Photo credit: AHLTV – The Utica Comets wrapped up their third game in three nights with a 3-2 win over the Monsters in Cleveland.

by Scott Kinville, host of the Martys Illegal Stick podcast

For the Utica Comets, it was a case of “better late than never” on Sunday evening when they hit the ice at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. That’s because the game they played against the Cleveland Monsters was supposed to have been played as part of a back-to-back two-game series on December 16th, but that game was postponed due to Covid. Instead, the Comets and Monsters had this game added to their schedules after both teams had already played on Friday and Saturday nights.

Monsters goaltender Cam Johnson was forced to make a huge save off Comets captain Ryan Schmelzer about ten seconds after the opening faceoff. From there both teams traded chances back and forth with Johnson’s counterpart in net, Mareks Mitens, stopping all eleven shots he faced in the first period. The Comets would get the only goal of the period while on a powerplay AJ Greer picked up a rebound from Robbie Russo point shot past Johnson for his fifth goal of the season.

The Comets extended their lead early in the second period when Kevin Bahl scored his first goal of the season by firing a shot from the left side past a screened Cam Johnson to make the score 2-0. Forty-three seconds later, the Monsters answered right back when Billy Sweezey blasted a slapshot from the top of the right circle that was deflected in front of the net past Mitens and in. As the puck was dropped after the Sweezey goal, the Comets Patrick McGrath and Monsters Cole Clayton got into the second fight of the game – AJ Greer and Sweezey had already dropped the gloves in the first period.

The Monsters tied the game on the powerplay eight minutes and fifty-four seconds left in the second period on a goal by Kevin Stenlund, but if it were not for the efforts of Mareks Mitens Cleveland could have had more than the two goals they scored in the period. Mitens stopped a partial breakaway by Jake Slaker, another point-blank chance for Stenlund, and then made what Comets play by play announcer Jason Shaya described as the “save of the year” when he reached across his crease and robbed Trey Fix-Wolansky of a sure goal with a spectacular glove save.

Entering the third period, Cleveland had outshot Utica by a 26-14 margin. That trend continued as the Monsters put another thirteen shots on Mitens, but it was his night as he stopped all of them. Despite only getting two shots on goal for the third period, the Comets made one of them count as Joe Gambardella scored a breakaway shorthanded goal to give the Comets a 3-2 lead that would ultimately be the final score. With the victory, the Comets record improves to 25-5-5-0.

Notes: Cleveland outshot Utica 39-16…Cleveland was 1 for 6 on the powerplay, Utica was 1 for 4…Gambardella’s shorthanded goal was the fourth of the season for the Comets, the others were scored by Nolan Foote, Ryan Schmelzer, and Aarne Talvitie…Gambardella led the Comets in points for this game with three (one goal and two assists), Cleveland had six players with one point each…Cleveland plays again on Thursday at home against Toronto, Utica plays again on Wednesday at home against Laval.