UTICA — The Utica Comets went out with a win, beating the Rochester Americans 3-1 Wednesday in the last home game as the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks at the Utica Aud.
The Canucks are relocating the affiliate to British Columbia in the offseason. Utica will host the AHL affiliate of the New Jersey Devils in the 2021-22 season, and will retain the Comets name. This year’s team was a powerhouse at home, with an 11-2 record at The Aud.
“It was awesome,” said Utica head coach Trent Cull after the game. The coaches and players saluted the crowd before leaving the home ice one last time. “My goal as a head coach is to create a team that the fans can be proud of,” one with good work ethic that is worth the price of admission. His message before the game in the locker room was clear: “I want your best. I think the boys did a great job.” He added, “They knew I wanted this one. It’s the closest we’d get to a playoff game” this season. “I was a little choked up when I left the ice.”
Vincent Arseneau started the scoring, recording his fourth of the season 4:34 into the game. Shawn Cameron sent a backhanded feed to Arseneau from behind the net to where he was cutting to the crease. Arseneau beat goalie Michael Houser to make it 1-0 Comets. Cameron earned his second assist of the season and Mitch Eliot was credited with his fourth assist.
“It’s pretty emotional,” Arseneau said after the win. He said scoring the goal motivated him the rest of the game. In the end it was Arseneau, a crowd favorite who spent four years in Utica, who came off the ice last. “I wanted to make sure I was the last one to step off at the end.” He said Utica has been “a great hockey town. It’s so much fun.” He added: “We just want to end it on a good note. And we did it.”
The Comets built the lead to two goals just under seven minutes into the second when defenseman Jett Woo carried the puck in on the right side, slammed on the brakes and fired a wrist shot that rung the inside of the post and went in. It was Woo’s third goal of the season. Assists went to Nolan Stevens, his 12th, and Tyler Tucker, his fifth.
John Stevens put the game away with an empty net goal for Utica with 2:33 left in regulation. It was his sixth of the season. Curtis McKenzie earned an assist on the goal, his eighth of the season.
The Amerks would eventually spoil Utica goalie Michael DiPietro’s shutout bid with a rebound goal by Brendan Warren with 1:16 left but Utica held on for a 3-1 win.
DiPietro, who had 33 saves in net for Utica to earn the win, said, “The end of the game was pretty emotional for me.” DiPietro, who joined the team last season, has made it a point to be a part of the local community. “You develop a connection.” He added of the fans:
“They care so much about us so we should care about them.” And those fans showed up Wednesday, even if The Aud could only allow 400 inside. “It was still loud. That shows you the passion. The fan base is something I’ve almost never experienced with how much they care.”
“I know New Jersey is lucky, that’s for sure,” Cull said of the incoming organization.
The Comets improved to 15-10-1 on the season. They wrap up the season with road games in Rochester at 7:05 p.m. Friday and 5:05 p.m. Sunday.
Hofer called up by the Blues
Goalie Joel Hofer was called up from Utica before the game Wednesday.
Hofer, 20, recorded the shutout in the Comets’ 3-0 win over the Syracuse Crunch Monday, his second of the season. In 10 games with Utica this year, he was 4-6 with a .898 save percentage and a 3.33 goals-against-average.