Comets Tales: Frozen Dome Classic

by Don Laible

Nov 23, 2014

30,715 hockey fans left Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome on Saturday evening quite familiar with the Utica Comets.

Herkimer’s Nicole Todd, a graduate student at SU, summed up her view of the Comets – Syracuse Crunch match from her seat in section 109 as – “This is amazing. I’ve never seen anything like this; so exciting. I’m definitely going to The AUD to see the Comets when I’m on break.”

The fan experience inside the 34-year-old Dome, with a temperature outside reading a balmy 44 degrees, will be long lasting. Thousands upon thousands of Comets faithful made the trip west of The AUD to demonstrate their team loyalty. “Let’s Go Comets” chants were on par, if not louder, than the countering Cunch fans’ rallying cries, who out numbered their visitors.

The support shown during the record breaking attendance for an indoor professional hockey game in the United States is another model example of community ownership. Players, too, were understanding of being part of something that will be spoken of for years to come. After the game, Comets center Alex Friesen, who scored Utica’s lone goal just 3:12 into the game, was seen with his family who came down from Ontario to show their support. Winger Hunter Shinkaruk also shared the night’s historic happenings with his family, while walking along SU’s campus, blending in with the masses heading back to the Mohawk Valley.

November 22, 2014 proved also to be a time for old hockey friendships to reconnect. Two former New Jersey Devils with ties to the Comets and Crunch were seen catching up on family happenings, and talking past career moments on ice. Just outside of the Comets’ locker room after the game, Pat Verbeek, Tampa Bay Lightning’s (Crunch parent club) assistant general manager, and Pat Conacher, Comets’ director of hockey operations, seemed to be genuinely enjoying going down memory lane.

“This (indoor game) is different, and I like it,” says Whitesboro’s Rich Woronkowicz, a regular at Comets home games. “I wanted to be part of history. I arrived here today at 1:15, which felt strange. I’m used to 7 o’clock starts. But this is a proud moment for me and Utica.”

Squeezing in time prior to the start of the Comets-Crunch game, or in-between periods, fans were treated to the traveling Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit. Among the artifacts displayed were a jersey worn by former New York Ranger Harry Howell, a sock worn by teammate Eddie Giacomin, a helmet once used by longtime Toronto Maple Leaf Mats Sundin, and a skate worn in the 1920’s by 12-year NHL vet Roy “Shrimp” Worters.

The most popular pieces of hockey historic hardware for all to observe were three trophies – the Lady Byng, the Art Ross, and Conn Smythe. The Lady Byng’s most recent recepient has a Comets connection. Presented each year to a player who has exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability, last June Colorado Avalanche’s Ryan O’Reilly was named the winner of the Lady Byng Memorial. Ryan is the younger brother to Comets’ captain Cal O’Reilly.

From the press box, at game time, there were an estimated 40-plus journalists reporting and recording every pass made by Utica and Syracuse. Every sentence written, each photograph archived, will have involved the Comets. The Mohawk Valley, the Comets franchise, people who may not normally know of or report on Utica, were given a crash course on the positives involving both.

Both teams will be back at this coming Wednesday on the Comets ice at  The AUD at 7pm. There will likely be a spillover of fans interest in the sampling experienced on Saturday, and for players to pick up two more points. Jim Hepler and Gail Reese of Verona say being in the Dome will motivate them to see their hometown team at The AUD.

“This is the first time we have done one of these games. I’ve seen them outdoors but the experience indoors is amazing. Many years ago we went to Clinton to see them (Comets). Now, we have come full circle.”

As the Comets were returning to their dressing room, handing off their sticks,one by one to an equipment attendant, few words were spoken. The special game was in the record books, preparing for the next contest was what would matter. Comets’ coach Travis Green spoke briefly after the game and declared,”Playing in a real big building was different. It was like being in an outdoor game but inside.”

Comets’ Brandon DeFazio eloquently summed up his three periods of work Saturday in saying – “It wasn’t the outcome we wanted. I’m a little frustrated that we didn’t get the win,but I’m grateful for the experience.”

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