Photo credit: AHLTV.com

For the second night in a row, the Utica Comets had to make a comeback to get to overtime against the Syracuse Crunch. This time it was Syracuse celebrating at the end.

by Scott Kinville host of the Martys Illegal Stick Podcast

On Friday night, the Utica Comets were able to shake off a lackluster start to tie the game in the third period and eventually win it in overtime. On Saturday night at the Upstate Medical University Arena in Syracuse, they were able to tie the game late in the third period again, but this time fell to the Crunch in the overtime period by a score of 4-3.

The Comets actually got some welcome news in the twenty-four hours between the opening faceoffs in Utica and Syracuse. On Saturday morning the New Jersey Devils announced they were reassigning goaltender Akira Schmid to the Comets. Schmid had been in New Jersey since December 10th, and at the time of his departure from Utica, he was one of the top goaltenders in the American Hockey League.

Then, a few hours before the start of the game in Syracuse, the Comets announced that goaltender Nico Daws was returning to the lineup. This came as a pleasant surprise to many Comets fans, as like Schmid, he too was one of the top goaltenders in the AHL before he was injured on December 8th, and the team had given no definitive indication as to when Daws would return. With the return of Daws, Mareks Mitens would get a well-deserved break after starting eight straight games in goal for the Comets. On a side note, Schmid must not have made it to Syracuse in time, as the recently signed Brandon Kasel served as the backup for Daws.

Besides the returning goaltenders, Utica also welcomed forward Brian Flynn and defenseman Jeremy Groleau back to the lineup after they each missed the last two games. With all the good news came a bit of bad news as well as leading scorer Chase DeLeo was announced as a scratch for the game. DeLeo has been on an absolute tear lately, scoring at least one point in six straight games and landing on the top twenty AHL scoring list.

Syracuse dominated the first period of Friday night’s game at the Adirondack Bank Center, and although they outshot Utica by a margin of 8-4 in the first period of this game, it would be the Comets who would score the only goal of the period. Ryan Schmelzer sent a backhand pass from the left side of the Crunch crease to Joe Gambardella who parked at the top of the same crease. Gambardella roofed a shot past Syracuse goaltender Hugo Alnefelt, who started Friday night’s game for the Crunch as well, to the Comets the 1-0 lead they would maintain going into the first intermission.

The Comets would get a powerplay at approximately five minutes into the second period that would be a turning point for the Crunch instead. Syracuse’s Alex Barre-Boulet won a puck battle along the right half wall in the Comets zone and fed a wide-open Charles Hudon who ripped a shot from the right circle past Daws for a shorthanded goal to tie the game at one. After the goal, the Crunch took control of the tempo of the game, but Daws was able to keep them at bay and the score remained knotted at one after forty minutes of play.

The Crunch continued their momentum in the third and broke through halfway into the frame when Otto Somppi sent a backhand pass from behind to the goal line to Gabriel Fortier, who snapped a shot over the Daws’s shoulder to give Syracuse the lead. One minute after the Fortier goal, the Crunch added another when a Frank Hora shot from the point was saved by Daws but Maxim Cajkovic put the rebound into the Utica net to extend the Syracuse lead to two.

Like they have all season when they are behind, the Comets refused to go away quietly. One minute after the Cajkovic goal, Utica entered the Crunch zone on a three on two. Nolan Foote dished the puck from the middle to Nate Schnarr in the left circle who blasted a one-timer past Alnefelt to make the score 3-2. With three minutes and fifty seconds left Tyler Wotherspoon found Nolan Foote on the right side of the Syracuse zone and he fired a wrist shot into the Crunch net to tie the game and ultimately send it to overtime.

Fortune was on Utica’s side during the overtime of Friday night’s game between these two teams, on Saturday night it was not. While killing a four on three powerplay opportunity for Syracuse, Utica’s Aarne Talvitie broke his stick and the Crunch took full advantage. Barre-Boulet fired a shot from the left side of the Comets zone which Daws was able to turn aside, but Hudon was Johnny on the spot and buried the rebound to win the game for Syracuse.

Notes: Syracuse outshot Utica by a 38-17 margin…Utica was 0 for 3 on the powerplay, Syracuse was 1 for 4…Nolan Foote and Nate Schnarr (one goal and one assist each) led all Utica scorers, Charles Hudon (two goals) and Alex Barre-Boulet (two assists) led all Syracuse scorers…Nate Schnarr totaled three goals and two assists for the two-game series against Syracuse…Utica’s next game is on Wednesday night in Laval against the Rocket, Syracuse next plays on Monday at home against the Belleville Senators.