12, 2020). "AHL suspends play". theahl.com. Retrieved March 12, 2020.
- "Thunderbirds opt out of 2020-21 AHL season". nhl.com/blues. January 4, 2021. Retrieved January 4, 2021.
- Ben Birnell (February 19, 2020). "Utica Comets to host 2021 AHL outdoor game". uticaod.com. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
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