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The Comets Craze Part I

They've been the talk of the town since they first relocated this summer. They sell out the AUD almost every game and they've created a hockey buzz that feels contagious. We’re talking about the Utica Comets.
They've been the talk of the town since they first relocated this summer. They sell out the AUD almost every game and they've created a hockey buzz that feels contagious. We’re talking about the Utica Comets.
The Comets have infected this community both on and off the ice. Some say the team is exactly what the Mohawk Valley needed. After years of no professional hockey team, the Comets are here and the community is fired up.
20 years. That’s how long Utica was without a professional hockey team. But last June that void was filled by a comet and the project took off at the speed of light.
"Typically teams have a year to set up the following year for their hockey team, we had 90 days to set up the team, get staff here and update a 55 year old building so I mean it was hectic, it was around the clock," said Comets Director of Communications Mark Caswell Jr.
The time crunch was stressful at times but the leaders behind the team say civic pride was the motivating force. Only 30 cities in the country can brand themselves home to an American Hockey League team and now Utica is one of them.
"Hundreds of cities vying for a team for us to be able to secure a team for our hometown really was a great win for us and we felt good about it and we thought it bodes well for the future here," says Frank DuRoss, Chairman of the Utica Comets.
Many of the team leaders are Mohawk Valley natives. They say what the area needed was something to rally behind and for a hockey town the answer was simple.
"This is a pro sports team, this is civic pride, this something national, this is the second best hockey league in the world and its home in Utica," said Caswell.
"I look at the whole thing as just a great piece for the City of Utica from a civic pride aspect which I think is monumental when you're trying to grow a city or regrow a city and I’m just excited that the whole thing actually did come together,” said Comets President Rob Esche.
Esche says he and his partners had a clear vision of bringing professional hockey back to the Mohawk Valley. The project went as planned but they say they never could have envisioned such a dedicated fan base to follow.
"The fan support is better than I could have imagined. I've been around for a while, I’ve seen a lot of different fan bases and the support that this team has in the arena, in the community and then at the away games as well has just been tremendous,” says Brendan Burke, the Broadcaster for the Utica Comets.
"This is a hockey town it always has been and fans are showing their support and showing this is the place where hockey belongs and should be,” says Caswell.
The fans’ loyal support and sell-out attendance doesn't go unnoticed from the locker room.
"Right from the start, when we didn't win, they were still giving us standing ovations at the end of the game for our hard work and now it's paid off and they're right behind us every night win or lose," says Nolan Baumgartner, Assistant Coach of the Comets.
Win or lose, the Comets have re-sparked the hockey passion of the community as well as an overwhelming sense of Central New York pride.
"Everywhere we go we run into people that have the passion for the comets and more so for our community that I never realized before," said DuRoss.
"I believe in communities, I believe that these sports outlets can actually grow communities and I think they can do it when it's real."
In this hockey hometown, it's safe to say the passion is real.

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