by Scott Kinville, host of the Marty’s Illegal Stick Podcast
Going into their game against the Rochester Americans on Tuesday night, it had been ten days since the Utica Comets had played a game. It had also been over a month since they had the full lineup that carried them to a dominating regular season which resulted in earning the number one seed in the Eastern Conference leg of the Calder Cup Playoffs. The Americans, on the other hand, came in fresh off of two games to none play-in round victory over the Belleville Senators.
With goaltenders, Nico Daws and Aaron Dell leading their respective teams out to the ice, the Utica Comets and Rochester Americans started their best of five series to determine who would play either the Syracuse Crunch or Laval Rocket in the North Division playoff final. Although separated by eleven points in the standings, the teams split their twelve-game regular season – each winning six games.
It looked at first as though the ten-day layoff was going to be a bad thing for the Comets, as the Americans took control of the game early while the home team appeared sluggish. At just two minutes and twenty-one seconds after the opening faceoff, Rochester got on the board when Arttu Ruotsalainen beat Daws with a wrist shot from the high slot off of a feed from Brett Murray. Almost four minutes later JJ Peterka scored a nearly identical goal from the same spot on the American’s third shot of the game to give them a 2-0 lead and in the process take a raucous crowd at the Adirondack Bank Center out of the game. Rochester limited the home team to just five shots in the first period and played about as good as a road playoff period as any team can expect to and took that 2-0 lead into the intermission.
Whatever Utica coach Kevin Dineen said to his team during the first intermission worked, as his Comets looked like a completely different team in the second period. They got much more traffic in front of Rochester goaltender Aaron Dell, and it paid off just four half minutes into the period when a scramble in front of the American’s net resulted in Tyce Thompson putting a loose puck past Dell to cut the visitor’s lead in half. Just one minute later, Nikita Okhotiuk sent a pass to Robbie Russo who blasted a one-timer past Dell, to tie the game and send the home crowd into a fever pitch.
With all the momentum going Utica’s way, Rochester took the lead once again at the 11:37 mark when Ruotsalainen scored again, this time
on a shot from the right side that Daws would certainly like back. The Comets would tie it up on the power play with just over four minutes left in the middle frame when Ryan Schmelzer put a loose puck into the Amerks net to make the score 3-3. That score would hold through the end of the period.
The teams played rope a dope with each other through the first part of the third period until the 9:29 mark, when Dell stopped Fabian Zetterlund on a breakaway put Joe Gambardella put the rebound home to give the Comets their first lead of the night. With just under six minutes left, Utica added a fifth goal when Aarne Talvitie won a faceoff in the Rochester end right to AJ Greer, who rifled a shot into the top of the American’s net. Two and a half minutes later, Greer added his second goal of the night when he got in a breakaway and went forehand then backhand between Dell’s legs to make the score 6-3 and salt the game away for the home team.
The Utica Comets and Rochester Americans will meet for game two of this series on Saturday night at the Adirondack Bank Center in Utica. The game is scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm EDT.