Will the Comets Have an AHL Team? We’ll Find Out Thursday
Utica Comets President Robert Esche confirmed on Wednesday that as of right now, Utica does not have an AHL team for the upcoming 2021-22 season. Esche appeared on WIBX's Keeler in the Morning Show on Wednesday.
"As of right now, we don't know," Esche said. The Comets President said he learned that Vancouver would be pulling out of their agreement with Utica in December. He said he's been looking for a new team affiliation ever since.
The news comes amid rumors of a change over the last few weeks and Tuesday's announcement from the Vancouver Canucks that they are exiting Utica and moving their farm team closer to home in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Vancouver partnered with Esche 8 years ago to reintroduce AHL hockey to the area with the Utica Comets in 2013. Since then, the Comets have seen a significant expansion at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, now the Adirondack Bank Center, a team run for the Calder Cup and an active record for the most consecutive sell out games, which has only been interrupted by the pandemic restrictions by New York State.
Another development in the last 2 weeks is that New Jersey has decided to pull their team from Binghamton, leaving that city without a current AHL team. A reporter in Binghamton recently discovered that back in March, Esche trademarked the name Utica Devils, adding speculation that the Devils might be moving to Utica. Esche said that he trademarked the Utica Devils name in order to block anyone else from using it. He said it could be used for a nostalgia night sometime in the future. He said there is currently no deal in place with New Jersey, however, the AHL Board of Governors will be meeting on Thursday afternoon and he expects to learn something from that meeting.
Esche did clarify that he trademarked the Utica Devils name more to protect the Utica Comets brand than Utica Devils. He also said he expects that Utica will get a new AHL affiliate and that should be learned on Thursday.
Hypothetically, Esche said Utica could be a perfect match with New Jersey and the close proximity will allow for players to be moved up and down much easier. He also said that when a new team commits to Utica, he expects the team name will remain "Utica Comets".
If there was a return to the Devils in Utica, it would bring hockey fans back to the early 1980s. The Utica Devils played in Utica from 1987 until 1993 and featured notable coaches, Tom McVie from 1987 to 1991, legendary Olympic coach Herb Brooks in 1991–92 and Robbie Ftorek in 1992–93. Notable Utica Devils players include Martin Brodeur, Bill Guerin, Kevin Todd, Corey Schwab, Bobby Holik, Claude Vilgrain, Valeri Zelepukin, Jason Smith, and Jim Dowd.
During their tenure, the Utica Devils were operated by New Jersey and never saw the fan support that the Utica Comets have seen over the last 8 years. It was rumored then that when Utica failed to sell-out the Utica Memorial Auditorium for the Devils playoff game against Rochester in 1993, the decision was made by New Jersey to move the franchise out of Utica.
Esche said, these are different times as Utica and the region's support for the Comets and AHL hockey is now bigger than it has ever been. He cited local ownership on the ground inside the Adirondack Center with playing a big role in hockey's current success in Utica.