UTICA, N.Y. – For the first time since their inception as a franchise, the Utica Comets won their first two games to start the regular season. On Wednesday night at Adirondack Bank Center, the Utica Comets sought to make it an unprecedented three in a row against their long-time rival, the Syracuse Crunch.
Each season, the Crunch and the Comets play a 12-game series, affectionately titled the Galaxy Cup. During last season’s Galaxy Cup, the Comets went 5-7 against a very stacked Crunch team.
For this year’s edition, both teams have seen quite the upheaval at the center position. With the Comets having Adam Gaudette effectively graduated to the NHL, as well as four of their other centers moving on to other teams elsewhere in the AHL. The list of centers which includes Tanner Kero, Cam Darcy, Brendan Woods, and pivot player Brendan Gaunce.
The Crunch fared no better as the team saw their number one center for the past two seasons, Carter Verhaeghe graduate to the NHL. As well as the loss of center-pivot players Andy Andreoff and Gabe Dumont to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Iowa Wild, respectively.
Last Saturday, the Comets eked out a win on the road for their second straight win of the season. Even with a bevy of NHL caliber players joining the ranks, the Comets collective played sloppy, disoriented, and lethargic. On the night, the team was outshot 40 to 31, including an overtime period in which they gave up six shots before securing the game-winner.
The Comets weren’t going to have it easy for their home opener either, missing their starting goaltender, their second-line center, and two of their on-ice leaders, in Carter Bancks and Ashton Sautner. But given their improbable victory in Wilkes-Barre after being dominated so thoroughly, there was no telling what this Comets team could do with the Utica faithful behind them.
Since We Last Met
After Saturday’s matchup against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the Comets have seen a couple of roster changes. As previously alluded, goaltender Zane McIntyre was called up to the Canucks to play backup for Thatcher Demko in the wake of Jacob Markstrom’s personal leave of absence. Defenceman Ashton Sautner was also called up to the Canucks to fill in as the seventh defenseman while Oscar Fantenberg recovers from illness. Finally, the teams’ Captain, Carter Bancks, picked up an upper-body injury during Saturday’s contest with the Penguins, thus joining a growing list of Comets players on injured reserve.
Returning to the Comets active roster was defenseman Mitch Eliot, who was shipped down to the Kalamazoo Wings for the weekend, to get himself some playing time.
The Starting Lineup
|Reid Boucher (#24)||Carter Camper (#19)||Kole Lind (#13)|
|Nikolay Goldobin (#77)||Lukas Jasek (#9)||Sven Baertschi (#47)|
|Justin Bailey (#95)||Francis Perron (#27)||Zack MacEwen (#15)|
|Jonah Gadjovich (#21)||Wacey Hamilton (#36)||Vincent Arseneau (#18)|
|Guillaume Brisebois (#55)||Brogan Rafferty (#25)|
|Olli Juolevi (#48)||Jalen Chatfield (#5)|
|Josh Teves (#4)||Dylan Blujus (#8)|
|Michael DiPietro (G)|
|Seamus Malone (IR)||Tyler Graovac (IR)||Carter Bancks (IR)||Stefan LeBlanc||Mitch Eliot||Dyson Stevenson|
The first started promising for the Comets after some aggressive fore-checking from the Comets fourth line lead to an interference penalty from former Comet, Luke Schenn.
Syracuse did well to suppress the Comets offense and even managed a short-handed drive for themselves.
After 12 minutes of fairly even gameplay, the Comets once again found themselves on the powerplay after a high-sticking penalty from the Crunch’s Jimmy Huntington.
The Comets’ second powerplay went about as bad as a powerplay can go, as Cory Conacher exploited the foot speed of Olli Juolevi to score a short-handed goal to put the Crunch up 1-0.
A mere 28 seconds after the Comets powerplay concluded, the Comets fourth-liners put in more work in the Crunch’s zone. Vincent Arseneau forced a turnover onto Wacey Hamilton’s stick who’s shot was then tipped in by Jonah Gadjovich to tie the game at one.
In true, chaotic fashion, the Comets’ Dylan Blujus took a penalty 18 seconds after the game-tying goal, putting the Comets on their first penalty kill of the night.
The Comets penalty killers worked wonders on their first PK of the night. Disrupting several Syracuse scoring chances and earning themselves multiple shorthanded rushes on Crunch goaltender Scott Wedgewood.
With three minutes remaining in the period, Kole Lind baited an interference penalty on the Crunch’s Mitchell Stephens to put the Comets on their third powerplay of the game.
