Comets Tales: The AUD's Crew Keeps Things in Line

Comets Tales: The AUD's Crew Keeps Things in Line

by Don Laible

May 9, 2016

Every game night the Comets hit the ice to a loud ovation from those already in the building. However, that can only happen only after Alex, Randy, Scott, and the rest of The AUD's ice crew have clocked in.

To give you an inside look at The AUD's crew, I followed them around the building prior to the Comets last home game against the Syracuse Crunch.

4:50p.m. - Randy Lilley finished up resurfacing The AUD's ice. There are less than a handful of people wandering about the 3,860 seats surrounding the Comets' skating surface. The visiting Crunch have already began their pre-game stretching routine.

Lilley, the senior caretaker of the AUD's crew (on the job since 1995), with his trademark Tootsie Pop in mouth, brings home the ice resurfacing machine through the open doors with ease. In little more than one hour the Comets and Crunch have a green light for warm-ups.

The crew are a remarkable band of brothers who are as necessary as any working part of a rink. Their mission is to make sure the building stays up to American Hockey League standards. Fans recognize the faces of this team who are without numbers or jerseys. Among those who drill, drive, and shovel throughout each hockey game are names and a story of comradery and commitment to excellent, no different that the teams they care take for.

Getting to know about the crew means locating them, which is not easy.

Deep within the bowels of The AUD, there is a home base for the Comets' caretakers. In entering the back of The AUD, at the stage end, you make a right turn at two goal nets that are suspended on the wall. In continuing my walk down in what seems to be a dimly lit corridor, laughter grows louder.

Bypassing Crunch players as they warm up by kicking a soccer ball in shorts and t-shirts, and just past the officials dressing room, a parked forklift marks the spot - the crew's room.

In an area that appears to have long ago valiantly served as some type of kitchen/utility room, is home to Rick Redmond's (Director of Operations) team. There are four members layering up; sweat shirt, t-shirt, hoodie, hat, maybe more. Without skipping a beat, jokes get exchanged and candy (lots of candy) is traded amongst each other.

Long after players, fans, and most employees retire for the evening, the crew will still be on the job at The AUD, well into the next day. The candy and overload of coffee that is supplied, serve as the gas that keeps the machine running.

Just outside of their 10x30 home room, Alex Lilley (Randy's older brother), is the first to go to work. His telling of the copious amount of chores in getting the skating surface properly prepared requires faster writing for me to keep up.

"The edges have to be properly done. There's the wash cut, and we flood the ice again for a better seal," said Lilley, who is in his second stint with the crew after having spent five years prior at The AUD. 

The operations crew totals 13. Lilley adds that Randy, the senior crew member, has trained everybody.

Throughout the hockey season, on game night, there are a half dozen crew members at one end of the rink, and one at the other side of The AUD. They remain ready for any call dependent on how the game unfolds, both on and off the ice. There is replacement glass panels, suction cups, vacuums, and an impressive tool selection all at the ready.

Before their scheduled 12:30-1am quitting time, most of their game arsenal will be used. But, it's not just at Comets games where the crew are the glue that keeps AUD events swinging into action.

Utica College men's and women's hockey schedules, the circus' annual visits, throw in the Globetrotters basketball show each February, concerts, WWE visits, and business is constantly buzzing for Redmond's crew.

Alex tells of the team needing "about 10 hours" straight, to successfully transform ice level from hockey to putting down the court surface for the Globetrotters.

Along with the Lilley brothers, there is Scott Blum, Ray Meyers, Red Vann, and Donny Bienkowski on duty for the Comets-Crunch match. Aside from tending to the skating surface and the surrounding area, building maintenance is also included on their constantly evolving to-do list.

Working into the night as they scrap the ice and later clean the seating isles, the friendly, family-like banter exchanged between crew members is refreshing. 

"I'm happy they brought back AHL hockey," Alex Lilley explained. "It has brought back the city."

Like the Comets, the crew has an itinerary to follow to get each game off on schedule. Extra water is squeegeed off of the surface, ice holes are filled, nets secured - now, hockey happens.

"I'm proud to come to work. My kids think it's the coolest job," Randy Lilley boasted. "Making sure the fans are happy, that's what makes us want to come to work."

While his crew goes about their work, Redmond stays loose with them. They are eager to give out fist bumps to all, from food workers passing and stick boys, too, encouraging all for a job well done. The candy and coffee keep coming. 

6:30p.m. - Warm-ups are completed, and rubber mats are lifted as the last Crunch player closes in on his dressing room. Alex and Randy are in the driver seats of their respective ice resurfacing machines. Keys have been turned, engines idling.  It is 30 minutes to puck drop and the crew is going to give the ice another manicure.

Maintaining the skating surface is a science. Although their work might be invisible to some, it is as clear as Carter Bancks being in a Comets line-up - the crew earn a performance star each night on the job.

Written by Don Laible

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