Comets Tales: Utica is Officially an All-Star City

by Don Laible

Oct 8, 2014

Hosting the AHL All-Star Game is a big deal. A really big deal.

A year ago today the Utica Comets were just days away from taking to the ice for the very first time. While The AUD hadn’t had a full-time AHL tenant in two decades. The response by fans as to how well the city would receive the return of the AHL, was yet to be seen. With yesterday’s announcement that the Comets would be hosting the AHL All-Star Classic, along with other festivities linked to the mid-season classic in January, there is rejoice amongst local hockey fans, to a level unmatched in their rich past.

For the game itself, the best talent selected from the 30 AHL franchises will arrive to Utica with the historical precedent that the game itself will be an offensive show. The promised highlight reel goals should delight those watching inside The AUD, as well as through an international television audience. For last year’s game and skills competition, it was a worldwide audience.

No different than how MLB adjoins their All-Star Game with the Home Run Derby the night before, the NBA offers the Slam Dunk competition-plus, and the NFL’s Pro Bowl gathering just prior to the Super Bowl, the AHL will have much to serve up for their public’s consumption.

Thanks to AHL President and CEO David Andrews, there is an All-Star Classic – not only in Utica this coming winter, but for the past two decades. Since the league’s inception there have been all-star teams named. However, not until the 1941-42 season was there an actual meeting of two teams. That year, the East took on the West, in Cleveland, Ohio. After the inaugural mid-season classic, it would be another 13 seasons until a second meeting of all-stars would be organized. October 27, 1954, in Hershey ,PA, the All-Stars outscored Cleveland 7-3.

For the next five consecutive AHL seasons there would all-star teams playing opposite the previous season’s Calder Cup champions. After the 1960 all-star game held in West Springfield, MA, it would be another 35 seasons until the classic would be renewed and once again become a regularly scheduled event on the AHL calendar.

The all-star game returned during the 94-95 campaign, thanks to David Andrews. Hosted by the Providence Bruins, and played before a sell-out crowd in the Civic Center, the event has been back for good ever since. Various formats of pitting teams have been utilized; U.S. All-Stars vs Canada’s All-Stars, Planet USA vs Canada, World vs Canada, and at last year’s match-up hosted by St. John’s – it was the AHL All-Stars VS Farjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League.

Before a sold-out Mile One Center in New Foundland, 6,287 fans witnessed the AHL’s best outscore their Swedish counterparts 7-2.  Several of the stars who shined in that game also took to ice at The AUD last season against the Comets – Bridgeport’s Ryan Strome (49 points in 37 games), Binghamton’s Mike Hoffman (67 points in 51 games) and Texas’ Travis Morin (88 points in 55 games).

The day prior to the game, another all-star competition is played out in the skills competition. There are 12 categories, ranging from the hardest shot (individual) to pass and score (team).

Then, there is the AHL Hall of Fame luncheon, where the newest inductees are honored. Add this to the game and skills competition, and the hall of fame honorees, there is also honorary captains selected for each team, as well as a game MVP selected.

Throughout the All-Star Weekend in January, the entire city of Utica, the Comets organization, and all businesses throughout the Mohawk Valley will be on display to representatives of all 30 AHL franchises, and the AHL media.

With the hockey spotlight splashing upon the Comets in November when skating opposite the Syracuse Crunch in the Carrier Dome, with the indoor attendance record up for grabs, Comets fans and area residents have ample reasons to be Utica Proud, come October.

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