Utica Comets vs Lehigh Valley Phantoms Three Observations

The Utica Comets got off to a good start against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Saturday night but did not get the result they were looking for.

The Utica Comets (39-16-6-1, 85 points, 0.685 points percentage) are closing in on clinching a playoff spot for the 2021-22 AHL Playoffs. On the flip side, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (24-27-7-4, 59 points, 0.476 points percentage) playoff hopes are on life support. Despite the disparity in records, the Phantoms skated away with a 3-2 victory over the Comets on their home ice at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

The celebration for clinching a playoff spot will have to wait a little longer for the Comets, as the Rochester Americans, Belleville Senators, and Syracuse Crunch all picked up at least one point on Saturday night. All three of those teams picking up points is significant as 0.05 points percentage separate the three teams between the fourth and sixth place in the North Division – as Utica’s magic number is based on whoever occupies the sixth spot in the division. The Comets will clinch a playoff spot, it’s now just a question of when. In the meantime, here are three observations from Saturday night’s game.

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New and returning faces provided a boost.

Even though they lost the game, the Comets appear to be getting a boost just in time for their playoff push. In his second game back since being reassigned by the New Jersey Devils, Tyce Thompson had his second consecutive multi-point game. As he did on Friday night against Syracuse, Thompson recorded a goal and assist and now has eleven points in nine total games played for Utica this season.

A brand new addition to the team scored his first goal in only his second professional game. Brian Halonen was signed by the New Jersey Devils as a college free agent out of Michigan Tech on Sunday and signed his ATO with the Comets shortly thereafter. Halonen made his debut on Friday night, and all though he was held off the scoresheet then, he made his presence felt on Saturday night. He picked up a rebound off a shot from the aforementioned Thompson and lifted a backhand shot into the top of the Lehigh Valley net for the first professional goal of his career. The Comets and Devils hope there are many more to come from Halonen.

Utica Comets Bring in Brian Halonen

The Comets just ran out of gas.

After outshooting the Phantoms 30-17 over the first two periods, the 2-1 lead the Comets held going into the third period disappeared and was eventually lost. If Utica was a bit tired going into the third period, one could hardly blame them. They were on their fifth game in seven nights as well as the second game of a back-to-back. In all fairness, Lehigh Valley was on the second game of a back-to-back as well, but unlike the Comets, the Phantoms had five days off before starting their back-to-back. Utica now has three nights off from gameplay, as their next game is on Wednesday night at home against the Belleville Senators.

Just wait until these guys get going.

One of the keys to the Utica Comets’ success this season is that they have been able to get contributions from everyone up and down the lineup. It’s the reason they have been able to withstand various slumps that happen to everyone from time to time. Right now, two of Utica’s biggest contributors on offense are in a cold streak, but as the team’s record indicates, they are weathering the storm.

Alexander Holtz has dazzled fans all season with his electrifying shot and knack for scoring goals, as he has twenty-two of them on the season. Lately, however, the goals have been hard to come by. After a streak where he scored a goal in three straight games, he now has only one in his last ten games played. He has twenty-six shots over those past ten games, so as long as he keeps shooting the puck, the goals should be piling up again soon for the rookie sensation.

Reilly Walsh has been a major factor in driving the Utica offense from the blue line this season. He has seven goals and twenty-nine assists for thirty-six points this season, ranking ninth among all defensemen in assists and tenth in points. The past fifteen games, however, have been a struggle on offense for the young defenseman as he has only two points (one goal and one assist) over his last fifteen games. Like Holtz, he is shooting the puck as he has twenty-eight shots during those games so it certainly is not from lack of effort.

Both Holtz and Walsh are too talented for these slumps to last much longer. Once they emerge, it will add an even more dangerous element to an offense that is already third in the American Hockey League in total goals scored.

Utica Comets at Lehigh Valley Phantoms Game Preview 04-02-2022

The Utica Comets wrap up a five games in seven nights stretch with a trip to Allentown, Pennsylvania to take on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

The Utica Comets (39-15-6-1, 85 points, 0.697 points percentage) have played a lot of hockey lately, but it does not appear to bother them. They stared down a brutal five games in the seven nights section of the schedule but won three of four of those games thus far with one more game to go. That game is tonight at the PPL Center, the home of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (23-27-7-4, 57 points, 0.467 points percentage). Utica has the best record in the Eastern Conference, while Lehigh Valley is mired in last place in the Atlantic Division. The teams have played each other three times so far this season, with the Comets winning two of those games.

