You probably couldn't have squeezed one more person into the first floor of the Aqua Vino restaurant on Friday as an absolutely packed house roared with excitement as former NHL goalie Robert Esche officially announced professional hockey was coming back to Utica.

The Utica Comets will begin play at the Utica Memorial Auditorium sometime in mid-October, and it will be the first of several seasons to AHL hockey to be played at the historic AUD.

The NHL's Vancouver Canucks have inked a six-year lease agreement with Mohawk Valley Gardens, a group including Eshe and Frank DuRoss.

Esche talked about realizing his dream of bringing the AHL back to the city and reminisced that his first memories of hockey, and some of his greatest family memories come from the AUD, watching the Utica Devils.

But, this certainly wasn't easy.

DuRoss said he first met with Esche to discuss a plan, one year and one day before the official announcement came.

And, nearly lost in the announcement event was that the Utica AUD will see another $3 million in renovation funding, in addition to the $2 million that was announced last month, State Senator Joseph Griffo said.

Utica Mayor Rob Palmieri said he recalled watching the Clinton and Mohawk Valley Comets play, and before leaving the event, congratulated Esche with a 'Great job. Now, let's go kick some butt.'

Season tickets go on sale on Saturday, and renovation work on the AUD is expected to get underway this weekend, officials said.

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