The number seven overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft was as good as advertised.
The Utica Comets opened their first season as the AHL affiliate of the New Jersey Devils with a 6-2 win over the Rochester Americans on Sunday at the Adirondack Bank Center. The game was played before a capacity crowd of nearly four thousand.
The Comets affiliation with the Devils was not the only first in this game. Referee Kelly Cooke officiated her first regular season game in the AHL. Cooke is a part of historic group of ten women who are making their on-ice officiating debuts in the AHL this season, and in doing so, becoming the first women to ever be on-ice officials in the AHL.
With the new affiliation, came a new mascot for the Comets. The green, furry “Audie’ has been replaced by the red, furry “Naudie”. Expect to see Naudie at the Adirondack Bank Center all season long.
As far as the game itself, the Comets would send the hometown crowd home very happy. Rochester would get on the scoreboard first with a goal by Buffalo Sabres first round pick Jack Quinn at the 4:28 mark of the first period. Comets defenseman Nikita Okhotiuk tied the game with a wrist shot from the point that found the back of the net less than three minutes after the Quinn goal.
The Americans took a 2-1 lead with just over five minutes left in the opening period, but then the Comets took over. Ryan Schmelzer found himself all alone in front of the Rochester net and made no mistake – snapping the puck over sprawling Americans goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen to tie the game at two. Forty-three seconds later, Holtz showed off his goal scorers touch with a silky backhand goal to give Utica a 3-2 lead.
The Americans nearly tied the game with twenty-four seconds left in the first, but Comets goaltender Nico Daws made an outstanding save on Linus Weissbach to preserve the lead. A scrum after that save was the first of several in what would be a very physical game.
The Comets would get a power play early the second period and took full advantage of it. Alexander Holtz scored his second goal of the game, blasting a one timer past Luukkonen to give Utica a 4-2 lead. Tempers boiled over with 8:13 left in the second, when Comets left wing AJ Greer crashed into Luukkonen sparking a brawl behind the Americans net. Greer would be given a ten minute misconduct and two minor penalties after the dust settled from the melee (Greer was not ejected, as it was originally thought he was).
Utica would salt the game away in the third period with goals by Aarne Talvitie and Brian Flynn to finish the scoring. Overall, five Comets would finish the game with multiple points: Holtz (two goals), Flynn (one goal and one assist), Tyce Thompson (two assists), Fabian Zetterlund (two assists), and Reilly Walsh (three assists). Nico Daws made twenty-five saves to pick up the win.
The Comets next game is at home this Friday, October 22nd against the Providence Bruins. The puck drops at 7:00pm, for tickets visit https://uticacomets.com.