The Comets continue to soar on offense, as they are number two in the AHL in overall goals scored with 216. On the road, they rank fourth in the league with 106 goals scored. They welcomed Alexander Holtz back to the lineup on Friday night after he missed two games due to injury as well as Tyce Thompson, who hadn’t played for the team since November (for more on Friday night’s game, please click here: Utica Comets vs Syracuse Crunch 04-01-2022 Three Observations). The leading scorers for Utica are as follows:

  • Fabian Zetterlund: 24 goals and 28 assists = 52 points. (17th in the AHL in points, 12th in goals)
  • AJ Greer: 22 goals and 28 assists = 50 points.
  • Chase DeLeo: 15 goals and 32 assists = 47 points. (15th in the AHL in assists)
  • Alexander Holtz: 22 goals and 21 assists = 43 points. (Ranks among AHL rookies: 3rd in goals, 18th in assists, 8th in points, 11th in shots)
  • Reilly Walsh: 7 goals and 29 assists = 36 points. (9th among AHL defensemen in both points and assists)

Zetterlund leads the team in shots with 171 and game-winning goals with seven – which ranks tenth and fourth in the league in those categories. Frederik Gauthier has a five-game points streak going, and AJ Greer has scored multiple points in each of his three games played since returning from the New Jersey Devils. Although he is not among the top five scorers on the Comets, Robbie Russo is thirteenth among AHL defensemen in assists.

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The Phantoms are twenty-ninth in the AHL in total goals scored with 162. At home, they have scored 79 goals, which is ranks thirtieth in the league. Lehigh Valley is led by a pair of former Comets in scoring, and with Hayden Hodgson and Morgan Frost now playing for the Philadelphia Flyers, the top five scorers for the Phantoms are as follows:

  • Cal O’Reilly: 18 goals and 24 assists = 42 points.
  • Adam Clendening: 5 goals and 27 assists = 32 points. (Ranks among AHL defensemen: 13th in points, 12th in assists)
  • Garrett Wilson: 13 goals and 16 assists = 29 points.
  • Egor Zamula: 4 goals and 22 assists = 26 points.
  • Issac Ratcliffe: 6 goals and 12 assists = 18 points.

Clendening leads the team in shots with 124 and is tied with O’Reilly for the club lead in game-winning goals with three. Clendening is sixth among AHL defensemen in shots and eighth in game-winning goals.

The Utica Comets are the fourth-best in the AHL in overall goals allowed with 166. On the road, they have yielded 85 goals, which is the fifth-best in the league. The Utica goaltending tandem consists of Akira Schmid and Mareks Mitens. Schmid has a record of 20-7-3, to go with a GAA of 2.48, 0.915 save percentage, and two shutouts. He ranks seventh in the AHL in wins, eleventh in GAA, and twelfth in save percentage. Mitens carries a record of 7-5-2 with a 3.15 GAA and 0.896 save percentage. Schmid started Friday night against Syracuse, so there is a strong possibility that Mitens gets the start against Lehigh Valley.

The Phantoms have allowed 198 overall goals, which ranks twenty-sixth in the American Hockey League. They are better defensively at home, yielding ninety goals that rank seventeenth in the league. According to the AHL media kit for this game, Lehigh Valley has five goaltenders on their roster. Those goaltenders are:

  • Samuel Ersson: Has a record of 0-3-1, 2.96 GAA, 0.893 save percentage.
  • Felix Sandstrom: Has a record of 13-16-3, 3.07 GAA, 0.897 save percentage.
  • Pat Nagle: Has a record of 7-3-4, 2.60 GAA, 0.904 save percentage, 1 shutout.
  • Kirill Ustimenko: Has a record of 1-3-2, 2.91 GAA, 0.900 save percentage.
  • Darion Hanson: Has no record.

None of the Lehigh Valley goaltenders rank in the top twenty of any category in the league.

Ryan Schmelzer of the Utica Comets scored against the Syracuse Crunch on Friday night at the Adirondack Bank Center. Video credit: Scott Kinville.

The Comets have the fifth-best overall power play in the AHL, scoring 44 times on 192 opportunities for a success rate of 22.9%. On the road, they scored 23 power-play goals in 92 chances for a success rate of 25.0% – ranking sixth in the league. Fabian Zetterlund leads the team in power-play goals with eight, followed by Alexander Holtz with six and AJ Greer with five. Chase DeLeo leads the club in power-play assists with thirteen, with Reilly Walsh and Robbie Russo hot on his trail with twelve each. Zetterlund and DeLeo have the most power-play points on the team with seventeen each.

