Utica Comets Get Back On Track Against the Hershey Bears

The Utica Comets ended a three games in three days stretch on a sweet note in Chocolate Town U.S.A as they defeat the Hershey Bears on Sunday.

After struggling through their first two games of the weekend, the Utica Comets needed a strong performance on Sunday against the team that just shut them out on Friday night.

They got just what they needed, by returning the favor and defeating the Bears on their home ice at the Giant Center by a score of 3-1 in a game that was a defensive battle through the first two periods. The game featured two premier goaltenders, as Akira Schmid got the start for Utica, and although Zach Fucale shut out the Comets on Friday night, he served as the backup in this game to Vitek Vanecek. Vanecek was assigned to Hershey on Sunday morning from the Washington Capitals for conditioning.

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Both teams seemed to “feel each other out” in the first period. The Bears got the first four shots of the game, with the Comets finally getting their first shot at the 8:22 mark by Chase DeLeo. The Comet’s best chance came when Nikita Okhotiuk hit the goal post in the middle of the period, but otherwise, the first period ended without a goal being scored and Hershey holding eight to five advantage in shots on goal.

Right Now is a Great Time if You’re a Fan of Utica Hockey

Business began to pick up in the second period, as both teams opened up their respective offenses. The Comets had a golden opportunity when they went on a five on three power-play opportunity for one minute and thirty-three seconds. Although they hit the goalpost three times during the power play, they could not get the puck over the goal line and into the Hershey net. After that missed chance by the Comets, the teams continued to trade scoring opportunities but the Bears closed the period with seven unanswered shots on goal. Despite twenty-eight total shots on goal in the second period, neither goaltender yielded a goal and the game went into the second intermission the same as the first – a scoreless tie.

It only took sixteen seconds into the third period for the scoreless tie to be broken when Joe Gambardella scooped up a loose puck in front of the Hershey net and lifted a backhand shot past Vanecek and into the goal to give the Comets the lead. Nineteen seconds later, Okhotiuk squared off with Mason Morelli, and three punches later the Utica defenseman was the victor. After the goal and fight, both teams had chances that were thwarted by Vanecek and Schmid. With just over eleven minutes remaining the Comets took a 2-0 lead when team captain Ryan Schmelzer tipped a shot from the point by Okhotiuk past Vanecek and Utica appeared to be in a good position to get their first win of the weekend.

It wouldn’t be easy, however, as just over a minute after the Schmelzer goal, Chase DeLeo took a slashing penalty that the Bears took advantage of. After nearly giving up shorthanded goals on two occasions during the power play, the Bears lit the lamp themselves when Brett Leason sent a cross-ice pass from the right circle to the left through traffic to Jake Massie who one-timed a shot past Schmid to get Hershey within one. That would be all Schmid would yield for the remainder of the game and Schmelzer sealed the victory with fifty-three seconds left when he scored an empty-net goal for his second tally of the game.

Notes: Hershey outshot Utica 33 to 24…Hershey was 1 for 3 on the power play, Utica was 0 for 3…Ryan Schmelzer led all Comets scorers with two points (both goals)…Reilly Walsh returned to the lineup after missing Saturday night’s game, Alexander Holtz remained out…Akira Schmid likes playing in Pennsylvania, as he has won both of his starts in the Keystone State this season – this one and a 3-2 shootout victory over Lehigh Valley on February 19th…Hershey plays again on Wednesday night at home against Charlotte…Utica plays again on Friday night, on the road against Syracuse.

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