For the past two seasons, all anyone in the city of Utica, N.Y., can talk about are the Comets.
In their homes, at their schools, in the workplace, the Comets dominate the conversation. Around town, business windows are adorned with newspaper inserts proclaiming, "WE WANT THE CUP." Their home ice, the Utica Memorial Auditorium, sold out 27 times in the regular season and all 13 games in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Buildings light up blue and green at night, and office windows are coordinated to spell out "Comets" once the sun goes down.
"The first game when I got to Utica was pretty cool. I wasn't sure what to expect, but when I got there it was just unbelievable," Virtanen said recently in an interview with radio station TSN 1040 in Vancouver. "The fans were unbelievable, and the atmosphere. … They're behind our team, and it definitely gives the guys momentum to go out there and work hard."