The Phantoms have struggled on the power play this season, as they are dead last in the league with a 13.7% success rate (28 goals on 204 opportunities). At home, they have scored 12 power-play goals in 83 opportunities for a success rate of 14.5%, which ranks twenty-ninth in the league. Cal O’Reilly leads the Phantoms in power-play goals with five, while Adam Clendening leads in power-play assists and power-play points with thirteen.

The Comets had a great month of March on the penalty kill, allowing only three power-play goals all month. Overall, they are twelfth in the AHL on the penalty kill, yielding 35 goals in the 195 times they have been shorthanded. On the road, they have struggled killing penalties this season. They have allowed 23 goals in the 95 times they have been shorthanded for a success rate of 75.8% which ranks twenty-seventh in the AHL. They have scored eleven shorthanded goals this season, which is the third-most in the league. AJ Greer leads the team in shorthanded goals scored with four, which is also tied for third-most in the league.

The Phantoms have been effective on the penalty kill this season as they have yielded only 35 power-play goals in the 212 times they have been shorthanded for a success rate of 83.5% – which ranks sixth in the AHL. At home they have allowed 17 goals in the 97 times they have been shorthanded for a success rate of 82.5%, which is the eleventh best in the league. Lehigh Valley has scored seven shorthanded goals this season which ranks nineteenth in the American Hockey League. Cal O’Reilly leads the team with three shorthanded goals with Max Willman and Jackson Cates scoring two each.

Saturday night’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05 pm EDT. Radio coverage begins with the pregame show on 94.9 K-Rock (WKLL). The television broadcast begins at 7:05 pm on AHLTV.

Utica Comets Win a Thriller Against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms

Photo credit: discoverlehighvalley.com

For the second night in a row, AJ Greer was the hero for the Utica Comets – this time it was in the shootout.

AJ Greer of the Utica Comets is having himself one heck of a weekend.

On Friday night his four goals provided all of his team’s offense in their 4-2 victory over the Rochester Americans. He then provided it when the Comets needed it the most on Saturday night to give them a 3-2 win in the shootout over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

A relatively even first-period saw both teams each notch a goal. Lehigh Valley got on the board first when Charlie Gerard scooped up a loose puck in the neutral zone, skated in on Utica goaltender Akira Schmid (who was reassigned to the Comets the morning of this game), and beat Schmid with a wrist shot to give the Phantoms an early 1-0 lead. Just over five and a half minutes later, the Comets answered back, when a Michael Vukojevic pass through the neutral zone sprung Alexander Holtz on a breakaway. Holtz beat Lehigh Valley goaltender Felix Sandstrom, and although it was reviewed because the net came off of its moorings, it was ruled a good goal, and the score was tied at one.

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Shortly after the Holtz goal, Sandstrom left the game with an apparent injury. Kirill Ustimenko entered the game to replace Sandstrom (he had backup duties in this game for the Phantoms, not Garrett Metcalf) and was outstanding for the rest of the way. Prior to Saturday night’s game, Ustimenko’s record this season was 0-2-1-0 with a 2.89 GAA and .906 save percentage.

Utica Comets Return to Their Winning Ways

The Comets have been having a problem with getting outshot in the second period, but that was not the case in this game. They controlled play for most of the period and outshot Lehigh Valley nine to three. They also scored the only goal of the frame when Brian Flynn faked a shot from the left side and slid a cross-ice pass to Nolan Foote who blasted a one-timer past Ustimenko for his ninth goal of the season. The period ended with the Comets on a five on three powerplay and a two to one lead.

The Phantoms killed off the rest of the Comets five on three powerplay to start the third period, and then got a goal of their own. Connor Bunnaman snapped a shot from the left point that was tipped by Phantoms leading goal scorer Hayden Hodgson past Schmid to tie the game at two. The score would remain tied through the rest of the third period, and the game went to a three on three overtime period.

During the overtime, the Comets had several chances to win the game but Ustimenko stopped all of them. Not to be outdone, Schmid made a huge save at the 2:40 mark on a point-blank chance by Bunnaman. With no goals scored in the overtime, a shootout was needed to determine who would get the extra point in the standings. With no goals scored through the first three and a half rounds, AJ Greer beat Ustimenko with a backhand shot into the top of the Lehigh Valley net to give the Comets their thirtieth win of the season.

