Jr. Comets now offer direct trajectory to college hockey  

Founder and President of the Syracuse Stars Don Kirnan announced today that beginning next season, the Syracuse Stars will merge with the Utica Jr. Comets and rebrand as such. Kirnan, along with his daughter, Nicole Kirnan-Kelly, have run the Stars for 34 years, and will both join forces with Comets President Robert Esche, Vice President Adam Pawlick, and President of the Mohawk Valley Youth Hockey Association Tony Martino to run the Junior teams out of the Adirondack Bank Center in Utica, NY. There will be minimal coaching changes, with Paul Kelly heading up the Utica Jr. Comets junior program. Paul, along with Nicole and Adam Pawlick will have oversight over the remaining teams. 

The Stars are no strangers to the Adirondack Bank Center, as it is the arena they started calling their home in 2018. The merger creates a direct path within the Jr. Comets organization beginning at mites (youth hockey) and running all the way up to college hockey and will add an NCDC (National Collegiate Development Conference), Premier, U-18 Midget, U-16 Midget team, and U-15 Midget team to the Jr. Comets program.

The Utica Jr. Comets junior program will develop and advance the careers of hundreds of talented young hockey players in the USPHL, with many continuing on to higher levels; past graduates of the Syracuse Stars junior program have gone on to play in the NHL, AHL, OHL, USA Hockey U18 Team, US Olympic Team, USA National Junior Team, and Division I and III college hockey programs. Some graduates of the Syracuse Stars junior program include Esche, Pawlick, Tom & Tim Sestito, Tim Connolly, Brian Gionta, Dustin Brown, Alex Tuch, Nick Palmieri, and Ryan Callahan.

The rebrand and expansion of the Utica Jr. Comets organization could not have occurred at a more opportune time, with the recent announcement of $22 million dollars from the State for the Nexus Center, a three-sheet recreation-based tournament-play facility that will be connected to the Adirondack Bank Center. Nexus will connect the threads of youth hockey throughout the Northeast, serving as the epicenter for the larger cities and demographics of Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo, Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and more. The Utica Jr. Comets program will utilize the Nexus Center for all of their local tournaments as well as training sessions, adding the sheet of ice at the Adirondack Bank Center to bring the total sheets up to four.

“The opportunity to join forces with the Utica Jr. Comets is exciting for both the Syracuse Stars and our family,” said Nicole Kirnan-Kelly. “This is the most exciting time in the history of youth hockey in Central New York. The opportunity is there for kids to wear Comets jerseys from mites all the way through tuition-free juniors. We are grateful to Rob, Adam, and their tremendous staff; the resources afforded by merging these brands ensures that our mission of developing and advancing the careers of youth players through the ranks and on to college hockey will live on indefinitely.”

“We couldn’t be more excited to be able to create a direct path to college hockey through youth hockey,” expressed Esche. “The workability of Don and Nicole, along with Tony Martino, was paramount to our future vision for the sport. Finding the path to college has been one of the toughest things for area youth hockey players, and we are proud to have created one seamless pipeline to simplify these stages of their hockey careers.”

The next few months will be a transitionary period for the Utica Jr. Comets junior program as they rebrand from the Syracuse Stars; the process will include a new website, jersey design, and more. Players who are interested in trying out for any Utica Jr. Comets team can head to www.uticajrcomets.org, where all news announcements and tryout information will be updated and posted daily.

Players will have multiple options to try out for the Jr. Comets; the first of these opportunities will be on April 6 and 7 at the NCDC Early Bird. This tryout will be held at Meachem Ice Arena in Syracuse and costs $99.

For all news releases and new information, be sure to follow Utica Jr. Comets on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @UticaJrComets.