The sixth season of Utica Comets hockey is officially in the books. While the season didn’t end the way the fans and players were hoping for, there were many positive notes that came out of the 2018-19 campaign.
One of the most notable benchmarks of Comets hockey is the team’s sellout streak. The Comets had been chasing the AHL Sellout Record (120 – St. John’s) since April 10, 2015 and finally broke the record on October 19, 2018 during their game against the Cleveland Monsters. By year’s end, the streak would reach 155 regular season games and 169 regular season and playoff games.
On Friday, November 11, 2018, the team received its largest honor to date to become the first Purple Heart Hockey Club. The night consisted of the unveiling of three permanent memorials on the plaza – the Military Branch Flag Memorial, the All-American Veterans Memorial, and the Battlefield Cross Monument and a special pre-game ceremony. The team donned black camouflage jerseys with white and purple trim that were auctioned off after the game with all proceeds benefitting the CNY Veterans Outreach Center, Chapter 490 Military Order of the Purple Heart, and Chapter 944 Vietnam Veterans of America. Between the jersey auction and other fundraising efforts, the Comets and Save of the Day Foundation raised over $40k for the local organizations. The night culminated in a thrilling come-from-behind victory for the Comets, which saw the home team top the Hartford Wolf Pack 4-3 in a shootout. The honor of being named the first Purple Heart hockey team in the nation is one that the Comets will carry throughout their existence.
Two weeks later, the Comets unveiled a bronze, life-size statue of the four Clinton Comets – Dave Armstrong, Jack Kane, Pierre Prevost, and Borden Smith – who have remained in the area since their playing days and have served as unwavering ambassadors of the area’s Comet Culture. The statue also features a plaque in remembrance of Ian Anderson, the fifth in the group, who passed away in November of 2013. The permanent fixture, residing on the plaza outside of the Adirondack Bank Center, preserves the lives and legacies of the five men who are accredited with galvanizing the Comets brand, growing it throughout the Mohawk Valley, and establishing the entire region as a hockey hotbed.
In early December, the Comets signed an unknown defenseman from Boise, Idaho. The red-bearded PTO, Colton Saucerman, was soon launched to internet fame. Comets fans—and the hockey world as a whole—took a liking to him, due to his “hockey guy” name and equally impressive red beard, which brought along comparisons to Yukon Cornelius. In his first game with Utica, the bearded-wonder scored his first AHL goal, sending Comets fans, and broadcaster Joe Roberts, into a frenzy as Roberts coined the phrase, “Get Sauced, Utica.” Two days later, shirts with the beard and phrase were flying off the shelves of the Team Store and being sold online at saucehockey.com.
On January 18, the Save of the Day Foundation kicked off their much-acclaimed Save of the Day Foundation week when the Comets faced-off against their rivals, the Syracuse Crunch. This was the first year that the Foundation expanded their night to a week’s worth of games, due in large part to the successes of the events the past two years. The Comets once again hit the ice in their iconic, fan-favorite, black and neon green jerseys over the course of three games, winning two in the process. Throughout the week, the Comets sold Save of the Day raffle tickets for $20, giving purchasers the chance to walk home with a game-used black and neon green Foundation jersey. The three games also featured a carryover 50/50 pot that amassed $38,967 – the largest pot total in the Comets history.
The Save of the Day Foundation week, combined with a holiday gala hosted by the foundation, raised over $200,000 for Save of the Day on the heels of their 15th anniversary. Robert Esche, Chairman of Save of the Day, expressed his thanks to all of those who made both events possible, while already looking forward to what next year will hold.
On December 29, Vancouver Canucks General Manager Jim Benning announced that the Canucks had extended their deal with American Hockey League affiliate, the Utica Comets. The deal in place will allow for an extension of up to an additional six years. “We are very pleased to continue our partnership with Utica,” said Jim Benning, General Manager, Canucks Sports and Entertainment. “The Comets share our organization’s level of commitment and philosophy in player development, providing a strong environment for growth. We believe the culture in Utica, combined with the great fan support and atmosphere at games, will continue to be beneficial for the players in our system.”
Jim Benning attended two games at the Adirondack Bank Center at the conclusion of the season saying, “Utica is an important part of what’re doing up in Vancouver. It’s been a good working relationship. I’m looking forward to continuing that relationship in the future.”
In January, Reid Boucher was named to represent the Comets at the 2019 AHL All-Star Classic hosted by the Springfield Thunderbirds. It was Boucher’s second straight All-Star Classic nod. Boucher won the Accuracy Shooting Competition and scored two goals in four games to help the North Division win their second straight All-Star Challenge title.
On April 11, veteran defenseman Jaime Sifers announced his retirement at the end of the season. Sifers, 36, enjoyed 13 seasons of hockey in the pro ranks, including 650 in the AHL. His career spanned across the NHL, AHL, and DEL (Germany) and included over 800 regular season games. Sifers played in two seasons with the Utica Comets and made an impact both on and off the ice. “We love living in tight-knit communities and this is definitely one of them,” Sifers said, referring to his wife and two girls. “It provides a lot of closure to be able to end in a place like this and know we used to call this home. It will always be a special place for us.
In keeping with traditions built during the Inaugural season, players were active in the local community, lending a helping hand wherever and whenever possible. Volunteer days at the Rescue Mission and an extensive Adopt-A-Family program were just two of the many appearances that Comets players embarked on during their off days. A record number of turkeys were donated to the Rescue Mission, players tried their hand at adaptive shooting with the Sitrin Military Rehabilitation Program and many, many books were read in schools around the Mohawk Valley.
Though the team did not make the playoffs, there is much to look forward to for next season. Let’s call it Lucky Number 7!
Record: 34-34-6-2 (.500 PCT) – 6th in North Division
Leading Scorers: Reid Boucher (31-31-62 in 56 GP), Tanner Kero (24-33-57 in 67 GP), Zack MacEwen (22-30-52 in 69 GP)
Leading Goaltenders: Ivan Kulbakov (10-9-6, 3.50 GAA, .893 SV% in 25 GP), Michael Leighton (8-9-1, 2.70 GAA, .901 SV% in 19 GP), Thatcher Demko (8-5-1, 2.58 GAA, .911 SV% in 16 games)
Records vs. Opponents
Atlantic: 11-7-4-0 (BRI: 0-0-2-0, CHA: 1-2-1-0, HFD: 2-2-0-0, HER: 1-1-0-0, LV: 1-1-0-0, PRO: 1-1-0-0, SPR: 3-0-1-0, WBS: 2-0-0-0)
North: 23-27-2-2 (BEL: 2-3-0-1, BNG: 3-5-0-0, CLE: 3-1-0-0, LAV: 5-2-1-0, ROC: 3-5-1-1, SYR: 5-7-0-0, TOR: 2-4-0-0)
Power Play: 18% (17th in AHL)
Penalty Kill: 79.9% (22nd in AHL)
Game Highs and Lows
2018-19 Utica Comets Awards