A Look Ahead To The Utica Comets
First Month Of The Season
September is finally here and the local hockey squad is starting to filter into town with training camp just one week away. The Canucks kicked off their preseason activities with Prospects Camp this week at Rogers Arena before they will head to Victoria for their main camp.
I thought that today was as good a time as any to take a quick look ahead at what the Utica Comets will be up against in their first month of action for the 2019/20 season.
The Comets will play eight games in October, squaring off against five teams. They will start and finish their month against the Binghamton Devils and will also play them once more for good measure. Five of their first eight games will come against their North Division rivals, while the other three will see games against Atlantic Division foes.
Binghamton Devils, (New Jersey Affiliate)
Let’s start with the Devils from Bingo. The Comets and Devils faced off in eight games last season with the Devils coming away with a five-games-to-three advantage in the season series. Binghamton also outscored Utica by a margin of 27-24 in those eight games. Like the Comets, Binghamton failed to qualify for the Calder Cup playoffs last year.
Reid Boucher and Michael McLeod finished the season series tied with seven points apiece, while Zack MacEwen, Kevin Rooney, and John Quenneville each tallied six points. Both of Boucher and MacEwen are expected to be back with the Comets, while McLeod and Rooney are still in the New Jersey system and Quenneville has been traded to the Chicago Blackhawks organization.
Rochester Americans, (Buffalo Affiliate)
Staying in the division, we will take a look at Rochester next. Rochester held a seven-games-to-three advantage in the 10-game series between the two clubs, outscoring the Comets by a 37-23 margin. The Amerks were ousted in three straight games by the Toronto Marlies in the first round of the playoffs.
Victor Olofsson was the big points producer in this series, piling up 14 points over the 10 games. Reid Boucher and CJ Smith were each able to grab 10 points in the series, while Wayne Simpson followed up with nine and Zack MacEwen had eight. Once again, Boucher and MacEwen are still with the Canucks organization, while Olofsson and Smith are back with the Sabres system. Simpson, for his part, has moved on to sign with ERC Ingolstadt in the German league.
Syracuse Crunch, (Tampa Bay Affiliate)
The Comets greatest rivalry is with their Galaxy Cup opponents in Syracuse. The two clubs squared off 12 times last season with the Crunch holding a 7-5 advantage in the season series. The Comets were outscored by a staggering 53-28 margin, partly due to a 10-1 loss in one of their matches against the Crunch. Syracuse was surprisingly swept in their three-game first-round playoff series against the Cleveland Monsters.
There were a lot of points put up in this series with Taylor Raddysh and Carter Verhaeghe leading the way with 15 apiece. Former Comets forward, Cory Conacher sat second with 13 points. Alex Volkov had 12 points to his credit in the series, while Gabriel Dumont tallied 11. Reid Boucher and Tanner Kero each had nine points, while Zack MacEwen and Brendan Gaunce put up seven and six points respectively. Gaunce and Kero have moved on from the Comets as free agents, while Raddysh, Verhaeghe, Conacher, and Volkjov are all returning to the Tampa Bay system. Gabriel Dumont, however, will be suiting up for the Iowa Wild this season.
Hershey Bears, (Washington Affiliate)
The Comets and Bears saw each other twice last season with each team picking up a win. Hershey held the advantage on the score sheet, outscoring Utica 6-4 in their two-game series. The Bears made it to the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs after dispatching the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in their five-game first-round series. They were eventually dumped from the second round in a four-game sweep by the eventual Calder Cup champion Charlotte Checkers.
Cam Darcy and Aaron Ness each grabbed three points to lead this brief series, while Devante Smith-Pelley and Zack MacEwen picked up two points apiece. Darcy has moved on to the San Antonio Rampage in the AHL, while Aaron Ness and Devante Smith-Pelley have both moved on from the Washington organization. Ness will be plying his trade in the Arizona system now, while Smith-Pelley will be joining the Calgary Flames organization.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, (Pittsburgh Affiliate)
This was another two-game series and this time the Comets came out on top. Utica managed to win both contests against the Pens, coming out on top by a combined score of 11-3. The Pens did not qualify for the playoffs in the 2018/19 season.
Wacey Hamilton…of all people, led this two-game series with five points to his credit. Hamilton only put up 11 points in his injury-shortened 23-game season, so he must have loved playing against the Pens. Reid Boucher sat second with four points, all scored in the second game of the series on the back of a hattrick and one assist. Lukas Jasek and Tom Pyatt each tallied three points in the series, while MacEwen, Kero, and Gaunce each earned two points. Pyatt was moved out in a draft-day trade that landed winger Francis Perron in the Canucks system, while as mentioned earlier, Gaunce and Kero have both moved on to Boston and Dallas respectively.
Charlotte Checkers, (Carolina Affiliate)
The Calder Cup champion Checkers squared off against the Comets three times last season, coming away with a three-games-to-one advantage after the smoke had cleared. They also outscored the Comets by a margin of 8-6 in the series. The Checkers defeated the Providence Bruins three-games-to-one in the first round before dispatching Hershey in four straight in the second. In the third round, it was the Marlies going down in six games before the Checkers dusted off the Chicago Wolves in their five-game series to win it all.
This season series was led by Roland McKeown, Morgan Geekie, and Brendan Gaunce with three points apiece. Tanner Kero, Zack MacEwen, Lukas Jasek, Andrew Poturalski, Jake Bean, and Aleksi Saarela all grabbed two points in the series. As mentioned above, the Comets will be without the services of the departed Kero and Gaunce this year, while the Checkers will have to do without their leading scorer from last year as Poturalski has moved on to the Anaheim organization. Saarela, who finished second in scoring for Charlotte has also swapped clubs as he will be spending the 2019/20 season in the Chicago Blackhawks system. Geekie, Bean, and McKeown are all still under contract to the Carolina Hurricanes and are expected to start the year with their organization.
As we can see, the Comets will have their hand full in their first month as they will be squaring off with some teams that gave them some trouble last year. Once training camp wraps up and we see how the Comets lineup shakes out, we will have a better idea of how they might do in October. Until then, we will have to speculate on what that first month might look like.
I will hazard a guess, just for fun, and say the Comets will go 5-3 in their first month of hockey this year. Stay tuned to this space for some training camp news as I will be attending the final day of camp in victoria this year, along with the Canucks first preseason game as well.