However, the powerplay was shortlived when, for the second time in the night, Cory Conacher caught Olli Juolevi flat-footed. Juolevi was forced to take an interference penalty to avoid a second embarrassing shorthanded goal.
On the Crunch’s very brief powerplay, they went to work with pressure. The pressure paid off for the Crunch when Michael Di Pietro thought he had blocked a shot high and wide, only to find the puck had trickled out to an open Chris Mueller. Mueller got the easy tap-in goal to give the Crunch their second lead of the night.
Chaos was the name of the period, as in the dying seconds of the first, an innocuous play from Nikolay Goldobin from behind Syracuse’ net resulted in another game-tying goal. This time, from crashing defenceman Dylan Blujus.
The second period when things started to click for the Comets. Relentless pressure from the ‘Euroline’ of Lukas Jasek, Sven Bäertschi, and Nikolay Goldobin and the fourth line of Arseneau/Hamilton/Gadjovich.
Three minutes into the second period, the fourth line led by Arseneau into the Crunch’s zone, drew another penalty, prompted by their relentless forechecking.
For the fourth time in the game, the Comets powerplay went to work. However, things were a bit different this time. Seconds after the opening faceoff draw, the first powerplay unit lost the zone. Once again, Olli Juolevi was slow to defend a shorthanded rush from the Crunch. On the Comets’ next breakout attempt, head coach Trent Cull pulled the plug on Juolevi being on the top powerplay line, and subbed-in Brogan Rafferty.
Seconds into his role as the point man on the top powerplay unit, Rafferty was able to hold the blueline and get himself two shots on net. The powerplay ended without the Comets able to capitalize, but certainly looked stronger under Rafferty’s control.
Comets pressured hard in the final ten minutes, earning themselves a fifth powerplay when a too-many-men penalty was served to the scrambling Syracuse players. Once again, the Comets were unsuccessful on the man-advantage, but it is noteworthy that Juolevi only saw time on this powerplay in the waning seconds.
Finally, with eight minutes remaining in the second, the Comets were able to capitalize at even-strength and earn themselves their first lead of the night. It was a bit of a chaotic play, as a shot from Justin Bailey ricocheted off Zack MacEwen and Francis Perron to trickle past Syracuse tendy Scott Wedgewood.
The Comets night wasn’t done there either. Two minutes after the Perron goal, a cross-ice pass from Kole Lind put Reid Boucher in behind the Syracuse defense. Boucher’s goal was his fifth in three games and gave the Comets a two-goal lead.
Wedgewood’s night didn’t get any easier. Two minutes after the Boucher goal, Brogan Rafferty sent a rink-wide pass to Nikolay Goldobin. Goldobin showed terrific patience on the play, as he waited for a sliding Crunch defender to pass him by to set up Zack MacEwen for his first goal of the season.
In a span of three and a half minutes, the Comets had blown this game wide open. The Comets may have gone zero-for-five on the man-advantage, but they had five goals on 29 shots to the Crunch’s two goals on 11.
To start the third period, Jonah Gadjovich was noticeably absent. Comets play-by-play voice Joe Roberts could not confirm if he would return.
By comparison to the Comets offensive heavy second period, the third was a very timid, slow affair. The Comets spent the first ten minutes of the third alternating time on the penalty kill due to slashing and tripping penalties to Wacey Hamilton and Reid Boucher, respectively. Juolevi was quite clutch on the penalty kill. Blocking several shots and clearing the zone for the Comets multiple times across the four minutes of short-handed ice-time.
To balance the lines in the absence of Jonah Gadjovich, Cull rolled out a line of Wacey Hamilton, Vincent Arseneau, and Nikolay Goldobin. Two speedy, heavy-hitting fourth-liners with a highly skilled Russian Winger. Amazingly, it actually paid off! As 13 minutes into the final frame, Nikolay Goldobin sent a rink-wide pass to Vincent Arseneau, who scored his first of the season.
The final six minutes didn’t see much action, and while things got a bit chippy, the game fizzled out with the Comets earning a dominant victory on home ice.
Cody’s Three Stars:
- Nikolay Goldobin – three assists and a dominant game overall
- Zack MacEwen – goal and an assist with time on both special teams
- Vincent Arseneau – goal and an assist and two penalty draws
The Comets Trajectory?
The Comets return to action Friday night when they take on the reigning Calder Cup Champion Charlotte Checkers. Puck drop is at 7:05 pm EDT / 4:05 pm PT.