Florida, California, the Caribbean. Anywhere warm, really. Those are the often-chosen destinations of spring breakers from just about any cold climate. Utica, NY, certainly doesn’t make the spring-break shortlist for most, but it did for the Pfanner family—from just outside Waterloo, Ont.—a few weeks ago.
Paul, a longtime Canucks fan, along with his wife, Kim, and their three sons Michael (12), Nicholas (9) and Nathan (6), decided the family was going to venture to Utica and take in a weekend of Comets hockey with his family for the break.
“I saw things online,” Pfanner said. “The profile the Canucks did on Comets fans, I thought…’we’ve gotta get there!’”
Following the Canucks and its prospects over the years has forced Paul to keep his eye on a few AHL teams, including Hamilton and Syracuse. But after their first trip to Utica, it’s clear that the region, and Comets, have carved a special place in his heart.
“I posted to the Hardcore page and it was overwhelming, the responses from everybody,” Pfanner added. “Everybody was so nice and we got the royal treatment. There were people coming up to us saying ‘Welcome to Utica! Meet us here after the game for autographs.’”
One Comet went out of his way to make sure the “royal treatment” was even more royal. When waiting outside for autographs, the Pfanners met veteran defenseman Jaime Sifers.
“He (Sifers) gave us a tour of the locker room. My kids loved it and I was a little kid all over again,” Pfanner said. “I am afraid they are going to think this happens to everybody. The treatment we get with the dressing room tour. This is something special. I don’t think they realize it. If they don’t realize it now they will someday. I was tickled sick myself.
“Everywhere we went, everyone was so nice. I knew what Utica was, a smaller town,
the size of Waterloo which we live outside of. It was very comfortable being here.”
As the AHL’s smallest market, many wonder how the team in Utica continues to have such success from an attendance and support standpoint. Paul and the Pfanners needed one weekend trip to learn that in Utica, things are just different.
“There is something special there,” he said. “There’s only 31 teams in the AHL and hundreds of cities that would love to have the opportunity. The atmosphere that’s in The AUD is three-times louder than Coca-Cola (Coliseum) in Toronto. That kind of atmosphere gets the young players ready for the big crowds of the NHL.”
Paul watches or listens to most Comets game during the regular season, and he has taken a liking to one prospect in particular.
“I am always a fan of the underdog,” Pfanner said. “So a guy like Zack MacEwen, he was never drafted and he’s just worked hard and put his nose to the grindstone. He goes at it, he’s probably the guy I’m rooting for.”
When it was all done, the Pfanners had an unforgettable spring break to the Mohawk Valley. They were able to catch one of their favorite teams and create memories that will last a lifetime. And, in typical Utica fashion, they traveled through their bellies.
“I was told to try the riggies, so we did. They were delicious.”