In 1993 the Utica Devils left for St. Johns…A year later Syracuse got a chance to prove they are a hockey city when Vancouver planted their AHL team in Central New York. Now the Canucks are giving Utica a second chance to prove it’s a hockey town. And although many have failed in the past…The Mohawk Galley Garden group believe this time will be different.
Former NHL Goalie Robert Esche says, “There’s State funding that’s going into renovating a great building. 2 Utica College had the highest attendance in Division 3. And 3 they’ve got an operating group with a guy that has 20 years of owning an AHL team and they got a guy that just recently got out of pro hockey.”
Different management but the same building. Last year the Oklahoma Barons averaged the lowest attendance in the AHL at 3,500 per game. If the comets are going to be successful they will need to nearly sell out every game because the AUD can only seat 4-thousand. But Vancouver says after seeing the AUD and hearing about the popularity of UC the comets can succeed.
Vancouver Canucks Assistant General Manager Laurence Gilman says, “Came and saw the building and they told us that Utica College draws 3,400-3,500 people a game, we knew this was a fertile hockey market. We thought we could put our farm team here and not only would it be successful on the ice, but it would be successful as a business.”
In total the AUD will see $5 million in upgrades over the next few years to bring it up to date. That combined with the 6 year agreement between Mohawk Valley Garden and the Canucks gives Esche high hopes this franchise will succeed.
He says, “We feel our agreement is very strong, we think it’s a very good business model, we worked hard on it for a year. You know the arena needed the money, we were able to get the money, we were able to get the team and that’s really what it’s about, keeping one of our greatest assets going.”
The commitment from the team and upgrades to the building have been secured…Now will fans make their way to the AUD to support the team? We’ll wait and see.