Utica Comets down the Cleveland Monsters on Friday night.

The Utica Comets return to their winning ways with the 3-1 victory.

Santa Claus made an early Christmas visit to the Adirondack Bank Center on Friday night, but it was the Utica Comets giving the fans the present of a 3-1 victory over the Cleveland Monsters.

The victory was especially sweet given the turmoil the team has faced over the past week. Going into this game, the Comets had been enduring their first losing streak of the season, losing to Bridgeport and Rochester on the road with both games going to overtime. During the Rochester game on Wednesday night, Utica lost one half of the best goaltending tandem in the American Hockey League, when Nico Daws was forced to leave the game due to a lower-body injury. Daws will not be returning to the team anytime soon, as he has been deemed to have a week-to-week recovery timetable.

Then, on Friday morning they lost the other half of that tandem. The New Jersey Devils announced they had placed goaltender Jonathan Bernier on the injured reserve list and recalled Akira Schmid from Utica to take his place. To fill a suddenly gaping hole in their lineup, the Comets recalled goaltender Marek Mitens from the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL and signed Corbin Kaczperski formerly of the Worcester Railers of the ECHL to a professional tryout contract.

Utica Comets notes: Schmid, Holtz, PTO’s and ELC’s

With Mitens manning their net, the Utica Comets took the ice against the Monsters, and almost immediately made their new goaltender feel right at home. They jumped on Cleveland right from the opening faceoff and it paid off at just over three minutes into the period. Fabian Zetterlund inadvertently blocked a Robbie Russo shot from the point while standing in the high slot, but was able to turn and wire a shot top shelf past Cleveland goaltender J.F Berube to give Utica an early 1-0 lead. If Berube’s name sounds familiar to Comets fans it should, as he was the goaltender for the Manchester Monarchs when they faced the Comets in the 2015 Calder Cup Final.

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The Comets dominated play through the first period, although Mitens was forced to make a couple of big saves to keep the Monsters off of the scoreboard. With one minute and thirty-four seconds left, the Comets scored again when Nate Schnarr batted a deflected Tyler Wotherspoon shot out of mid-air and into the net to give the home team a 2-0 lead. On the play, Schnarr looked like he could play at Murnane Field as well as the Adirondack Bank Center.

A determined Cleveland Monsters team came out of the locker room for the second period, and they immediately made a push and put pressure on Mitens and the Comets. They controlled the pace of play for the first ten minutes of the period, but the new kid on the block (Mitens) was able to keep Cleveland scoreless. At the 9:16 mark of the second period, Cleveland’s Tyler Sikura took a cross-checking penalty that would cost his team dearly. While on the ensuing power play, Utica’s AJ Greer burst down the middle of the Cleveland zone and slid a pass over to Graeme Clarke who fired a wrist shot past Berube on the short side to extend the Comets lead to 3-0. The Clarke goal was the only tally of the period and the Comets went into the second intermission with that three-goal lead.

Marek Mitens of the Utica Comets makes one of his twenty-three saves in Utica’s 3-1 victory over the Cleveland Monsters. Photo credit: Kristy Kinville.

The third period belonged to the Utica Comets as they smothered the Cleveland attack right from the start of the frame. They held the Monsters without a shot on goal for the first twelve minutes of the period and seemed determined to get Mitens a shutout in his season debut for the Comets. That would be the only thing that went wrong all night for Utica, as with one minute and thirty-four seconds left, Liam Foudy of the Monsters was able to get in on Mitens with speed and beat him on the backhand, breaking the shutout bid. It would be the only shot to get by the Utica goaltender, and the Comets skated away with a convincing 3-1 victory over their AHL North Division rival.

Notes: Utica outshot Cleveland by a margin of 32 to 24…Utica was 1 for 3 on the power play, Cleveland was 0 for 1…Robbie Russo’s two assists led all Comets scorers for the game…Fabian Zetterlund and Nate Schnarr each scored their sixth goal of the season, tying them with Alexander Holtz and Joe Gambardella for the team lead…The Comets and Monsters will be very familiar with each other by the end of next week. Their next two games are against each other, as the scene moves to Cleveland for games on December 16th and 17th…The Comets record is now 17-1-2-0, which is best in the AHL. The Monsters are 10-7-2-3, which puts them fourth in the North Division.

The latest episode of Marty’s Illegal Stick Hockey Podcast features the always entertaining and insightful coach of the Utica College Pioneers men’s hockey team, Gary Heenan. Subscribe to Marty’s Illegal Stick Hockey Podcast on Spotify, YouTube, Apple Podcasts, and all major podcast platforms.

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