Notes: Utica outshot Lehigh Valley 31 to 27…Utica was 0 for 3 on the powerplay, Lehigh Valley was 0 for 4…Michael Vukojevic led all Utica scorers with two points (both assists)…Lehigh Valley had four players with one point each…With his goal, Alexander Holtz tied Fabian Zetterlund for the Comets team lead in goals with eighteen…Utica is the first team in the American Hockey League to reach thirty wins this season…Lehigh Valley plays again on Sunday at home against Springfield…Utica plays again on Friday night at home against the Hershey Bears.

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Originally tweeted by Bahls Army (@BahlsArmy) on February 19, 2022.

Utica Comets vs Lehigh Valley Phantoms Game Preview 02-19-2022

Coming off of a big win on Friday night, the Utica Comets travel to the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvaina to take on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Saturday night.

The Utica Comets (29-9-5-0, 63 points, .733 points percentage) will be looking for some payback on Saturday night against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (17-18-6-2, 42 points, .488 points percentage). In their last meeting on New Year’s Eve, the Phantoms stunned the crowd at the Adirondack Bank Center by scoring five unanswered goals to overcome a 5-1 deficit and skate away with a 6-5 overtime victory against the Comets. Like they were for the last meeting between the two teams, Utica is in first place in the North Division, while Lehigh Valley is currently in sixth place in the Atlantic Division.

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Entering Saturday night’s game, the Comets have the second most potent offense in the AHL, having scored 157 goals while averaging just under 3.7 goals scored per game. At the top of their scoring list is both Fabian Zetterlund and Chase DeLeo, who have thirty-seven points each and are tied for the twentieth most in the American Hockey League. Zetterlund leads the team in goals scored with eighteen, while DeLeo’s twenty-seven assists are tied for the club lead in that category with Reilly Walsh (Walsh is also fourth on the team in points). The Comets have five players who have at least thirty points – AJ Greer joined Zetterlund, DeLeo, Alexander Holtz, and Walsh in that group on Friday night after his four-goal performance upped his point total to thirty-two for the season.

Utica Comets Return to Their Winning Ways

Overall, the Phantoms have struggled to score goals this season, as they are twenty-second overall in the league so far this season with 119 goals scored. The Phantoms offensive leaderboard is topped by two former Utica Comets – Cal O’Reilly and Adam Clendening. O’Reilly leads the team in points with thirty-three and his twelve goals are second on the Phantoms behind Hayden Hodgson’s thirteen. Clendening is second on the club in points with twenty-eight and leads the team in assists with twenty-three.

The Comets and New Jersey Devils have done yet another goalie swap. Nico Daws picked up the win for Utica on Friday night after being reassigned to the team with the recall of Akira Schmid. On Saturday morning it was announced Schmid was reassigned to Utica and Daws was recalled to New Jersey yet again (this is smart roster management by the Devils, taking advantage of a lull in the schedule to get both goaltenders playing time). Although he has had a rough past couple of starts, Schmid’s overall AHL numbers have been outstanding. His record is 12-2-2 with a 2.15 GAA and .929 save percentage. He is number one in the league in save percentage and number two in GAA. Mareks Mitens has served as the backup to both Schmid and Daws and has a 5-4-1 record with a 3.49 GAA and .880 save percentage.

Utica is sixth in the American Hockey League in total team defense, having allowed 114 goals.

Just one of the videos you will find on Marty’s Illegal Stick Hockey Podcast YouTube channel!

Much like their total offense ranking, the Phantoms are twenty-second in the league in total defense, as they have allowed 137 goals to be scored this season. Felix Sandstrom and Garrett Metcalf comprise the current Lehigh Valley goaltending duo. Sandstrom has a record of 8-11-3 with a GAA of 3.04 and his save percentage is .895. Metcalf is 2-1-1 with a 3.48 GAA and .882 save percentage. Sandstrom has started the last two games in a row in the net for the Phantoms.

There is a large disparity in powerplay efficiency between the Comets and Phantoms, as the Comets are fourth in the AHL scoring 32 goals on 135 chances for a conversion rate of 23.7%. The Phantoms are twenty-eighth in the league, as they have a conversion rate of 14.5% – scoring 21 powerplay goals in 145 chances.

They have struggled on the powerplay, but Lehigh Valley has been very effective on the penalty kill. They are sixth in the American Hockey League, allowing only 23 goals on 139 times shorthanded for a success rate of 83.5%. The Comet’s 80.8% success rate on the penalty kill places them eighteenth in the league in that category. They have allowed 28 goals on 146 times shorthanded.

