UTICA, N.Y. – Despite a roster that was hemorrhaging star players to injuries and call-ups, the Utica Comets treated their fans with an impressive win at home against their division rival, the Syracuse Crunch.

Having not won a home game since October 30, the Comets desperately needed a win to renew the fanbase’s faith in them.

The task at-hand was made more difficult with the absences of Nikolay Goldobin, Lukas Jasek, Wacey Hamilton, and Vincent Arseneau due to a combination of call-ups and injuries.

Making things slightly easier for the Comets Wednesday night was the return of Sven Baertschi. Baertschi returned to the Comets after a brief three-week stint with the Canucks.

Joining Baertschi down on the farm was Antoine Roussel, who joined the Comets to begin a three-game conditioning stint.

Heading into Wednesday night’s matchup, the Crunch were riding an impressive three-game win streak, having just beat the Eastern Conference leading Hartford Wolf Pack in back-to-back games over this past weekend.

Just how exactly did a rag-tag group of young prospects beat a team riding a wave of momentum? Let’s take a look at the lineup and the game itself to find out how they pulled it off.

THE STARTING LINEUP

FORWARDS:

LW: C: RW:
Baertschi (#47) Malone (#17) Boucher (#24)
Roussel (#62) Camper (#19) Lind (#13)
Gadjovich (#21) Perron (#27) Bailey (#95)
Sorenson (#74) Bancks (#34) Stevenson (#26)

DEFENSEMEN:

LD: RD:
Sautner (#6) Rafferty (#25)
Brisebois (#55) Chatfield (#5)
Blujus (#8) Eliot (#52)

STARTING GOALTENDER:

Michael Di Pietro

INJURED RESERVE:

Wacey Hamilton Olli Juolevi Lukas Jasek Vincent Arseneau

HEALTHY SCRATCHES:

Richard Bachman Stefan LeBlanc Josh Teves Justin Taylor

 

THE GAME

The Comets took a different approach to their gameplay against the Syracuse Crunch.

In the Comets’ previous efforts, the team paid a premium for playing their skaters deep in the offensive zone. Scoring goals for Utica came at the expense of bleeding shot attempts against.

Wednesday’s effort was a completely different look for the Comets — a controlled, calculated approach to handling offense. No longer were the Utica defensemen playing the puck beyond the circles, or floating in the high-slot looking to contribute shots. No, instead, the Comets defense played at the blue line, and only there. The shot attempts that the defensive core generated Wednesday were meaningful and from a much safer area of play that didn’t force players to cheat on their defensive coverage.

Case in point: the evening’s opening goal, where rookie defenseman Mitch Eliot scored his second of the year from the blue line on the Comets second unit power play.

In games past, the Comets defenders elected to drive hard towards the net for tight shots on goal. Of the defense’s 16 shots on goal Wednesday night, nearly every single one was a shot from the blue line that found its target.

It wasn’t just the defensemen’s offensive games that appeared to turn a corner. They collectively showed poise with the puck in their end, communication was much more apparent, and the overall desire to make the safe pass rather than the easy pass led to much better control of the tempo of the game.

That ability to control the pace of play led the Comets to find success in the offensive zone. On the Comets’ second power play goal of the night, aggressive forechecking from Justin Bailey and Kole Lind to catch a loose puck directly forced the Crunch to skate themselves into poor defensive positions. That hard work and tenacity on the puck opened up the ice for Comets defenseman Brogan Rafferty to get an easy rink-wide pass to Baertschi on the Crunch goal line. Because of Lind and Bailey’s forecheck that threw so many Crunch defenders out of position, Baertschi was able to set up Reid Boucher for an easy tap-in goal to give the Comets the 2-0 lead.

All told, the Comets played very sound defensively. After three periods of play, the Comets held the Crunch to just 24 shots to the Comets’ 35. Truly, their tremendous improvement in both areas of the ice Wednesday night were the reason why the Comets had such success over the Crunch.

It would not be fair to assess fault to any one of the Utica Comets for the Crunch’s lone power play goal of the evening, either. The goal that cut the Comets lead to one began with a shot from Nolan Valleau, that ripped through five bodies screening Michael Di Pietro. Di Pietro didn’t have a chance on the rebound try, as it was near impossible spotting the loose puck sitting between eight skates in front of him.

The Comets regained the two-goal lead early in the third, however, off of another blue line blast from a Comets defenseman. This time, recent ECHL call-up Tanner Sorenson came up huge with a gutsy forechecking effort to retrieve his rebound from the Crunch’s end-boards. Sorenson played his rebound back to defenseman Dylan Blujus, whose wrist shot from the blue line found its way past the pads of netminder Scott Wedgewood.

Sorenson was called up to the Comets after posting three goals and three assists in six games played with Kalamazoo. He had spent the previous three seasons alternating time between the ECHL, VHL, and NLB. Sorenson earned his call-up this year after a spat of injuries and call-ups from the Comets forward group left them needing extra bodies in case of injury.

Simply put, Sorenson was fantastic in his AHL debut. He was tenacious on the puck, drew three penalties, played hard along the boards, and showed decent playmaking chops alongside his linemates, Dyson Stevenson and Carter Bancks. Not often do ECHL call-ups immediately provide such a positive contribution to their team, but Sorenson did. He was a major reason why the Comets got off to such a great start against the Crunch.

By the end of the sixty minutes, fans in the Adirondack Bank Center were once again cheering, “Let’s Go Comets!”, a chant that had not seen much air time over this rough November slump. Wednesday’s impressive two-way effort from the Comets should instill some hope in the Utica faithful that this team isn’t out of it just yet. That there is still way more to come from this young and motivated Comets team.

CODY’S THREE STARS OF THE NIGHT

* Reid Boucher – 1G + 1A – Six shots

** Mitch Eliot – 1G + 0A – Three shots

*** Tanner Sorenson – 0G + 1A – One shot (First Career AHL Game and First Career AHL Point)

The Comets Trajectory?

The Comets hit the road again for another weekend double-header when they visit the Toronto Marlies this Saturday and Sunday. Saturday’s puck drop is at 1:30 pm EST /10:30 am PST.

WANT MORE?

If you want more Utica Comets coverage, you can always visit The Comets Harvest for a more detailed look into each Comets game! Follow @CodySevertson on Twitter for all things Comets, and “Like” The Sin Bin on Facebook for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL.

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