by Patrick Damp | AHL On The Beat
The Utica Comets’ Director of Hockey Operations Pat Conacher has had his work cut out for him this season. With injuries in both Vancouver and Utica, player transactions have been the norm. This season alone has seen almost 100 player transactions and 21 PTO signings, with four going on to sign standard player contracts.
Despite the injuries and a roster more in flux than usual, the Comets found a way to win and win consistently. When the calendar flipped to 2018, the Comets found themselves with 33 points and scratching for the final playoff spot in the North Division. In that time, they’ve compiled a 13-1-1-1 record that included a 16-game point streak. Now, they sit second in the North Division with 68 points.
“The group here, particularly the older players, who have been here for a couple of years have built a great cultural identity for the team,” said associate coach Gary Agnew. “You know what you’re coming into, the work ethic, the leadership. They’ve established what’s expected when you walk into that Utica Comets dressing room.”
Whether it’s seizing an opportunity or knowing the staff, Blujus recognizes what the Comets have built inside their dressing room.
“Being with Trent (Cull) last year [in Syracuse], it’s the same culture. It’s work ethic, it’s accountability and knowing what to expect both individually and as a team,” said Blujus. “We realize we’re not going to be the most skilled team out there, but we’re going to work the hardest. Sometimes hard work outdoes skill,” said Blujus.
When injuries and call-ups start to mount, it’s easy for a team to have doubts, but according to defenseman Comrie, that never happened for the Comets.
“(Head coach) Trent Cull has installed a great culture in this room,” Comrie said. “I think a lot of the older guys have really bought in. It’s been a great atmosphere to come to the rink every day and to come work with these guys. Everyone does their job and we have fun doing it.”
The Comets haven’t gone more than seven days without a player transaction, but despite that, the locker room remains loose while focused.
“We’ve had different guys in and out of the lineup, but everyone still does their job and we have fun doing it,” Comrie said. “This group is so much fun to work with. Not just the players, but the staff, from the equipment managers, to the coaching, to the media, everything is top notch, from top to bottom.”