Saturday 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), and the television broadcast begins at 7:05 on AHLTV.

Utica Comets Stunned by Lehigh Valley in Overtime

Former Utica Comets captain Cal O’Reilly does his old team in.

When the Utica Comets last played the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on October 30th, they scored five goals and were able to pick up the victory. The two teams met again on Friday evening at the Adirondack Bank Center and the Comets once again scored five goals – but this time it wasn’t enough.

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms overcame a 5-1 third period deficit to defeat the Comets 6-5 in overtime. The man who capped the comeback for the Phantoms and put a damper on New Year’s Eve celebrations for Utica fans was none other than former Comets and current Phantoms captain Cal O’Reilly.

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For the first two periods, it looked like the game could become a Comets blowout victory. Chase DeLeo got Utica on the board just two minutes and fifty-five seconds into the game when Chase DeLeo was sent in all alone and scored after Brian Flynn chipped the puck to him in the slot. Three and a half minutes later, defenseman Colton White got his first goal of the season for the Comets when his wristshot from the point off of a feed from Michael Vukojevic eluded Phantoms starting goaltender Pat Nagle to make it 2-0. chase DeLeo then capped off a three goal first period for Utica when he beat Nagle with a wristshot from the top of the faceoff circles to send the home team into the first intermission with a 3-0 lead.

Chase DeLeo of the Utica Comets beats Lehigh Valley Phantoms goaltender Pat Nagle for the first goal of the game. Photo credit: Scott Kinville.

The Utica Comets extended their lead to four goals just five minutes into the second period when Fabian Zetterlund blocked a clearing attempt at the Lehigh Valley blueline. After keeping the puck in the zone, the twenty-two-year-old native of Sweden swept the puck over to White who was waiting at the left point. White then snapped a shot past a partially screened Nagle for his second goal of the game to make it 4-0, and it looked like the New Year’s Eve party in Utica was starting early.

Just over a minute after White’s second goal, the Phantoms answered back. Defenseman Logan Day scooped up a loose puck and ripped a wristshot past Comets goaltender Marek Mitens. Utica responded with Frederik Gauthier’s first goal of the season when Graeme Clarke made a beauty of a pass from the right half wall to Gauthier who found the back of the net making the score 5-1.

The Utica Comets have a gem in Fabian Zetterlund

Right after the Gauthier goal, the momementum shifted to Lehigh Valley. It started with a power play they awarded after Utica’s Michael Vukojevic took a slashing penalty – they didn’t score but they had several good chances. The Phantoms drew two more penalties in the period, and although they didnt score on either of those opportunites, they did light the lame behind Mitens again. Left Wing Issac Ratcliffe tipped a shot from the point by Egor Zamula into the Comets net to make the score 5-2 and give Lehigh Valley a boost going into the second intermission.

Utica Comets goaltender Marek Mitens makes a save in the first period of Friday evenings game. Photo credit: Scott Kinville.

That boost paid immediate divendends in the third period, as it took the Phantoms only thirty-nine seconds from the opening faceoff to score. An unfortuante bounce for Utica defenseman Reilly Walsh off of his stick in his zone when right to O’Reilly who fed Hayden Hodgson who beat Mitens to make it 5-3. Four minutes later, current Phantoms leading scorer Garrett Wilson redirected a shot Zamula between Mitens legs to make it a one goal game, and in the process causing the home crowd to start getting restless.

The Comets would mount an attack of their own in the third period, including a grade A chance for Fabian Zetterlund that was denied by Nagle. It looked like the Comets would hang on as the Phantoms pulled their goalie with a minute and a half remaining, but with thirty-five seconds left the O’Reilly/Hodgson duo struck again – as O’Reilly sent a cross ice pass to Hodgson who blasted a one-timer into the Utica net to send the game to ovetime.

Lehigh Valley, whose NHL parent club is the Philadelphia Flyers, controlled play for most of the overtime, as Utica did not get a single shot on goal. The Phantoms made their second shot of the ovetime count as with just 1:01 left, O’Reilly broke his former teams heart by scoring the game winning goal on an assist from Hayden Hodgson. O’Reilly was named the number one star of the game (for which he was given a nice ovation by the crowd), and the Phantoms wound up having a better bus ride home than they thought they would.

