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Unwavering support

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
The Utica Comets were in the midst of a 10-game losing streak early last season when coach Travis Green heard Comets fans at their best.

Yes, their best.

Utica put in a solid effort against the Abbotsford Heat on October 30, 2013, at Utica Memorial Auditorium, but didn’t get the bounces and lost 5-4 in overtime.

That was the team’s seventh straight loss to begin its return to Utica and one might have expected home fans to be a tad frustrated with the Comets, maybe even boo them as they left the ice.

Get this: they don’t know how to boo – at least not for their team.

“They gave us a standing ovation,” smiled coach Green. “We put in the effort and despite losing, the fans respected our hard work. Clapping is one thing, but a standing ovation? You just don’t see that. That’s when I knew these fans were special.”

In Game 4 of the Calder Cup Final Friday night in Utica, the Comets gave up two quick 1st period goals in a span of 32 seconds.

Uh oh.

No uh oh.

The fans didn’t waiver, the support and noise remained steady. And the Comets replied with two goals to tie the game. Coincidence? Not a chance.

The Manchester Monarchs won the game 6-3, but again Comets fans demonstrated their sheer epic awesomeness late when goaltender Jacob Markstrom was replaced by Joacim Eriksson.

Markstrom had just allowed six goals and yet he was treated to a half-standing ovation and loud cheers as he left the ice. And this was no Bronx cheer, it was legit support.

Is there something in the water in Utica? If so, they should be bottling and selling it to fair-weather sports fans around the world.

“It goes beyond hockey with these people,” said Brendan Burke, Comets play-by-play broadcaster and head of team public relations.

“They’re just so proud of what they have that it doesn’t matter, win or lose, they’re here to support the team. The Calder Cup run this team has been on is a bonus for these people, they were in it 100 per cent from the start last year and we lost the first 10 games of the season. They were in it when we missed the playoffs and they came out and bought more season tickets and packed this place even more times than they did last year, and they were rewarded for their hard work.

“And it’s crazy in here during games, but you don’t understand or appreciate how loud it can actually get and how loud it actually is until you’re sitting here and experiencing it. It is one of a kind.”

From the press box, it was loud. From the stands deafening, perhaps?

During the second intermission of Friday’s game I was on a hunt for popcorn when Jeana Nicotera spotted me and asked for my thoughts on everything Utica. She was born and raised here and is damn proud of that.

I told her I’ve fallen in love with Utica and its people, especially during games. This is some of the most fun a hockey fan can have.

“Why not come sit with us for the 3rd period, we’ve got an extra seat,” she said.

Oh you’re on.

Wearing a black suit in a whiteout, I hunkered down in section 105, row 2, seat 7 and experienced it.

The Comets gave up an early goal to trail 6-2 and the Aud was definitely quieter than usual (“it’s so quiet in here, I can’t stand it” was overheard), but when Will Acton scored with 2:06 remaining, the building returned to its rowdy roots. The sold-out crowd hadn’t cleared out by then either, there were only a few hundred empty seats. Everyone else was loyal to the end.

Saturday night’s Game 5 is the end as far as Comets home games go this season and one gets the feeling that even if the Comets aren’t able to win three consecutive games to become the fourth team in AHL history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win the Calder Cup, there will be a parade anyways.

“I think they want to have a parade either way,” laughed Burke. “I don’t know if celebrating a loss is something our guys want to do, but the fans would love it and they’d turn out for sure and support them win or lose.”

Listen up Utica: regular fans aren’t like this. Even though I may get run out of town for quoting a One Direction song, it fits.

“You don't know you're beautiful, that's what makes you beautiful.”

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