[Mgt Note: Welcome Ray to the NM team. He'll help keep tabs on the guys in Utica and make sure no one does something stupid.]
Allow me to introduce myself.... my name is Ray Biggs, and I am going to be the new AHL beat writer/mad scientist here at Nucks Misconduct.
As you may have already guessed from the glaringly obvious title, I am indeed from the fair city of Utica, New York, (Home of the Comets). For the past 2 seasons, I've worked with the team almost directly responsible for the placement of the Vancouver AHL franchise, the Utica College Pioneers, as the club's Play-By-Play announcer. I'm wacky, energetic, and borderline insane.... but aren't we all? I also host the only talk show dedicated to NCAA Division III ice hockey on a national scale, with listeners tuning in from as far away as Florida and Minnesota. It's a pretty loyal group of listeners too. We're a very, very strange group of fans when it comes to small college sports. Nearly all of us know each other, we drive hours on end to see our team on the road, and there may be a d3 fantasy hockey league floating around.
I also happen to be a Canucks fan. Although I grew up in Rangers country (and I am still quite partial to the boys in blue), the Canucks were a franchise that began to grow on me as I got a bit older (being Swedish and having the Sedins on board certainly sped that up) Once the season hits, you can expect periodic updates of goings-on with the AHL affiliate of the Canucks, the Utica Comets. I'll be attempting to schmooze my way to a press pass as soon as I'm able to apply... stay tuned for that.
Anyway, let's explore the city of Utica a bit, shall we? Probably the most well-known thing about the city of Utica is something many of us can appreciate: Beer. The FX Matt Brewing Company has been doing it for 125 years now, and also manufactured the first beer that was legally sold after prohibition (Utica Club). My grandfather was there when they dropped off the keg (he was 5).
Around the city, you'll find some of the best Italian food outside of Italy. Vancouver farmhands can look forward to heaping plates of Chicken Riggies, Tomato Pie, and of course, washing it down with an Ice Cold Utica Club. Some famous people grew up here. "New York" from the VH1 Series "Flavor of Love" grew up in Utica. So did Annette Funnicello. Oh, and let's not forget AHL regular Nick Palmieri, and former Flyer goalie Robert Esche (who is also responsible for the franchise's relocation). Meanwhile, another person you know very well grew up just minutes away. Vancouver forward Tom Sestito (Along with his brother Tim) grew up in nearby Rome, NY.
But of course, what many of you are truly concerned with is hockey. Utica is a city that loves its hockey.... that is, when the team pays its bills on time and stays for a length of time exceeding two years. The AHL Utica Devils came, and eventually went (Martin Brodeur included). Afterwards, a revolving door of low level teams came and left quickly. After the departure of the last pro hockey team (more like glorified sub-single A men's league), the vacant Aud was left in the hands of a brand-new program from Utica College. UC set out from the beginning with a model that was born to succeed in this area. Provide affordable ($50 bucks gets you a reserved seat for 16 home games) family fun in an incredible venue, all while being the only venue in NCAA division III athletics (to my knowledge) that sells beer, and you have yourself a winner. And eventually, the public warmed up to it.
Today the Pioneers attract the top attendance in division III, and the 20th best overall when you add in NCAA division I. Imagine that for a second..... 3,500 plus fans at a D3 hockey game. They also may sport the best Teddy Bear Toss event outside of Calgary.
I'll explore the relationship between the Comets and UC in a later post, largely because it is a very complex issue.... the likes of which really hasn't been seen on this level before. This summer, also expect a look at the Utica Memorial Auditorium from a guy who could probably have his mail delivered there, and any other goodies I can find for you guys. Cheers!