Notes: Utica outshot Lehigh Valley 34-30…Utica was 0 for 2 on the power play, Lehigh Valley was 0 for 3…Hayden Hodgson (two goals,one assist) and Cal O’Reilly (one goal, two assists) led the Phantoms in scoring with three points each, Chase DeLeo and Colton White (two goals each) led the Comets in scoring…Tyler Irvine, who made his Comets debut in the game, had one assist…After the game it was announced Nolan Foote and Alexander Holtz would be assigned to the New Jersey Devils Taxi Squad and Irvine along with Samuel Laberge would be assigned back to Adirondack of the ECHL…The Phantoms next game is at home on January 1st against Bridgeport, the Comets next game is on the road against Toronto on January 5th…Despite the loss to Lehigh Valley, the Comets still

Utica Comets vs Lehigh Valley Phantoms Game Preview

The Utica Comets will play their first game in two weeks.

The Utica Comets are finally back.

They haven’t played a game since December 17th, when they defeated the Cleveland Monsters by a score of 3-2 on an overtime goal by Fabian Zetterlund. Since then, the Comets had games against the Belleville Senators, Rochester Americans, and Springfield Thunderbirds postponed – bringing the total number of games they have had postponed to six. Despite having only played five games in the month of December, Utica still has a record of 18-1-2-0 with a .905 winning percentage – which is best in the American Hockey League.

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When they take the ice Friday evening at Adirondack Bank Center, the Utica Comets will be missing a few key pieces. Prior to the Cleveland game, the New Jersey Devils recalled goaltender Akira Schmid, defenseman Kevin Bahl, and forward Marian Studenic. All three are still with the Devils, either on the main roster or on the newly reinstated Taxi Squad. Forward Chase DeLeo was also recalled after the Cleveland game but has since been returned to the Comets. Alexander Holtz, the highly-touted winger known for his goal-scoring ability, may or may not be with the Comets on Friday. He had left just prior to the Comets last game on the 17th to join Team Sweden at the World Junior Championship. With Wednesday’s announcement the tournament had been canceled, it is unknown if Holtz will be back in Utica by the time this game starts.

The NHL Taxi Squads will create chaos in the AHL and ECHL

We do know there will be more regulars missing for the Comets on Friday than the ones listed above. Ben Birnell of the Utica Observer-Dispatch reported on Thursday that Utica coach Kevin Dineen said at least four of his players will not play in the game against Lehigh Valley because of Covid protocols. Of the four, Dineen listed only Ryan Schmelzer as being in that group. In response, the Comets have recalled forwards Samuel Laberge and Tyler Irvine from the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL. More information on these transactions can be found here: Utica Comets Bring in Some Reinforcements.

The Comets filled another roster void on Thursday by signing goaltender David Tomeo to a Professional Tryout (PTO) contract. Tomeo was on the Sacred Heart University roster last season but did not get into any games. With Schmid still in New Jersey and Nico Daws still injured, it appears Tomeo will be Utica’s backup goaltender until Schmid or Daws returns.

With the absence of Schmid and Daws, Marek Mitens is the undisputed starting goaltender for the Utica Comets. Since taking over in the Comets crease, Mitens has been outstanding – he has won both of the games he has played in and has a 1.49 GAA and .940 save percentage.

Utica Comets defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon scans the ice. Photo credit: Scott Kinville.

Like the Comets, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms have been a bit of an unexpected break from game action due to postponements. They last played on December 21st and had two games postponed since then. They enter Friday’s game in seventh place in the Atlantic Division with a 7-11-4-2 record for a winning percentage of .417. The Comets and Phantoms have played each other once this season, which was a 5-2 Comets victory on October 30th at the Adirondack Bank Center.

On offense, the Comets have no one in the top twenty of the AHL scoring race, but they have several players that are putting up consistent offensive numbers. They are led by defenseman Reilly Walsh, who in twenty-one games played has four goals and thirteen assists for seventeen total points. He is followed closely by Chase DeLeo (sixteen points), Fabian Zetterlund (fifteen points), and Nate Schnarr, and Graeme Clarke (fourteen points each. Zetterlund leads the team in goals scored with eight.

The Phantoms leading scorers, Gerry Mayhew and Morgan Frost, are currently with Lehigh Valley’s NHL parent club the Philadelphia Flyers, which leads Garrett Wilson as their leading scorer. Wilson has six goals and eight assists for fourteen points in twenty-three games played. He is followed by three players who have eleven points, included in that trio are former Comets Cal O’Reilly and Adam Clendening. Wilson is also currently the team’s leading goal scorer.

