Inside the Comets: Mark Caswell, Jr.
by Don LaibleMar 25, 2014
Someone, please get Mark Caswell, Jr. a pair of sneakers to wear in The AUD.
When going to the Utica Comets staff page on the web, as you scroll halfway down, “Mark Caswell, Jr. – Director of Communications” is found. However, when The AUD’s doors swing open for business, the Utica native is more than likely among the first to be flagged down by a multitude of people.
From the response Caswell, 28, receives, either walking the corridor inside The AUD, or seating aisles, everyone seems to know or have a connection to him. He smiles and shakes hands, seemingly personalizing each contact, with sincerity and understanding. In another profession Caswell could be well-prepared for an elective position. When shadowing Caswell what you see is what you get.
On a cold Wednesday February evening, the southwest based San Antonio Rampage are visiting Utica for a date with the Comets. For the better part of 20 minutes, I have been in search of Caswell. The press box, the Comets office, and the team locker rooms, usual haunts by the club’s communications director, prior to game time show no trace of him. Walking from one end of The AUD’s corridor to the other, Caswell is finally located.
It’s 6:15pm, with all his pending demands for the evening ahead, it’s at the 50/50 raffle kiosk where the communication director is keeping busy. Outside of section 215, what has become a big business boom for the Comets’ charitable arm of the 50/50 offerings, the kiosk isn’t working properly. A steady line of would-be customers are lining up for their chance to leave the evening several thousands of dollars richer.
With the kiosk’s attendant having difficulty signing in, Caswell, a social media/computer specialist, within minutes solves the problem. Comets commerce resumes with gusto. Then, what has become familiar since opening night last October, the Caswell speed-walk kicks off. Tonight’s starting line is a brief visit to the media room. Across from the now fully functional kiosk are stairs leading to ground level of The AUD.
Picking up a bottle of Coca~Cola, Caswell heads for his next “house call”. Moving with the energy of someone who is just coming off an eight-hour sleep, when in actuality quite the opposite has been experienced by the former ESPN Stats Analyst. On this game day, as is routine with all Comets home dates, by puck drop, Caswell will already have put in close to a dozen hours of work.
Equipped with a key to the office, by 7:30am Caswell begins to ramp up the necessities for the night’s activities. “The home team supplies the league stats, we print and supply game notes for the coaches and in the press box,” Caswell said while en route to the Comets locker room.
There are two junior Comets players who appear to be between five and seven-years old; tonight’s “tunnel team”. Positioned against the wall, next to the open glass leading on to the ice, with their parents watching off to the side, these two fans get to give and receive high-fives to the players. Led by goalie Joacim Eriksson, followed by Nicklas Jensen, one by one the excited twosome give their hockey heroes an appreciative send-off.
Requests continued to come in as Caswell’s phone constantly goes off. The next crisis requiring Caswell’s undivided attention comes from the Rampage’s coaching room. The team’s video equipment isn’t working. With difficulties in the electrical connections Caswell, who attended SUNY Cortland and studied Sports Management, puts out a call for an electrician.
K that there is an electrician in The AUD already, Caswell heads to a seating section to meet up with the electrician. As both teams are going through their warm-ups, we make a brief stop in section 109. In seats three through six, just to the right of the goal judge are Caswell’s grandparents and parents. Mark tells of a special meaning for those seats. The seats have been held in his family for several professional teams, dating back decades in The AUD.
On the go again,while in pursuit of the electrician, Caswell’s stride can’t go continuous without being called out by friends or fans making requests such as wanting player transaction updates. It’s as if we are in full-campaign mode. With eye contact and a smile, Caswell is the perfect community connection for the Comets.
Not yet meeting up with the electrician, Caswell makes his way to ice level, near the open-end of The AUD. He checks in on if the evening’s Audie has arrived. The Comets’ mascot is ready to distill pride and thrills to all. Catching some of the Rampage shooting on alternating goalies, Caswell’s phone continues to be busy. His work and his responsibilities are a constant work in progress, especially on gamedays.
Before exiting ice level, Caswell exchanges a few words with his dad Mark Caswell,Sr. – who is an AHL off-ice official.
When asked when he anticipates leaving work on this game night, Caswell offers up 11:30pm. When the thousands of Comets faithful have long exited The AUD Caswell updates multiple statistics concerning the Comets, and if there is a game the following day, he gets a jump start on necessities for then.
Caswell tells of a relaxed atmosphere on Comets game day. He arrives to his desk, which is adjacent to team graphic artist Eric Kowiatek’s desk, dressed casually. The suit he is seen in, as season ticket holders begin to filter in at 5:45pm, is changed into later in the day.
Electrician found. Meeting up in section 115 with whom hope is given that the Rampage’s video coach will be able to record the night’s action, Caswell escorts the electrician a level below. Crisis number one of the evening is solved. Even as he goes through what appears to be his personal 5K race/walk at each and every Comets home contest, Caswell remains calm, confident, and always in control.
“To a degree what I do is on autodrive,” Caswell explains. “It’s a process to get to where you want to be. When we first started here, we had 90 days to set up a team and arena.”
Always projecting a smiling, happy face to all, Caswell tells of his parents happiness for his current position. “They love it (Comets), and are glad that I’m home. They were ecstatic when I was with ESPN. They are just thrilled that I’m doing something I love.”
Getting the word out of everything Comets seems to have come naturally for Caswell, who proudly reminds that he grew up playing and watching hockey in this building (The AUD), as he circles the main corridor. Everything social media, the team’s Twitter, Facebook, and website fall under Caswell’s jurisdiction. He also assists with marketing and advertising campaigns. And, let’s not forget the Comets internship program. which Caswell oversees.
“The AHL is the second best hockey league in the world. It’s exciting that this league is here in Utica. We know that it’s special. There is so much that we want to do, and we want to do it right,”says Caswell, a former captain of the Thomas R. Proctor High School hockey program. ‘We have done so much as it is, but we want to build on that and do things bigger and better going forward.”
One constant on Caswell’s daily planner are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday meetings. What may seem routine to fans enjoying the atmosphere at Comets games has actually been meticulously planned. When the Comets hit the road, in some instances so does Caswell. All bus trip road games, Caswell has the option to ride with the team.
As the first period comes to an end, and the teams retreat for their locker rooms, I leave Caswell’s shadow. Almost as quickly, he puts his phone to his ear, he’s gone; completely out of sight. Maybe it was off to the electrician, again, or to gain input on who to select as the three stars of the night, or maybe an interview request was in the making.
I meet up with Caswell again minutes after the game, in preparation for the post-game press conference. Still, with a couple hours of being “on duty” to go, I look down at the team’s chief communicator and wonder how soon he’ll wear out the soles of his shoes.
Someone, please get Mark Caswell,Jr. a pair of sneakers – fast.