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Comet Tales: Canucks’ Gilman Recaps the Season

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“It all happened within a blink of an eye. That’s a good commentary on how things went.” – Laurence Gilman Vice President of Hockey Operations and Assistant General Manager for the Vancouver Canucks.

Starting from scratch last June, from an organizational and operational standpoint, the Comets entered the American Hockey League on the hurry. Modernizing a 50+ year old building known as The AUD, creating rooms where there were none, attracting a fan base that had to be sold on the product, and making believers out of the Vancouver Canucks that the Mohawk Valley was the right choice to develop their talent and future NHL players, left little margin for error.

As plans are in flow for producing a competitive product on the ice come this October, feedback from the parent club should always be welcomed and notes taken. Constructive criticism and suggestions are seeds of growth.  By all accounts, from Gilman’s perspective, who’s job description includes being the chief negotiator of all player contracts and head of amateur scouting, the Canucks are pleased at how their relationship in Utica blossomed.

“The Comets’ staff and hockey operations did such a wonderful job.  The hardest stretch was when (Comets) they didn’t win in their first 10 games,”Gilman tells.

With the inaugural season of the return of AHL hockey back in Utica now more than one month into the off-season, Gilman reflects on last June’s press conference at Aqua Vino’s Restaurant announcing the partnership between the Comets and Canucks. Gilman isn’t surprised at the level of success early on in the agreement.  He recalls looking around the room flooded with media two and three deep as an “overwhelming response”, that exceeded his expectations.

The fan and community support for professional hockey coming home to The AUD after a 20-year hiatus couldn’t have been more evident, as the season wound down to its final two home games.  Collecting a 3-2 win over the Toronto Marlies on April 18, capped off the next afternoon with a 2-0 shutout over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, saw the Comets finish the season with 79 points; 35-32-5-4.

With the Calgary Flames relocating their AHL affiliate to Glens Falls for the upcoming season, five New York state opponents of the Comets will be within a two-hour bus ride from The AUD.  The close proximity to Utica, as is likely the same line of thought with the other parent clubs playing the Comets, is a very attractive feature for Vancouver’s selection to be in the Mohawk Valley.

“This is precisely why we chose Utica; it’s in the heart of the American Hockey League,” Gilman, who has been with the Canucks since 2008, explains.

This should put to a rest the rumors of Vancouver wanting to have their top affiliate closer to the Pacific Northwest.  With baseless rumors persisting throughout the season of the Canucks eyeing to shift their top affiliate to Abbotsford (once available), due to being less than 50 miles apart, Gilman presents a basic feature of the Utica-Canucks conection few observed.

“There’s a tendency for the affiliate to be in close proximity to the NHL club.  Remember, 50 percent of the time both (teams) are on the road.  When you put your team in a market closely situated to your rival (Glens Falls/Calgary), you garner more attention.”

The multi-year agreement between the Comets and Canucks is on solid foundation.  With Vancouver announcing last month that Mike Gillis would no longer be the club’s president and general manager, and Trevor Linden brought aboard as President, it would be natural for some of the Comets faithful to wonder what, if any effect new leadership could have in Utica.  Gilman is clear when stating that the Canucks roster is developed based on a model that is committed to developing talent, in an exceptional location (Utica).

According to Gilman, within a month’s time the Canucks should announce who their new General Manager will be.  Nicklas Jensen, a mainstay for much of his 54 contests in a Comets uniform, skated 17 games with the parent club. Jensen is one success story of developing talent coming out of Utica that Gilman points to.

“He (Jensen) had no goals in this first 18 or so games.  The coaching staff stayed committed with him.  His skating pace improved, and (Jensen) came on to contribute on the NHL level.”

Darren Archibald, Frank Corrado, Pascal Pelletier, and Benn Ferriero are others who Gilman singles out as having made important contributions, to the overall growth of last season’s Comets team. Growth in Utica and next month’s NHL Entry Draft could have a connection. Gilman labels the draft as a process of “having a longer view” where they evolve.

“Players from Europe and college could go the AHL and Utica immediately,” Gilman said of the upcoming draft in Philadelphia.

Pleased with the coaching staff, pleased with how the affiliate went about their business, all signs point to a positive check-up, and healthy prognosis between the Canucks and Comets.