Comets Tales: Archibald's Long Path Back to Utica
by Don LaibleMar 10, 2016
Comets forward Darren Archibald is known as a player who will do whatever it takes for the team.
Score in your first game back at The AUD? Check.
Deliver bone-crushing hits to opponents? Check.
Bury three pucks into the back of the net of the best team in the American Hockey League? Check.
Fight NHL All-Star Game MVP, and noted heavyweight, John Scott? Check.
Archibald logged 129 games over the Comets' first two seasons in operation, and quickly became a fan favorite in Utica. After suffering a knee injury in the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs, "Archi" went unsigned by an NHL team and found himself skating with the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings.
With two goals and six games, Archibald was back where he belongs – in the 315 area code. In his first game back in a Comets sweater, Archibald sent the hometown crowd into a frenzy when he opened up the Comets’ scoring with a wrist shot 18:04 into his re-debut.
"It was just another obstacle (starting the season in the ECHL). The transition (back to Utica) was smooth,” recalled Archibald. "I was familiar with the coach, and saw the situation as temporary.”
After his PTO expired, the Comets quickly scooped up the Newmarket, ON native with an AHL deal.
Standing outside of the Comets' room, minutes after a 4-1 St. John's victory at The AUD last week, “Archi” speaks softly, in a-matter-of-fact tone, of how his rehab unfolded.
"Over the summer I concentrated on getting healthy,” told the intimidating 6’3”, 212-lb. forward. “I needed to get up to speed as fast as possible after the injury."
The injury that Archibald referenced dates back to last May. During the team’s Calder Cup Finals run, in the second game of the second round, "Archi" left the game in the second period - lower body injury. There would be no making the road trip to Oklahoma City for Archibald. His season was done.
He finished up last season on the sideline as his teammates sealed the deal and won the Western Conference Championship. As the off season unfolded, "Archi" had every intention of returning to Utica. In Utica, the NHL again would be just a step away. After all, it was just two seasons ago that Archibald played in 16 games for the Vancouver Canucks.
"I try not to think about it much,” explained Archibald. “I take things a day at a time. Of course, I would like to get back to the NHL."
But getting healthy, and having a shorter summer to do so, was not something that worked in "Archi's" favor. As rosters are being arranged, any uncertainty surrounding a player's physical ability to performer could cause doubts to a franchise when deciding on who to offer a contract to.
Through the Comets' first eight games of this season, minus Archibald, and with the Archibald putting his best skate forward in a half dozen games with the K-Wings, "Archi" accepted his situation in stellar professional form. Any regret or disappointment he may have felt wasn't evident. He simply had to prove that he belonged in the AHL, again.
Kalamazoo wasn't foreign for "Archi". If he had to work his way back into the Comets' line-up, putting on a familiar K-Wings' jersey probably was the most comfortable for him to do so.
The last time "Archi" played before a home crowd at Wings Event Center (then known as Wings Stadium), came four seasons ago. That was the year before he joined the Comets for their inaugural campaign, During the 2012-13 season, "Archi" split his season with the Canucks' then AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, and the K-Wings. Same deal the season before that, half with Chicago, half in Kalamazoo.
There were other perks when he joined Kalamazoo. Familiar faces that had 'cups of coffee' with the Comets during the previous two seasons included Curtis Valk, Evan McEneny, Ludgwig Blomstrand, and Alexandre Mallet.
"I stayed in touch with some of the guys (in Utica); texts and twitter," said "Archie", of his start of the season with the Wings. "This (Utica) is where I wanted to come back to."
Wings' coach Nick Bootland, now in his eighth season guiding the team, and who also put in four seasons as a player for the franchise, is someone who "Archie" felt comfortable around.
"It wasn't an ideal situation. But, I stayed focused there (Kalamazoo)," he recalled.
After he registers two goals and no penalty minutes in six games, the knee, and Archibald appeared ready for a return to the American Hockey League.
Timing is everything in professional sports. It just so happened that on Nov. 3, 2015, the Comets suddenly had an open roster spot.
As the Wings prepared for a Nov. 4 home contest with the Adirondack Thunder, "Archi" was not on their roster. Just 24 hours earlier, a phone call from Travis Green to Archibald confirmed the transaction. Archi’s would be coming "home" to Utica.
"I was home after practice,” told Archibald. "Greener" called and I was on the next flight out.”
He arrived at The AUD in time for the mid-week Nov 4 game with the visiting Portland Pirates, "Archi" completed a storybook homecoming. His first shot on goal, 18:04 into his first game, back, "Archi" lit the red lamp with a highlight-reel worth goal. The Comets would ultimately win 3-2, with Archibald taking home second star honors.
"It was an emotional game,” explained Archibald as he fought back a smile. “The first goal was a special moment. It excited the crowd and put the team on the right track.”
Since having his number 25 jersey returned to him, "Archi" appears comfortable with his role with the Comets.
"It's been comfortable, right from the start," said "Archie" about his return to the Comets' room. “There are a few new faces, but it has been great. Things are a little different now. The team is a lot younger and I've taken on a leadership role. Guys are working hard and they may have questions. They keep the excitement and energy around the room."
With nine goals and nine assists through 46 games, Archibald is on pace for a career year, stats-wise. His return saw another joyous moment this weekend in Toronto. After he scorched the league-leading Marlies with a two-goal night on Friday, he scored the game-winning goal with 63 seconds left in the game in his hometown on Sunday, against the same Marlies.
The 640 mile journey that is Kalamazoo to Utica, for "Archie" is an award; an accomplishment he would take possibly only second to winning a championship for his "home team".