Adirondack Bank Center – Utica Comets
Aud Lang Syne
The landscape in the American Hockey League has changed dramatically in recent years. The league, which is the top developmental partner of the National Hockey League, has morphed from a league with most of its teams located in the northeast United States and Canadian Maritimes into a coast to coast circuit. In 2015 several of the NHL’s western teams moved their top farm teams out west into more geographically convenient locations, abandoning many long-term, established AHL cities.
Bucking this trend over the past few seasons are the Utica Comets. Established in 2013, the Comets are the top farm team of the Vancouver Canucks. Despite being separated by more than 2,900 miles, the Comets have thrived in upstate New York, playing to near capacity crowds since their arrival in the Mohawk Valley.
The Comets play their home game in the Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, known locally as “The Aud.” Completed in 1960, the arena was built using the first pre-stressed dual cable roof system.
In addition to serving as home to the Comets, the Aud plays host to the Utica College Pioneers men’s and women’s ice hockey teams, several local high school varsity ice hockey teams, as well as local youth skating and hockey programs. The Utica College teams boast the highest average attendance among all Division III teams in the country, with regular season games often selling out.
On September 27, 2017 the Upper Mohawk Valley Auditorium Authority announced a ten year naming rights deal with locally based Adirondack Bank, making the official name of the Aud “The Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Audiorium.”
Food & Beverage 5
You wouldn’t expect a smaller arena like the Aud to have a very expansive concessions menu, but the choices here are many and varied.
You can find all your standard arena fare here, including hot dogs, chicken tenders, nachos and french fries. Coca Cola products are featured, and can be purchased in a refillable souvenir cup priced at seven dollars that can be brought back any time for five dollars.
To get a proper taste of Utica, head to the Oriskany Street Grill, where local favorite Zweigle’s hot dogs are served with a variety of toppings. Also served here are Dino’s Sausages, assorted wraps and subs, and walking tacos. Pair one of these sandwiches with some onion rings, waffle fries, or sweet potato fries, and you’ll be set for the night. In addition to the high quality of the food, prices are reasonable.
Another popular spot at the Aud is Kookie’s Q stand. Named for longtime Aud volunteer Kevin “Kookie” Dowling, a variety of barbeque items cooked in an on-site smoker are sold here, including pulled pork, pulled chicken and brisket. Served over macaroni and cheese, nachos, in a bowl or as a sandwich, Kookie’s is a popular choice among Comets fans.
Many brands of beers are sold at the Aud, including Budweiser, Coors and Labatt’s, but we advise passing on those national brands and heading over to the Utica Club stand, where several varieties of locally brewed Saranac and Adirondack Lager beers are sold. Fans looking for wine or other mixed drinks should head to the One 9 Five 9 stand, where several varieties of local Bully Hill Vineyards and mixed drinks are served.
The Aud is packed to the rafters on most nights, and the small barn echoes with chants of “UTICA! UTICA! UTICA!” throughout the game. Capacity crowds create a great deal of noise and a significant home ice advantage night in and night out. Most of the fans come dressed in the Comets’ blue and green colors, and some traditions from the Pacific Northwest have found their way to the Mohawk Valley. A pair of fans mimic the Canucks’ famed green men, and the team’s dance squad, the Comettes, perform and lead cheers during play stoppages. Just be careful when traversing the inner walkway around the dance team. Many a fan has lost their beverage or nachos after bumping into one of these lovely ladies during their routines.
If you want to experience a Comets game like a season ticket holder, the team has several unique options to check out. The Horton Room, located behind section 218, is named for former Utica player and coach Bill Horton. This lounge boasts a line-up of top shelf liquors and Labatt Blue beer, and is decorated with Utica hockey memorabilia.
Another option is Kilfoil’s Irish Pub. Fans looking for a pint of Guinness can watch the action in an authentically decorated Irish pub while enjoying a cold one during the game.
Members looking for another new spot from which to take in the action can head to Zetlin’s Lounge. Featuring 17 foot floor to ceiling windows and a 22-foot bar, Zetlin’s lounge offers excellent views of the action while enjoying cold beverages.
