The Utica Comets take on the Hershey Bears for the first time this season on Friday night at the Adirondack Bank Center.
After going five days without playing a game, the Utica Comets (30-9-5-0, 65 points, .739 points percentage, first place in the Eastern Conference) return to action to face the Hershey Bears (25-18-3-3, 56 points, .571 points percentage, fifth place in the Atlantic Division). One of the league’s most historic franchises, the Bears are the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals. Friday night’s game marks the first of three games in three nights for the Comets, as they travel to Syracuse on Saturday night to face the Crunch, and then to Hershey on Sunday for a rematch with the Bears.
The Comets enter the game having won their last two games, and have a home record of 18-4-2-0. On offense, they have five players with at least thirty points led Chase DeLeo’s thirty-eight points in just thirty-one games. Rounding out the “thirty point club” are Fabian Zetterlund (thirty-seven points), Alexander Holtz (thirty-four points), Reilly Walsh (thirty-three points), and AJ Greer (thirty-two points). Tied for the team lead in goals scored are the “Swedish Supermen” Fabian Zetterlund and Alexander Holtz with eighteen goals each, while Chase DeLeo are neck and neck for the team lead in assists with twenty-eight and twenty-seven each. Overall, Utica is third in the American Hockey League in goals scored with 160.
The Bear’s offense is in the top ten in the AHL with 147 goals scored. Leading scorer Joe Snively is currently with the Capitals, in his absence, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby leads the team with thirty-four points. Following closely behind him is center Mike Vecchione with thirty-three points, and Garrett Pilon with twenty-nine points. Jonsson Fjallby leads the Bears in goals scored with fifteen, and with Snively in the NHL, Vecchione has the most assists on the team with twenty-one.
The solid defense has been a key to the Comet’s success this season, as they are third overall in the league in team defense – allowing only 116 goals. They have three players in the top ten in the AHL in +/-: Kevin Bahl, Nolan Foote, and the soon to return Tyler Wotherspoon. Akira Schmid and Nico Daws have been rotating turns with the New Jersey Devils for the past several weeks, and with Daws currently with the Devils Schmid is the starter in net for the Comets. He has an AHL record of 13-2-2 this season to go with a GAA of 2.13 and save percentage of .929. His save percentage is the best in the AHL and GAA is second only to Eetu Makiniemi of the Chicago Wolves. After playing on Wednesday night with the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL, Mareks Mitens is back in Utica to resume his backup goaltender duties. He has an AHL record of 5-4-1 with a 3.49 GAA and .880 save percentage.
On the defensive side of the game, the Hershey Bears rank nineteenth in the AHL in goals allowed with 139. Defenseman Lucas Johansen is fourth in the AHL in +/- at +19 (Snively actually leads the league in +/-, but as previously mentioned, he is now in the NHL). Manning the Hershey goaltenders crease are Zach Fucale and Hunter Shepard. Fucale has a record of 7-8-4 with a 3.00 GAA and a save percentage of .876. Shepard enters the game with a 5-2-0 record to go with a GAA of 1.93 and a .926 save percentage.
The Comets and Bears both possess top ten power-play units. Utica ranks fifth in the league, scoring 32 goals on 138 power-play opportunities for a conversion rate of 23.2%. Hershey is ranked tenth with a 20.6% conversion rate. They have scored 35 goals on 170 opportunities with the man advantage.
On the penalty kill, the Comets and the Bears both rank in the top fifteen in the American Hockey League. Hershey ranks eleventh overall with a success rate of 81.7%, having allowed 35 goals in the 191 times they have been shorthanded. The Comets are fifteenth, having allowed 28 goals in the 150 power-play opportunities they have surrendered for an 81.3% success rate.
Friday night’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05 pm EST. Radio coverage begins with the pregame show on 94.9 K-Rock (WKLL). The television broadcast will be on WPNY and AHLTV and begins at 7:00 pm.