Just ahead of the opening of Utica Comets training camp for the 2019-20 season, the team has undergone a series of hockey operations personnel changes that will result in some new faces to be seen around the Adirondack Bank Center this year.
Pat Conacher: Named as the Comets’ director of hockey operations ahead of its inaugural season in 2013-14, Conacher is transitioning into a role as an amateur scout with the Canucks. An NHL veteran of over 500 games and a Utica Devil from 1987-90, Conacher has been integral in the Comets’ success on-ice success for the past six seasons.
Conacher evaluated talent for Vancouver and was critical in bringing in players on call-ups from the ECHL following injuries in Vancouver and Utica. In addition to his over-500 NHL and over-450 AHL games, Conacher has been behind the bench as an assistant of the Phoenix Coyotes (2001-04), the head coach of the Utah Grizzlies (2004-05) and the San Antonio Rampage (2005-07) of the AHL, and the Regina Pats (2011-13) of the WHL. He was a member of the 1984 Stanley Cup Champion Edmonton Oilers, and his name is etched on hockey’s holy grail directly under Wayne Gretzky.
Chris Higgins: With over 700 NHL games of experience, including 314 with the Canucks, Chris Higgins has been named as the assistant director of player development to assist current Comets’ general manager Ryan Johnson. Higgins hails from Smithtown, NY, and has seen stops with Montreal, the New York Rangers, Calgary, Florida and Vancouver.
The former Yale University Bulldog appeared in 22 games with the Comets during his final season of pro hockey in 2015-16. He was drafted by Montreal in the first round (14th overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
Roman Kaszczij: Embarking on his first season in the AHL, Roman Kaszczij (pronounced CASH-gee) has been named as the Comets’ new head athletic trainer. Tasked with maintaining the well-being of the team, Kaszczij spent last season with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL, and was on the staff of the Hamilton Bulldogs OHL Championship winning team the season before.
Originally of Guelph, Ontario, Kaszczij earned a degree in kinesiology from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and received a degree in applied health sciences and athletic therapy at Sheridan College in Brampton, Ontario. His notable experience also includes internships with Hockey Canada, the Toronto Blue Jays (MLB), and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (CFL).
Nathan Williams: Joining the Comets as the strength and conditioning coach, Williams earns a promotion from the collegiate ranks, where he was most recently the strength and conditioning coach at Lake Superior State University. With an undergraduate degree from Missouri State University and a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Williams has also had stops at Miami (OH) and was an intern with the St. Louis Blues.
Ken Hetzel: After spending the past five seasons as the Comets’ strength and conditioning coach, Ken Hetzel has earned a much-deserved call-up to the NHL. Joining the Canucks’ strength staff, Hetzel brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the position. He has spent his time in Utica behind the scenes, helping to develop and maintain the physical presence of each player.