Feb 19, 2020

Utica, N.Y. - Utica Comets President Robert Esche, in conjunction with Howard Zemsky, chair of the Empire State Development Board of Directors, announced today that the Comets will host the 2021 AIS Empire State Classic Outdoor Game at the Griffiss Business & Technology Park on the afternoon of Saturday, February 13, against the Syracuse Crunch. This will be the first ever outdoor game for the Utica Comets and the first American Hockey League (AHL) game played outdoors in Oneida County.


The 2021 AIS Empire State Classic is part of a larger Winter Festival that will build on the 25th anniversary of the Griffiss Local Development Corporation. The Winter Festival as a whole will celebrate the best of Oneida County, and feature a number of interactive exhibits, events and cutting-edge demonstrations. Esche explained that the exact location of the event is still to be determined, as three sites within Griffiss are currently being considered. Mohawk Valley Garden is currently working with a number of companies on orchestrating the plans for the buildout of the stadium, which will include approximately 16,000 fixed seats, a full sheet of NHL-caliber ice, portable video boards, and more.


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“We are extremely thankful to all who are involved in making this a reality and for giving us the opportunity to be the title sponsor of the Empire State Classic,” said Dan Kalil, Vice President of Commercial Operations for AIS. “It’s going to be a great experience for the city of Rome and our region and further highlight the area’s growth, successes and opportunities.”


The 2021 AIS Empire State Classic will build upon the 7-year rivalry between the Comets and Crunch – a rivalry that has culminated each year with the awarding of the Galaxy Cup. This will be the 11th outdoor game for the American Hockey League (AHL) and the third in the state of New York. The Crunch hosted the first outdoor game in AHL history back in 2010 at the NYS Fairgrounds.


“I've been lucky enough to be a part of an outdoor game before and I remember what an incredible experience it was for the entire community. It is exciting to be a part of making history and I know that our fans will make this event something truly special,” commented Comets Head Coach Trent Cull. “With the game being played at Griffiss, there's a direct link between our Purple Heart organization and our area's military history, but also an opportunity to look ahead at all of the great work they're doing on the base now as tech leaders.”


“The Comets staff is dedicated to making the 2021 AIS Empire State Classic the event our area has ever seen,” said Esche. “We plan to put on a truly once-in-a-lifetime, immersive experience for all ages, that our area will embrace and celebrate for years to come.”


Esche also announced that the night prior, on February 12, the Utica College Men’s Hockey team will face off in an outdoor game against their rivals, SUNY Oswego.


“This is an unbelievable opportunity for Utica College as a whole,” said Head Coach Gary Heenan. “The guys dream about playing in an outdoor game and to have it right here in our backyard is just awesome.”


Deposits are being accepted now at the Comets Box Office to secure spots for the 2021 AIS Empire State Classic. For just $25 per seat, fans can lock in their place at what is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime event for all of New York State. The exact seat selection process will take place later this year; Season Ticket Members will have first selection, in priority order of when the deposit was received, followed by the general public in that same chronological format. Fans are encouraged to take advantage of early sales, as Esche explained that the event is expected to sell out in advance of the game.


To reserve seats, call 315-790-9070 or visit For the latest Comets news visit or follow the team on Facebook (, Twitter (@UticaComets), Instagram (@UticaComets), and the Comets YouTube Channel.

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