There will be AHL Hockey at the Adirondack Bank Center in Utica next season after all,  and the news comes with some nostalgia.

The Utica Comets confirmed Thursday that they have entered into a 10-year agreement with The New Jersey Devils and the Utica Comets to move their AHL team back to Utica, and the request was approved by the AHL Board of Governors. The board also approved the move of Vancouver's AHL team, now the Utica Comets, to Abbotsford, British Columbia, which is about an hour out of Vancouver.

What's in a Name?

The new Utica AHL team will be called none other than, the Utica Comets. The decision to keep the "Comets" name was hinted at by Comets President Robert Esche on WIBX's Keeler Show on Wednesday. Esche said he was confident that Utica would land an AHL team by Friday, and that he trademarked the "Utica Devils" name in order to protect the Comets brand. He said it was meant to block anyone else from gaining access to the name and thus opening the door for Utica to hold a throwback "Utica Devils" game in the future for nostalgic purposes. New Jersey operated the Utica Devils in Utica for 7 years from 1987 to 1993.

Esche said  on Wednesday the difference between the Devils organization back in the 90s and the current Utica Comets organization is the fact that it's locally owned and operated. "That answer is simple," Esche said. The Utica Devils were operated out of New Jersey while we operate

Esche said the difference between the Devils organization back in the 90s and the current Utica Comets organization is the fact that it's locally owned and operated.

the Comets out of the Adirondack Bank Center. He said local management is the reason for the Comets success, including the fact that Utica now holds the record in the AHL for most consecutive sell-out games. It was the pandemic shut down in March of last year that interrupted that streak of sell-out crowds.

“We could not be happier for the opportunity to partner with the New Jersey Devils, an organization with a rich history not only in the NHL but also in our own community,” said Esche. “The spirit of Comets hockey and the culture our fans have created will continue to grow as it has for decades and evolve through the next ten years, and we are honored to be a part of that with the Devils.  As we look towards successfully developing some of the NHL’s top prospects, we eagerly anticipate this new chapter of Comets hockey.” 

In a joint statement, Devils President Jake Reynolds and Devils Executive Vice President/General Manager Tom Fitzgerald, expressed their excitement surrounding the new partnership:

“After multiple discussions and evaluating the options available for the future of our American Hockey League franchise, we have agreed to partner with local operating group Mohawk Valley Garden in Utica, NY, led by Comets President Robert Esche, to relocate our AHL franchise starting with the 2021-22 season. We are pleased to announce that this is a ten-year partnership which establishes a mutual commitment between our organization and the city of Utica.  We look forward to creating new memories for the fans as the next generation of Devils’ stars develop their professional careers at the Adirondack Bank Center. Working with Robert and his team will be an exciting opportunity as we look to build upon the passion and enthusiasm that they’ve created in making Utica one of the top markets in the AHL.”

Esche also announced that, to commemorate the first day the Utica Devils took the ice in 1987, they will open at home on Sunday, October 17, 2021 – exactly 34 years since the Devils’ AHL hockey debut in the City of Utica.

What's in a Color Scheme?

Everything, if you're the New Jersey Devils. While the Utica Comets name will remain the same, there will be no doubt about their affiliation with the Devils. The Comets will announce their new color scheme later this year. The color change will be a steep climb for Esche and the Comets during the upcoming off-season. Everything from the logo and the walls at the Aud, to the uniforms and the website will have to be updated in time for the launch of the new team in September.

The Devils move out of Binghamton was announced 2-weeks ago, but it wasn't official as to where they would be going until today. Reports in Binghamton media claim that New Jersey was asking for upgrades to the arena and playing facility, and that sticking point caused them to exit the city. Utica's Adirondack Bank Center recently underwent several "AHL quality" upgrades including luxury suites, restaurants, and new locker facilities.

Jeff Monaski, WIBX
Utica Comets vs. The Albany Devils. April 2016.  Jeff Monaski, WIBX

8 Solid Years in Utica

Vancouver partnered with Esche 8 years ago to reintroduce AHL hockey to the area with the Utica Comets in 2013. Since then, the Comets have seen a significant expansion at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, now the Adirondack Bank Center, a team run for the Calder Cup and an active record for the most consecutive sell out games, which has only been interrupted by the pandemic restrictions in New York State.

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Utica Devils History

The Utica Devils period in Utica featured notable coaches, Tom McVie from 1987 to 1991, legendary Olympic coach Herb Brooks in 1991–92 and Robbie Ftorek in 1992–93. Notable Utica Devils players include Martin Brodeur, Bill Guerin, Kevin Todd, Corey Schwab, Bobby Holik, Claude Vilgrain, Valeri Zelepukin, Jason Smith, and Jim Dowd.

During their tenure, the Utica Devils were operated by New Jersey and never saw the fan support that the Utica Comets have seen over the last 8 years. It was rumored then that when Utica failed to sell-out the Utica Memorial Auditorium for the Devils playoff game against Rochester in 1993, the decision was made by New Jersey to move the franchise out of Utica.

New Jersey has had a team in the American Hockey League since 1983 when they were the Maine Mariners. The Devils franchise was founded in 1974 in Kansas City, it moved to Colorado in 1976 and then to New Jersey in 1982.

Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri issued the following statement on the Devils move to Utica:

"Over the past seven years, the residents of our community demonstrated their love for hockey and made it clear Utica was a viable and appealing option to support an American Hockey League (AHL) franchise. This was evident today as the Board of Governors approved the relocation of the New Jersey Devils AHL franchise from Binghamton to Utica. We certainly thank the Vancouver Canucks for making Utica their home the past seven years and wish them every success in their new location. As a proud Utican, we welcome the Devils back to Utica with open arms. I commend Rob Esche for the great work he has done in bringing professional hockey to Utica as it is a quality of life asset our residents deserve and a catalyst for continued economic development."

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