UTICA, N.Y. – As Friday’s Game 4 approaches between the Chicago Wolves and Utica Comets, there is nothing wrong with letting the hockey world know the Comets are a good story.
Perhaps you need to be in this Rust Belt town of 60,000 in order to feel what the Comets mean here. When you wander around town past the classic buildings with the large storefront windows, the stores themselves are just as likely to be empty as not. It’s not particularly expensive to live here, so Utica has attracted people from all over who are trying to make their way.
But those who have lived in Utica a long time insist that this is a hockey town. At the Utica Memorial Auditorium, which received a significant facelift when the Comets joined the AHL prior to the 2013-14 season, there are giant portraits on the walls that celebrate the greats of the past.
People remember the Clinton Comets and Mohawk Valley Comets. And when Utica didn’t have a professional hockey team, people came out in droves to support the Div. III Utica College team. The New York high school state tournament championships have been held in Utica for the last 28 years (though there was an announcement today that the tourney is moving to Buffalo).
People believe the Comets, who finished the regular season with the best record in the Western Conference, are starting a renaissance for this community. The team even showed a video during one of Game 3’s intermissions that details how things can and will turn around.
Prior to Game 3, Utica Observer-Dispatch sportswriter John Pitarresi said he has been covering hockey in this town for 42 years — and that Game 3 was the biggest one in his tenure. The Comets fed off their sellout crowd during their overtime win Wednesday night and there’s going to be another sellout crowd tonight.
But the Wolves can’t – and won’t – worry about the crowd. They can’t – and won’t – worry about whether they might be squashing a good story by rallying to win Games 4 and 5.
Frankly, Game 4 is about concepts that have been around as long as hockey has been played in Utica and everywhere else.
“We hold our fate,” said Wolves assistant coach Brad Tapper. “We have to work our butts off tonight and make sure we get to a Game 5. We need to get in front of (Utica goaltender Jacob) Markstrom. Guys got to get there, the dirty areas, the hard areas. We’ve got to make it difficult on him as well. They’ve been making it difficult on (Wolves goaltender Jordan) Binnington. More net-front traffic. Getting those shots through.”
OK, maybe there’s one other time-honored concept on the table tonight: The idea of revenge.
Here’s Wolves general manager Wendell Young’s take on Binnington’s 50-save effort Wednesday night that went for naught:
“I feel bad for ‘Binny.’ He literally stole a game for us and the refs stole it back.”