All-Star Classic a hit for the Utica Comets

by Mark Caswell, Jr. | AHL On The Beat Archive

Last weekend was a weekend few people from Utica, N.Y. will ever forget. For the first time in its 55-year history, the Utica Memorial Auditorium hosted an AHL All-Star Classic.

The 2015 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Turning Stone Resort Casino was, by all accounts, a resounding success. On top of the back-to-back sellout crowds inside The AUD, both the Skills Competition and the All-Star Game itself reached over 100 million international homes during Utica’s time in the spotlight.

The opportunity to host the American Hockey League’s annual midseason classic provided the Utica Comets with the perfect opportunity to show off the improvements made to the National Historic Civic Engineering landmark over the past two years, as well as display to every AHL team what makes playing in Utica in front of Comets fans just so special.

It did not take long for Utica fans to impress everyone involved.

During player introductions, rivals representing the Syracuse Crunch were heartily boo’d by the Comets faithful. That was just an appetizer. When the Comets’ public address announcer finally made his way to the four Utica Comets representatives, the sound was deafening. Literally.

“The cheering was so loud I could not hear my name being called,” said Comets defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti. “I watched the videoboard and just waved when I saw my face. It was incredible.”

“I appreciated the atmosphere created by a lot of loud, and passionate Utica fans," Adirondack Flames forward Drew Shore told the Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y. "It made it more fun, and I’m glad I wasn’t the one being boo’d.”

From there, Comets fans made their presence known throughout the entire Skills Competition and All-Star Game by continuously chanting “UT-I-CA” sporadically throughout both days.

The noise and soccer-like atmosphere didn’t go unnoticed by visitors returning or making their Utica Memorial Auditorium debut.

“The full All-Star experience in Utica was outstanding,” said Rob Sanderson, Rochester Americans radio host on FOX Sports 1280. “I’m continually impressed by the ongoing improvements to The AUD. The Comets fan base showed once again just how rabid they are for hockey. It’s a big-time feel in a modernized old-school barn.”

The support just did not stop. Any time a Comets player touched a puck either night, the place erupted.

Away from the ice, the weekend went as smooth as the ice the players skated on.

The weekend kicked off with opening ceremonies Friday night that saw Oneida Nation Representative and CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises Ray Halbritter, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, Jr., the AHL’s Executive Vice President, Marketing and Business Development Chris Nikolis, and Comets President Robert Esche speak to the gathered crowd on hand at Turning Stone Resort Casino.

On Monday, Turning Stone hosted the 2015 AHL Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Ceremony which inducted Frederic Cassivi, James C. Hendy, Bronco Horvath, and Art Stratton into the historic Hall of Fame.

Praise for the Utica hockey experience did not escape this event.

"I was amazed, not only at the building but the atmosphere. It’s great to see hockey back in The AUD,” said former Utica Devil, and honorary All-Star captain Bill Guerin.

The exciting weekend was capped off with the main event, the All-Star Game.

The event started with more of the same booing of rivals, and loud, raucous cheering of the four hometown Comets representatives. In-game, Jacob Markstrom razzled and dazzled the crowd, making 16 saves on 18 shots faced en route to co-MVP honors. Which the hometown frenzied crowd ate up.

All in all, the entire weekend was a massive success. The city of Utica has never shone brighter thanks to the hard work of the AHL, Turning Stone Resort Casino, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, the fans, and many others.

There was no better way to wrap this entire experience up than with the words of Comets President Robert Esche.

"It’s hard to find words that will do the past two days justice. And it’s not often that I’m left almost speechless at the end of a hockey event on this scale. Everything from the Hall of Fame Ceremony to the Skills Competition and All-Star Game to the post-game parties surpassed my expectations," said Esche. "The combined efforts of our County Executive Tony Picente, the Turning Stone Resort Casino, the American Hockey League, the Utica Comets staff, and you the fans made this year’s All-Star Classic unforgettable for all involved.

"I am grateful from the bottom of my heart for this opportunity, and know that more great things are to come for Utica."