The win marks the best start to a season in Utica Comets history.
It wasn’t easy, but the 2021-22 Utica Comets entered the team record book today.
Utica was going to have to go through a Laval Rocket team that was coming off an overtime win the night before over the Bridgeport Islanders. A crowd of 7,485 gathered at Place Bell to see if the hometown Rocket could derail a thus far undefeated season for the visitors from Utica.
The Comets actually broke a trend on Saturday afternoon by having a fast start out of the gate in the first period. A notoriously slow starting team this season, Utica peppered Laval goaltender Cayden Primeau with thirteen shots, while allowing only five to be taken on Comets starting goaltender Nico Daws. Those thirteen shots would yield one goal, as Ryan Schmelzer set up a screen to the right of Primeau and tipped a shot Tyler Wotherspoon into the net for the 1-0 lead they would take to the intermission.
Utica continued their dominating play into the second period. They would capitalize on that at 5:16 into the period when Laval native Frederik Gauthier made a nice touch pass across the Rocket crease to Joe Gambardella, who put the puck into an open net to make the score 2-0. Gauthier’s assist on the play was his first point as a Utica Comet.
After the second Comet goal, the Rocket began to turn on the offensive pressure and it would pay off. What looked an innocent shot around the end boards took a strange carom right to Laval’s Jean-Sebastian Dea, who was waiting in the slot and put the puck past a surprised Nico Daws to get the Rocket on the scoreboard.
The Rocket would keep the pressure on the Comets after the Dea goal for which Utica did not seem to have an answer. Three minutes after their first goal, Laval would tie the game with what some would call a “revenge” goal. Cole Caufield, who was the subject of a Twitter controversy that involved the Utica Comets Twitter page, snapped a wrist shot from behind the Utica goal line that banked off of Daws and into the net. The goal tied the score at two heading into the second intermission.
Laval started the third period on the power play as Kevin Bahl took a double-minor spearing attempt penalty at the end of the second. The Rocket made the Comets pay for that penalty forty-three seconds into the period when Jesse Ylonen blasted a shot past Daws to make the score 3-2, giving Laval it’s first lead of the game.They would get another power play seventeen seconds later when Utica’s Ryan Schmelzer took a high-sticking penalty. The Comets killed this power play, but momentum remained on the side of the Rocket.
The third period would turn into a so called “track meet” as the teams had a combined thirty-three shots in the period, twenty of them coming from the sticks of the Rocket. Things looked grim for Utica’s undefeated streak, but the “never say die” Comets once again found a way to get themselves into a position to win. Joe Gambardella scored his second goal of the game with eight minutes and twenty-four seconds left when he put a rebound off of a Jeremy Groleau shot past Primeau to tie the game, setting up a thrilling finish to the game.
Both teams had chances in the closing minutes, but the Comets would be the ones to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. With one minute and forty-three seconds left, Gauthier sent a sauce pass from the left side to Graeme Clarke who was streaking into the slot. Primeau stopped the original shot and the next one, but ultimately could not control the loose puck and Clarke roofed the puck over him, giving the Comets a 4-3 lead. Thirty-three seconds later, Marian Studenic scooped up a loose puck near the Comets blue line, skated the puck all the way into the Laval zone and deposited the puck into the empty Rocket net. This goal would salt the game away for Utica and give the team it’s ninth straight victory to start the season by a score of 5-3.
Notes: Utica outshot Laval by a 37-36 margin….The 36 shots by Laval were the second most the Comets have given up in a game this season….The Comets were 0/4 on the power play, the Rocket were 1/2….Marian Studenic has recorded at least one point in each game he has played for the Comets since arriving from New Jersey….Joe Gambardella (2 goals) and Jeremy Groleau (2 assists) led the Comets in scoring, Nolan Foote and Robbie Russo led the team in shots on goal with four each….Cole Caufield led the Rocket in scoring with one goal and one assist, Xavier Ouellet led Laval in shots on goal with four….Comets leading scorer Chase DeLeo was a scratch for the second straight game as he remains in the Covid protocol….Forward Samuel Laberge made his season debut for the Comets….Comets forward Luke Stevens left the game with an injury….The Comets next game is on Sunday in Belleville.