Comets Tales: The Sitrin Comettes
by Don LaibleFeb 24, 2016
It's no secret that the Sitrin Comettes dance team adds a whole lot of energy when the puck drops for Comets hockey at The AUD.
Utica Comets' fans have much to concentrate on when attending home games. There is (of course) the 60 minutes of regulation play to follow meticulously, a possible overtime period, and then maybe the decisive shootout action that requires absolute concentration. Beyond the entertainment on the ice, there is more to the Comets' experience to absorb.
When the whistle blows to stop action on the ice, the flashing red light pulsating from the penalty box serves as a theoretical baton that turns the entertaining duties over from the players on the ice, to the Comettes in the stands. 13 women comprise the dance squad, and amongst the team are two coaches. Alex Lomanto, a member of the team since the inaugural season was named the unit’s second ever head coach over the summer.
Classically trained in ballet, Lomanto tells of growing up dancing. Performing before audiences numbering near 4,000 on any given Comets hockey night isn't new nor daunting for Alex or any of her fellow Comettes. It's the team's preparation experience for performing that has allowed them to demand a high level of energy from the Comets faithful.
"At first, it was going into the unknown,” recalled Lomanto. “It's definitely a big task, taking on the girls' work schedules and finding a practice time that works for everyone."
Practice for the Comettes routinely occurs on Sunday evenings at Mary Lourdes Academy of Dance in New Hartford. Although there may be an occasion when the Comettes workout time may be shifted to a morning call, Sundays are when the team can free themselves from their everyday requirements.
The one-and-a-half to two hour practice session allows the Comettes to get their coordinated dances in sync and to bond as a team.
The Sitrin Comettes have become a "given" for many hockey fans as they file into The AUD. Walking the corridor's in The AUD, there is much to attract a hockey fan's attention. Colorful and bold team and sponsor logos are everywhere the eye wanders.
Fans come armed for Comets' games decked out in the latest merchandise, supporting gear from head to toe. Team mascot Audie is a friendly welcoming figure for all, especially to children. But, at each entrance, where each fan is granted access to the building, you'll find the smiling faces of Comettes welcoming everyone who enters.
Spreading goodwill beyond The AUD, and throughout the Mohawk Valley, the Comettes' calendar includes lending support at non-hockey events.
"There really is no off-season," said Lomanto, who has been dancing since she was four-years-old. "We are in the Fourth of July parade, help out at The Boilermaker, as well as many places in the community."
During breaks in hockey action it has become more common to see fans of all ages joining in with the Comettes' routine. Watch the video boards you can catch an usher or two swept up in the energy dancing at their post. This is all part of the Comets' entertainment package at each home game.
"The first season, it was a little tricky on how the people would react to you," added Lomanto. "Now people expect us to be there. We have a great relationship with the fans."
Just as the Comets have three jerseys, the Comettes have four different uniforms amongst their racks of clothes. Included in their gameday gear is a "special appearance" top, similar to the green Comets' third jersey.
Sept. 22, 2013 is a day that will forever remain special in Comettes' history. On this day, the original roster was announced of the Comettes. Less than 24 hours earlier, tryouts took place at the Hotel Utica.
"Dance is a small world,” tells Lomanto. “Many of us knew each other since we were four and five-years-old. We're like sisters. Two to three games a week, 5:00-9:30pm, we go everywhere together, too. Whoever is available, we may get tickets for away games, like Syracuse, and go together. In the summer, we'll get together around the pool."
While getting ready for game routines in their dressing room, well stocked with snacks and water, conversations often vary on topics. When not donning their Comettes' uniforms, individual careers rang from medical, financial, to cosmetology, and beyond.
Simply put, the members of the Comettes dance team just love performing. Along with fellow coach Samantha Rocci, Lomanto and the team continue to grow. One of the "fans" watching the Comettes perform in The AUD is Fred Lomanto, Alex's dad. A longtime American Hockey League off-ice official, Alex's dad isn't surprised at the level of energy and technique displayed by his daughter.
"It's nothing new for me," said Fred, of Alex's routine. "She's been in the Nutcracker since she was four-years old, danced in New York City, California, and Saratoga, and teaches ballet."
Promoting the Comets creates more attention to Utica and its surrounding area. Through social media the franchise's exposure is without borders. The Comettes lend their contribution to the overall effort as arguably the best form of customer service - with a smile, and music.