Photo Credit: Sarah Hobday: @Sarah_Hobday | Edit: Owen Skye, @OwenSkyeVisuals

Utica Comets Preseason Wrap-Up…And A Few Thoughts Going Into The Regular Season

The Utica Comets kicked off…and wrapped up their preseason this weekend with a home and home series against the Binghamton Devils. The Comets lost both contests by the same 4-2 score.

Full disclosure, there was no stream for either game and the only radio feed that I could find was put out by the Devils’ crew. I tried to listen in but after barely hearing the name of a Utica player mentioned after a period of hockey, I wasn’t sure that I was doing anybody any favours by sticking it out. As such, this will be a very brief recap of the game gleaned from information taken from the Utica Comets Twitter account along with a few photos provided by Sarah Hobday, (@Sarah_Hobday) who happened to be in the building for both games and was nice enough to share some photos. Thanks, Sarah!

In game one, the Comets were the home team and ended up on the wrong side of a 4-2 loss to the Devils. Trent Cull iced a lineup of youngsters, sprinkled with a few AHL veterans and a handful of players who could be bound for ECHL Kalamazoo.

Starting Lineup

54 Jonathan Dahlen – 10 Tanner Kero – 24 Reid Boucher

52 Petrus Palmu – 21 Brendan Woods – 13 Kole Lind

34 Carter Bancks – 19 Tanner MacMaster – 9 Lukas Jasek

22 Jonah Gadjovich – 23 Reid Gardiner – 18 Vincent Arseneau

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3 Jagger Dirk – 26 Jaime Sifers

55 Guillaume Brisebois – 64 Jesse Graham

38 Ben Betker – 8 Dylan Blujus

32 Richard Bachman

You will notice that none of the above players are noted with a “C” or an “A” beside their names. That is because the team has yet to name their captain and leadership group for the 2018/19 season. I would be shocked if Carter Bancks is not named captain again and I would imagine that the “A’s” will likely rotate between Jaime Sifers, Wacey Hamilton, and Darren Archibald if he ends up being assigned to the team and clearing waivers in the coming days.

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Of course, you can throw all of that out the window if Alex Biega ends up being the odd man out in Vancouver when the waiver wire lights up for the final time before the regular season begins…but I don’t expect that to happen.

As mentioned above, the Comets picked up a pair of goals in this one, with the first coming off of the stick of Reid Boucher on the man advantage. Boucher hammered home a one-timer after being teed up by newcomer Jesse Graham. Jonathan Dahlen grabbed the other helper.

Graham impressed me in my limited viewing of him at Canucks training camp in Whistler. He brings an offensive element from the backend that could be of some use to the Comets when he gets called upon this season.

The other goal in this one came from fellow blueline newcomer, Jagger Dirk. Dirk also impressed me at Canucks main camp and I think the late bloomer could be making a case to stick around in Utica to start the year. Dirk had jumped up into the play for his goal, as he seems to do on the regular. He finished off a tap-in play at the side of the net after Vincent Arseneau and Jonah Gadjovich worked the puck to him.

Richard Bachman finished the game with 27 saves on 30 shots faced.

In game two, we saw a few new faces in the lineup, while others got a second look.

Starting Lineup

58 Michael Carcone – 11 Cam Darcy – 13 Kole Lind

54 Jonathan Dahlen – 21 Brendan Woods – 52 Petrus Palmu

19 Tanner MacMaster – 17 Adam Gaudette – 9 Lukas Jasek

20 Brendan Bradley – 23 Reid Gardiner – 28 Kyle Thomas

48 Olli Juolevi – 5 Jalen Chatfield

3 Jagger Dirk – 55 Guillaume Brisebois

27 Brandon Anselmini – 29 Tyler Ganly

31 Ivan Kulbakov

The recently signed, Ivan Kulbakov got the start in this one and he made 26 saves on 30 shots. I wasn’t able to see any of the action from the game, but I understand from our photographer friend Sarah, that Kulbakov made a handful of great saves in this game. With Thatcher Demko apparently going through concussion protocol after taking a knock to the noggin in practice this week while with the Canucks, Kulbakov may end up getting into a game or two early.

Tanner MacMaster and Lukas Jasek were once again paired up on a line in what has been a common theme going back to the end of last season when both players broke in with the Comets and put up points. Both players play a heady game and both can get their wheels moving out on the ice. The pair hooked up for a MacMaster goal in this game, along with some help from Brandon Anselmini.

In the spirit of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I hope to see MacMaster and Jasek kept on a line together to start the season…maybe with fellow speedster, Tyler Motte, or possibly with Petrus Palmu riding shotgun on the other wing. I think either trio would be able to provide some solid offence along with a sound defensive game.

The other Comets goal in this game was tallied by Kole Lind. It was nice to see Lind finish this one off after having a fairly quiet training camp in Vancouver. Lind’s goal came after tipping a shot from Michael Carcone. Cam Darcy earned the other helper on the play.

Now that their brief preseason is over, it will be time for the coaching staff to narrow down their roster for opening night. There are still a couple of dominos to fall with the parent club, but that news could come as soon as today. I will take a guess here that even though Tyler Motte had a pretty solid showing in camp, that he will be sent to Utica. He will have to clear waivers if he plays in one more NHL regular season game and I expect that to work against him in this instance.