With goaltenders Felix Sandstrom and Kirill Ustimenko in Philadelphia, Pat Nagle and Samuel Ersson are handling the goaltending duties for the Phantoms. Ersson has a record of 0-2-1 this season with a 2.51 GAA and .906 save percentage. Nagle has posted a record of 4-0-2 to go with a 2.10 GAA and a save percentage of .913. Nagle played one game for the Comets in the 2014-15 season.

The franchise(s) history of the Utica Comets

AHL teams have played anywhere from twenty to twenty-nine games at this point (Utica has played twenty-one and Lehigh Valley has played twenty-four), so overall team stat standings are somewhat skewed. Still, the Comets are fourteenth in the AHL in goals scored with seventy-five and the Phantoms are in twenty-seventh with sixty. Defensively the Comets forty goals allowed are by far the least given up in the league, while the Phantoms are twentieth with seventy-six goals allowed.

The games played differential also somewhat skews the overall special teams numbers. Nevertheless, the Comets are thirteenth in the AHL on the power play at 20% (12 goals on 60 opportunities). The Phantoms are thirtieth in the league at 11.8% (11 goals on 93 opportunities). On the penalty kill, Utica is fourth in the American Hockey League with an 85.9% success rate (10 goals allowed on 71 times shorthanded). Lehigh Valley is fourteenth in the AHL having killed 81.9% of their opponent’s power plays (15 goals allowed on 83 times shorthanded).

The game starts at 5:00 pm EST. Radio coverage begins at 4:30 with the pregame show on 94.9 K-Rock (WKLL), and the television broadcast starts at 5:00 on AHLTV.

The Utica Comets remain undefeated with win on Friday night

Utica Comets win fourth straight game to start the season.

It was trick or treat night at the Adirondack Bank Center, and what at first looked like a trick on the home crowd turned into a treat, as the Utica Comets defeated the Lehigh Valley Phantoms by a score of 5-2. The win keeps Utica in first place in the AHL North Division.

This game featured the returns of Cal O’Reilly and Adam Clendening, members of the Comets 2015 Calder Cup finalist team. Making their debuts for the current Comets were defenseman Colton White and forward Patrick McGrath. White was recently assigned to Utica by the New Jersey Devils. The Comets played the game without newly appointed captain Ryan Schmelzer and alternate captain Joe Gambardella.

The Phantoms controlled play in the first period, as the Comets didn’t seem to have their legs under them after being off for nearly a week. Goaltender Nico Daws, himself returning from New Jersey, held Lehigh Valley scoreless in the first period by stopping all ten shots he faced – including two point blank chances by the Phantoms. His counterpart, Samuel Ersson, turned aside all six of Utica shots.

Utica Comets vs Lehigh Valley Phantoms preview

The second period would bring more of the same, as Lehigh Valley continued to control play. Helping this was the fact the Comets had to kill two minor penalties in the earlier going of the period – which they did. Utica would go on to kill all three of Lehigh Valley’s power play chances for the game, maintaining their AHL best 100% penalty kill rate for the season. Shortly after the Phantoms second power play was denied, Ersson made his biggest save of the night by stopping Utica’s Nolan Foote on a breakaway.

The Phantoms would be the first to break through on the scoreboard with five minutes and forty-seven seconds left in the second period. Linus Hogberg won a face-off back to the point and then Wyatte Wylie’s shot was tipped in front by German Rubstov past Daws to give the visiting team a one to nothing lead. A goal by Hayden Hodgson one and a half minutes later staked Lehigh Valley to a two to nothing lead.

It looked as though the Comets would go to the locker room down two goals, but with twenty-five seconds left, Utica’s Nate Schnarr had other ideas. He took a stretch pass out of the defensive zone by AJ Greer and beat Ersson on a breakaway to give the Comets life heading into the second intermission.

Brand new episode of Marty’s Illegal Stick featuring our Utica College Men’s hockey preview with Coach Gary Heenan

In keeping with the Halloween theme of the night, the Comets rose from the dead in the third period. It started early, as Alexander Holtz banged home a rebound off of a Chase DeLeo shot at just over a minute into the period to knot the score at two. Two and a half minutes later Utica Comets defenseman Nikita Okhotiuk scooped up a loose puck in the neutral zone, broke in on Ersson and beat him on the short side with a wrist shot to give the Comets their first lead of the night. Utica was rolling, and not even a brief power outage would stop them.

An insurance goal was added with a little over seven minutes left, when Chase DeLeo fed a pass to Alexander Holtz on a two on one that Holtz buried for his team leading fifth goal. Fabian Zetterlund would add an empty net goal to seal the Comets 5-2 win. Nico Daws earned his second win of the season with an outstanding effort in this game.

