Utica Comets Season In Review
M*A*S*H – Goaltenders Edition
In part five of this series, I took a look at how Reid Boucher, Tanner Kero, and Zack MacEwen were able to give the Comets three 20-goal scorers, three 30-assist men, and three 50-point men in a single season for the first time in the club’s six-season history.
— Botchford's Army (@CanucksArmy) May 16, 2019
Today I will take a look at the Comets injury situation this season and how it affected the team with this M*A*S*H piece.
If we look back at last season, the Comets were forced into signing a revolving door of players on PTO and ATO deals, (professional tryout/amateur tryout offers) partly due to the number of injuries that the team faced, as well as the number of times that players were summoned to Vancouver as injury replacements up there.
The Comets were looking to limit the number of PTO players that they would have to sign this year and came into camp with a bevy of extras signed to AHL deals with the hopes of having ready-made depth available in the ECHL. The team came into camp with one goaltender, five defenders, and nine forwards on AHL deals and all but five started the regular season with the club. Forward Brendan Bradley was signed to an AHL deal but did not see time with the Comets this season.
The team would still end up doing some bargain shopping on the PTO/ATO wire throughout the season as they used five goaltenders, eight defencemen, (10 if you include Jett Woo and Mitch Eliot who did nothing more than practice with the team), and six additional forwards by the time the season had ended.
So, what did the team’s M*A*S*H unit look like this season? Let’s start between the pipes where nine different men wore a Comets jersey this season.
Coming into the season, it seemed logical to believe that we would see Thatcher Demko as the number one in Utica with Richard Bachman backing up until Thatcher was ready to make the jump to the NHL fulltime. Ivan Kulbakov was brought in on an AHL deal to ply his trade with the team’s ECHL affiliate in Kalamazoo as the insurance.
With Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson manning the crease for the Canucks, it looked like the team’s goaltending situation was more or less sorted for the year. Everything changed when Demko suffered a concussion during a preseason practice and wasn’t available to the Comets to start the season.
The team ended up seeing seven different targets suit up and make an appearance for them this year as all of Demko, Bachman, Kulbakov, Connor LaCouvee, Michael Leighton, Marek Mazanec, and Ty Reichenbach would see action for the Comets this year, while Devin Buffalo and Alex Sakellaropolous rounded out the group, but did not see action.
Kulbakov ended up being the netminder with the most games played for the team by the time the season came to a close with 25 to his credit. He also posted the most wins with 10 and the most regulation losses with 15.
As we know, Demko’s season did not get off to a good start when he took a Brendan Leipsic shot off the noggin in practice during the preseason while still with the parent Canucks. He started his year on the injured reserve list with a concussion.
It took some time for Thatcher to see action as he didn’t make his season debut until November 21st with the Comets. The club’s goaltender of the future suited up in just 16 games for Utica this year before graduating to the NHL in early January.
This was somewhat of a lost season for Demko as he played in just 25 games split between Vancouver and Utica. He was able to post a record of 4-3-1 for Vancouver to close out the season while putting up a 2.81 goals-against average and a save percentage of 0.913%. In Utica, Demko went 8-6-0 while posting a GAA of 2.58 and a 0.911% save percentage.
Bachman has been the Comets veteran presence between the pipes since the 2015/16 season, playing in a total of 102 games for the minor league team while suiting up in seven more in the NHL with the Canucks.
This year the grizzled vet only managed to get into nine games before his season came to an end on December 22nd when he suffered an Achilles’ injury. Bachman went 5-4-0 in his nine starts for the Comets, posting a goals-against average of 3.76 and a 0.884% save percentage.
In Vancouver, Bachman got into one game and was shelled for six goals on 29 shots for a GAA of 6.00 and a 0.793% save percentage.
Bachman has one year remaining on his two-way deal with the Canucks, but it is unclear if he will be back with the team by the time training camp rolls around. He appears to be recovering well from his injury, but time will tell if he is ready to play or of the club is ready to have him back for the 2019/20 season.
Bachman has done great work in helping bring along Thatcher Demko, and by all accounts has been fantastic in the Utica community, but the Cancuks have Michael DiPietro on the way for the upcoming season and also signed netminder Jake Kielly out of the NCAA.
It is possible that one of DiPietro/Kielly starts in the ECHL and the team retains Bachman for his final year, or maybe the team will move on and find a new veteran to help bring their kids along, or even go with the far less likely scenario where the club elects to run with the pair of rookies. The goaltending position will be one to watch as the 2019/20 season gets underway.
Leighton joined the team on a PTO on January 15th and was eventually signed to an NHL deal for the remainder of the year.
The veteran of 660 professional hockey games, (spread over three leagues) managed to get into 19 games for the Comets before pulling up lame on a routine save and being escorted from the ice by the trainer on April 16th to end his season.
Leighton went 8-10-0 for the Comets while posting a goals-against average of 2.70 and a 0.901% save percentage. He is a pending UFA, (unrestricted free agent) who I would not expect to see back next year.
That wraps up the goaltending position, as far as the injuries are concerned. In our next installment, we will shift our focus to the backend where the team lost what would be considered four of their top-six defenders for extended periods to the injury bug. The Comets saw a total of 24 players either play a game or be brought in on a PTO as defensive depth for the club and we will look at them next.