The old Comets are back, as local owners have purchased the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen and are relocating the team to Utica Memorial Auditorium.
The Utica Comets will play under the management of Mohawk Valley Garden, led by former AHL, NHL and U.S. Olympic goaltender Robert Esche and long-time AHL owner Frank DuRoss.
“The city of Utica has a rich hockey history and a passionate fan base,” said AHL Commissioner David Andrews. “We welcome the Comets to the American Hockey League and look forward to returning to the Mohawk Valley.”
Back when the AHL was in town from 1954-73, the team was the Clinton Comets and split time between the two cities. The addition of Utica sets up more intrastate rivalries with the likes of the Binghamton Senators. In fact, the folks running the Comets expect to capitalize on those rivalries and will be basing their business plan off the success of the B-Sens. From Press Connects:
“People used to live and die with the old Comets when they were there,” [former Clinton Comet Tom] Mitchell remembered. “It was absolutely nuts. Every game was sold out, playing half our games in Utica and half in Clinton. Coming home from road trips at two or three o’clock in the morning at the old Clinton Arena, you were stepping over people to get to the dressing rooms who were sleeping in sleeping bags waiting for the box office to open.”
There has not been pro hockey in Utica since 2001. One issue has been the condition of Utica Memorial Auditorium, which opened in 1960. There’s talk of state money for updates, apparently, though nothing has been announced.