The Vancouver Canucks and the Utica Comets will be wrapping the 2021 COVID-19 shortened season, and partnership, a few games earlier than initially thought.

Comets President Robert Esche joined the Keeler in the Morning Show on WIBX Friday, one day after inking a new affiliation contract to keep AHL hockey in Utica. The Canucks announced earlier this week their plan to relocated their AHL affiliate to Abbotsford, British Columbia following the completion of the 2020-21 season.

PHOTO ABOVE: Utica Comets President Rob Esche and then-Vancouver Canucks assistant GM Laurence Gilman unveil Utica Comets road jersey for the inaugural season on June 14, 2013 after announcing the return of AHL hockey to Utica, NY. /Jeff Monaski, WIBX 950.

The pandemic-compressed campaign for Utica was slated to include a total of 32 games. Because of COVID protocols, potential exposures, and actual infections, a string of several games had to be 'postponed' in March and early April. At the time, the team noted these were postponements, not cancelations.

But, Esche says due to the fact that a potential playoff format was scrapped in 80% of the league, the decision has been made not to reschedule several of those 'postponed' games that were called-off.

''You know I think from a player safety standpoint [Rochester has] played a ton of games in almost no period of time. Once the league decided to suspend the playoffs, I think...it's really is about player safety. These guys are playing a lot of games in a very short period of time,'' Esche told Keeler in the Morning Friday.

If the Comets are to complete the remaining dates on their schedule - totaling six games including tonight's tilt with Syracuse - Utica will have played 28 games for the season, not 32.  Barring any additional COVID-cancelled contests, the Canucks affiliation with Esche, Utica, and the Adirondack Bank Center will playout with these remaining games:

  • Friday, May 7, vs. Syracuse Crunch
  • Saturday, May 8, @ Syracuse Crunch
  • Monday, May 10, vs. Syracuse Crunch
  • Wednesday, May 12, vs Rochester Americans
  • Friday, May 14, @ Rochester Americans
  • Sunday, May 16 @ Rochester Americans

As you can see, Utica is set to play back-to-back games this weekend, then every-other-night for the final week. As Esche pointed out, trying to squeeze-in make-up games without a postseason to follow, offers more risk to the players than reward.

Utica is 12-9-0-1 in 2021, fourth in the North Division, in what will be their eighth and final season under the Canucks franchise. Two of those seasons, 2019-20 and 2020-21 were cut short because of pandemic. Utica made the Calder Cup Playoffs in 3 of the 6 seasons where a postseason was actually held, including a run to the Calder Cup Finals after the 2014-15 season.

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