Cameraman Paul Albi and myself had the pleasure of spending last week in Utica, New York, covering the Comets as they played in the AHL’s Calder Cup Final. It was cross-country travel and long workdays, but looking back, it felt like a vacation.
The people of Utica welcomed us with open arms (and hugged us a lot), thanking us more and more as the days went by for everything we were doing.
The mandate for the trip was simple: showcase the city of Utica and the Comets run. We weren’t told to sugarcoat or put a positive spin on anything; report what you see, the good, the bad and the otherwise.
The only bad was the Comets falling to the Manchester Monarchs in five games, losing the Calder Cup series 4-1.
I’ve answered What’s a ‘Utica’? and explored the Unwavering Support the Comets get from Utica, but I have a notebook full of tidbits that need sharing.
These are them.
-In Game 5 of the final, a must-win for the Comets, there were 12 chants of U-TI-CA and 14 LET’S GO COMETS cheers from the sold-out whiteout crowd. When were these cheers the loudest? When the game ended, after the Comets had lost, and the Calder Cup was being awarded to the Monarchs. Pure class.
-Speaking of the whiteout, it was encouraged by the Comets organization, yet they never gave out a free t-shirt.
-Speaking of things happening organically, the organization had nothing to do with the fan tailgating that went on beside the arena throughout the playoffs. Before Saturday’s game, the final home game for the Comets even if they had won, the smoker was heating up at 8:30 a.m. and meat was put on around 10 a.m.
-Thank you to Chris Fullem and Terry Logan for cooking such incredible meaty delights on the smoker and to all the restaurants who donated food to make the tailgating such a success.
-After tailgating for three Comets games, my suit smells like smoked meat and it won’t be getting dry-cleaned anytime soon. Mmmmm meat suit.
-Chicken riggies, Utica greens, tomato pie and half moon cookies. I’m drooling just thinking about how delicious these Utica staples are. I wonder how they would taste after flying from Utica to Vancouver? Hint, hint... ;)
-Time flies when you’re having fun and we had a lot of fun thanks to some new friends, specifically fellow dinosaur lovers Jordan and André, who think decal, as in a design prepared on special paper for transfer onto another surface such as glass, porcelain, or metal, is pronounced dee-kal, not deck-all. You crazy kids.
-Remember the cowbell lady, whose name I forget and I felt terrible because we talked for a long time before Game 3 and she’s so sweet and reminded me of my grandma, who I miss, and I couldn’t wait to talk hockey with again? Well her name is Laura Moody and we’re now Facebook friends. If she can cook perogies, I’ll be buying a summer home in Utica.
-There are no parking meters in Utica. Normal to Uticans, this was odd and refreshing to someone residing in Vancouver where parking costs an arm, leg, eye and ear.
-Saranac Thursdays. Enough said.
-Next to the London Zoo in London, England, the Utica Zoo is the nicest, cleanest zoo I’ve ever visited. Great variety of animals and an outstanding staff. Word to the wise: don’t mess with lions.
-Equally as fierce as the king of the jungle is the flawlessness of the Comets in arena experience and I’m not talking about the fans. Gina Nassivera, director of game presentation, works wonders and it only adds to the nearly indescribable in-game atmosphere. Bravo.
-Thank you to Comets GM Robert Esche for opening the doors and giving us an all-access pass to showcase the team. Your operation is second to none in the AHL, same goes for your coaching staff.
-Thank you to Brendan Burke, Comets play-by-play broadcaster and head of team public relations, for bending over backwards and facilitating our every quirky request. I had to privilege of sitting beside Burke in the press box in-game and listening to his call is a treat. Skills.
-Thank you to Mark Caswell Jr. for being equally as accommodating, but especially for the popcorn. You saved me.
-Shout out to Lindsay A. Mogle, Comets photographer, for keeping things in focus. GET IT?!? But seriously, thanks for letting us use your shots.
-Shout out to Tyson Giuriato for covering the Comets all season for Canucks.com and really amping things up in the playoffs.
-And finally, thank you to the people of Utica. “Utica…starts with you.” That’s the tagline used in the city's logo and it couldn’t be more bang on. The people of Utica are hard working and genuinely friendly, caring, passionate, knowledgeable and deserving of everything the Comets have brought them. The Comets may be the pulse of the city, but you’re the heart.
This isn’t goodbye, it’s see you soon.
Keep some chicken riggies warm.