*Edit, since this piece was written, the Vancouver Canucks have announced that Darren Archibald and Sam Gagner have been designated for assignment, which means that they are headed for waivers and possibly Utica if they clear.*

The other player who I think will be headed to Utica will be The Mayor, Darren Archibald. Archibald will have to clear waivers first, but if/when he does, he will be rounding out the Comets forward ranks. If that does indeed transpire, Trent Cull and his staff will have their work cut out for them in terms of handing out ice-time to all of the players who should be playing. There is a fine line between insulating the young prospects with some reliable veterans and letting them sink or swim on a line together.

The AHL is a developmental league, so the natural instinct from a fan’s point of view is to play the kids and park the vets. Many fans don’t want to see their prospects’ progress stifled by AHL veteran players who do not likely figure into the future of the parent club. I understand that view…to a point.

The thing is, these young players need to develop their games at the pro level and most will need to have some sturdy vets around to help show them the ropes. Most young, first-year pros will have some trouble working an all-rookie power-play or penalty-kill. Many will have a tough time adapting to being out on their own for the first time in their lives and will need to lean on vets for day to day stuff on and off the ice. From all accounts, the Comets have an excellent group of leaders who have and will continue to help bring the young players along while they learn their trade in Utica.

Below is one last stab at what this roster could look like on opening night…you can see what I mean about not being able to get everyone in who should be playing. Don’t worry too much about what order the lines/defensive pairs are in. This is just an exercise and there are more options available to the powers that be.

Opening Night Roster

Jonathan Dahlen – Tanner Kero – Reid Boucher

Darren Archibald – Adam Gaudette – Zack MacEwen

Tyler Motte – Tanner MacMaster – Lukas Jasek

Jonah Gadjovich/Petrus Palmu – Brendan Gaunce – Michael Carcone/Kole Lind

Olli Juolevi – Jalen Chatfield

Ashton Sautner – Evan McEneny

Guillaume Brisebois – Jaime Sifers

Thatcher Demko

Richard Bachman

Unfortunately, I am not sure how realistic the above roster would be, considering that neither of Carter Bancks or Wacey Hamilton makes an appearance. That roster also leaves out Cam Darcy and Brendan Woods, and I’m not sure if Trent Cull would have an appetite to leave both of those players in the press box either.

Personally, I believe that Reid Gardiner, Kyle Thomas, Brendan Bradley, and Vincent Arseneau will start in Kalamazoo. I also feel that Brandon Anselmini could start there as well. I can see the Comets keeping extra players around in Utica in case of injuries/call-ups, though.

If the team does go that route, I see Dylan Blujus and one of Jagger Dirk or Jesse Graham sticking around on the backend, while Jonah Gadjovich, Petrus Palmu, and Kole Lind may end up on some sort of rotation in and out of the lineup, possibly with Michael Carcone. I can also see Carter Bancks and Wacey Hamilton possibly rotating in and out with Brendan Gaunce and Darren Archibald.

I have Evan McEneny playing the right side on the second pair as a lefty, as I believe that he has played there in the past on Andrey Pedan’s right side. If that isn’t how Trent Cull wants to roll, maybe we see Brisebois slide onto Sautner’s right side, while McEneny moves to the left of Sifers.

As mentioned above, options abound and it will be interesting to watch everything shake out. Stay tuned for our Post-Game report after game one of the Comets’ regular season on Friday, October 5th.

  • LTFan

    Good write up Cory. It will be interesting how Cull and his staff deploy the players. At the moment his problem is the opposite of a good portion of last season. Now too many quality players, then barely enough bodies to fill out the team on a game to game basis. We are off and running in 2 more days in Vancouver and 4 days in Utica.

  • Perhaps I missed it, but is McEneny back, or is he still recovering?

    It looks to me like “overcrowding” has now shifted from Van to Utica. No worries, it will sort itself out. Too many is better than not enough.

    I look forward to many quality write ups covering the Utica Comets. This should be Comets best year.

    • Cory Hergott

      McEneny was placed on waivers and has since cleared. He was already in Utica when that happened and had been skating in a non-contact jersey. The fact that he has gone through waivers should mean that he has been medically cleared to play. I’m not sure if he actually is ready to play, but I would imagine that he isn’t far off.

  • Kanuckhotep

    As usual, Cory, your work had integrity and clarity. One acknowledges that is a Canucks fan website and judging by the astute hockey knowledge of many of the commenters on this site I think some us enjoy hockey subjects not necessarily about the VC. After all there ARE 30 other teams and topics are endless. Potential subjects: Seattle. Concussion protocol. Quebec. Retired #s. Bettman. Cherry. The Hall of Fame. Potential lock out looming. Central Scouting. Players Association. All Star week and ad infinitum. Moi has been on here only since 9-20-18 and maybe you guys have already talked about these things, but how would I know for certain? If it’s not tantamount to blasphemy there ARE other things in hockey outside of the Vancouver Canucks. This is where Cory shines.

  • Kanuckhotep

    Imminent German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once wrote: “Truth passes through 3 stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self evident.” I told the truth.