Three Stars of the Game:

  • #1 Alexander Holtz
  • #2. Chase DeLeo
  • #3. Nico Daws

Notes: DeLeo led the Comets in points for the game with three (all assists), he was also an alternate captain in the absence of Gambardella…Lehigh Valley outshot Utica by a total of 33-22….Lehigh Valley was 0/3 on the power play, while Utica was 0/1….the Comets have had the fewest chances on the power play in the AHL this season with only 7….The Comets are the only team in the AHL that has not given up a power play goal this season….The Comets have had a lot of time between games to start the season, but that changes next weekend when they play games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Utica Comets vs Lehigh Valley Phantoms preview

An old friend comes back to town on Friday night when the Lehigh Valley Phantoms visit the Adirondack Bank Center to take on the Utica Comets.

Cal O’Reilly is one of the beloved players in Utica Comets history. As the team captain, he was an integral part of the Comets team that made a magical run to the 2015 American Hockey League Calder Cup Final. Although they fell to the Manchester Monarchs, it is still very fondly remembered by every Comets fan. O’Reilly played for two seasons in Utica (2013-14 and 2014-15), totaling 17 goals and 89 assists in 124 games played.

On Friday night, O’Reilly will be wearing a Lehigh Valley Phantoms uniform, and will be facing a much different Utica Comets team than the one he played for. When O’Reilly was in Utica, the Comets were the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, whereas now they wear the red and black of the New Jersey Devils. It will not be the first time O’Reilly plays at the Adirondack Bank Center as the opponent, as Lehigh Valley is the fourth AHL team he has played for since leaving Utica.

Cal O’Reilly isn’t the only member of that 2015 Utica Comets squad to be returning with the Phantoms on Friday night. Adam Clendening, who played eleven regular season games and every playoff game for that team, will also be in the visitors locker room with O’Reilly. Lehigh Valley is Clendening’s fifth AHL team he has played for since leaving Utica.

Utica Comets roster moves announced

That was then, however, and this is now. The red-hot Utica Comets enter this game in first place in the AHL North Division with a 3-0-0-0 record – one of only three undefeated teams left in the American Hockey League. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms find themselves on the opposite end of the scale. They are winless in five games so far with a 0-4-1-0 record, which puts them last in the AHL Atlantic Division. Regardless of the result on Friday night, streaks will either continue or be broken.

The Utica Comets celebrate their 2-1 overtime win over the Providence Bruins on October 22nd.

The Comets will have an addition to the team on Friday Night. The New Jersey Devils reassigned defenseman Colton White to the Utica, it is unknown yet if he will play or not. The Comets have also named their captain and alternate captains for the season. Per https://uticacomets.com, Ryan Schmelzer is now captain, with Joe Gambradella and Brian Flynn serving as alternate captains.

Comets season leaders (totals in parentheses)

  • Goals: Alexander Holtz (3)
  • Assists: Reilly Walsh (4)
  • Points: Reilly Walsh (4)
  • Shots: Alexander Holtz (15)
  • Wins: Akira Schmid (2)
  • GAA: Akira Schmid (0.97)
  • Save percentage: Akira Schmid (.966)

Phantoms season leaders (totals in parentheses)

  • Goals: Max Willman and Gerry Mayhew (2)
  • Assists: Morgan Frost and Cam York (2)
  • Points: Max Willman, Gerry Mayhew, Morgan Frost, Cam York, and Tyson Foerster (2)
  • Shots: Max Willman, Gerry Mayhew, and Connor Bunnaman (12)
  • Wins: none
  • GAA: Samuel Ersson (2.05)
  • Save percentage: Sam Ersson (.925)

Special Teams

Utica

Power Play: 16.7% (1/6)

Penalty Kill: 100% (12/12)

Lehigh Valley

Power Play: 7.4% (2/27)

Penalty Kill: 83.3% (3/18)

Notes: With Marek Mitens being optioned to Adirondack, the only goaltender currently on the Utica roster is Akira Schmid. Expect another goaltender to be added to the Comets soon….Lehigh Valley boasts three recent first round picks of the Philadelphia Flyers: Morgan Frost (2017), Cam York (2019), and Tyson Foerster (2020)….The Comets should be well rested, their last game was on Saturday in Syracuse. Lehigh Valley last played on Wednesday night in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton….This is the first of four meetings between the Comets and the Phantoms. Their next game is on New Years Eve at the Adirondack Bank Center.

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