The Aud is located on the edge of downtown, but is not really integrated into the downtown region due to the presence of railroad tracks, highway off-ramps and abandoned buildings. The city of Utica is similar to many mid-sized cities in the northeast in that it has seen better days and is struggling to recover.
Visiting fans will find little in the immediate area in terms of places to eat or stay, but there are some choices located a short drive from the Aud. Utica’s Brewery District is located about a mile from the arena, and tours of the Saranac Brewery are very popular with out of town fans. Architecture buffs will be sure to check out the Stanley Theater and the Utica Union Station.
In a building with a listed capacity of 3,860, Utica has averaged over that figure in each of the past four seasons. Utica proudly touts their sellout streak, which reached 100 games during the 2017-18 season. The team has a season ticket membership of 3,300 fans, which leaves less than 500 tickets available for each game. These tickets are snapped up quickly, forcing fans to search the secondary market for available seats, a rarity in the minor leagues.
Comet fans do more than just fill the seats, as they provide the team with a significant home-ice advantage. Chants of “UTICA-UTICA-UTICA” reverberate through the Aud every night. The fans here are fully aware of the shifting landscape of the AHL, and are doing their best to prove they are worthy of inclusion in this exclusive club.
Located on Oriskany Street West on the edge of downtown, the Aud is easy to get to via city streets, Interstate 790 and Route 12. There are a pair of large parking lots adjacent to the Aud, as well as ample on-street parking within a few blocks of the facility.
The Aud is set up in a horseshoe layout, with a stage on one end of the ice surface. The blue and red stadium seats that make up the seating bowl all provide excellent views of the ice. There is a walkway about a third of the way up the seating bowl, where the Comettes dance team perform throughout the evening. There is constant traffic on this walkway, so choose seats a few rows up to avoid an obstructed view.
There is a small concourse located underneath the seating bowl, which can become crowded during intermissions. Recent renovations have expanded and renovated the restrooms, improving traffic dramatically. Still, plan your trips to concession stands and restrooms wisely.
Return on Investment 5
Tickets to Comets games range in price from $18-$28. While these prices are a bit higher than neighboring American Hockey League teams in Syracuse, Binghamton and Rochester, they are not out of line with other teams at this level.
Helping to make going to a Utica Comets game more affordable is the wealth of free parking available around the Aud, both in municipal lots across the street and on street within a few blocks of the arena.
With reasonable concession prices at the Aud, a night at a Utica Comets game is a most affordable entertainment option for Mohawk Valley sports fans.
An extra point is given for the Aud’s unique roof design. The arena was constructed using the world’s first pre-stressed dual cable roof system, designed by Lev Zetlin. This design influenced many modern dome designs seen today, including Madison Square Garden. The Aud was designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in recognition of its innovative cable suspended roof.
Scenes from the 1977 hockey cult classic movie Slap Shot starring Paul Newman were filmed at the Aud. The arena hosted the 1962 Frozen Four.
A final extra point is awarded for the sense of history and community present at the Aud. From the murals that decorate the walls of the arena to the War Memorial honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice to our country to the memorabilia present throughout the building, there’s a vibe here at the Aud that just can’t be replicated in a bigger building in a bigger city.
The city of Utica was awarded a team at the worst possible time for a small city in the northeast, when teams were fleeing established American Hockey League markets throughout the area to head out west and begin a new Pacific Division. When it was announced that Utica would affiliate with the distant Vancouver Canucks, it was widely assumed that the Comets would soon head west to a more geographically convenient location. Five years later, despite constant rumors of relocation, support for the team has swelled, and the Comets look to be solidly entrenched in the Mohawk Valley. Recent improvements to the Aud have served to improve what was already one of the top fan experiences in the American Hockey League.
Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter @PuckmanRI.
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Food and Drink Recommendations
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Latest Crowd Reviews
Upstate New York is a minor league hockey traveler’s dream, with AHL outposts in Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and Albany all hugging the I-90 corridor. Utica might be the most easy one to overlook, especially standing next to the longer tenured and storied franchises in Rochester and Syracuse. Yet here the hockey experience is special. The Aud is one of those great old school barns, the local beers are tasty and must have, and it is one of those hockey venues not to be missed.