The Utica Comets played just one game this week, but they made sure to use every minute of ice time that they could to pull out a 6-5 win over the Binghamton Devils. We saw Kole Lind continue adding goals to his points totals, while Carson Focht “finally” got his first at the pro level.
I say finally in jest when it comes to Focht as the rookie pivot has not looked out of place at the AHL level and came close to scoring on a couple of occasions in his last game.
In games one and two we saw the Comets fall behind on the shot clock early in the opening frame before coming on stronger as the game wore on. In game-three, they were the aggressors and finished the period up 3-1 while outshooting the Devils by a count of 14-10.
The first-period tallies were highlighted by Kole Lind’s pair of power-play markers and Carson Focht’s first pro goal. Those goals from Lind? They were a couple of one-time bombs not unlike what we have seen from former Comets sniper Reid Boucher while he was the triggerman in Utica who kept AHL goaltenders awake at night with visions of being scorched by a lightning-quick release and an utter lack of regard for their save percentage.
Kole’s first of the game was set up by Sam Anas, while Mitch Reinke grabbed the secondary helper.
Carson Focht took his turn with the raised hands after being set up by… checks notes, Sam Anas, but this time the secondary assist went to a different Mitch… of the Eliot variety. What are the chances of having two Mitch’s on one team? Anas, for what it is worth, is up to four helpers in his first three games as a Comet. He put up 50 assists last season and I’m not sure that I’d be willing to bet against him getting close to that this year with far fewer games on the schedule. Focht, for his part, showed some poise and patience after taking the Anas pass and lifting a nifty backhander past Devils target Aaron Dell.
Lind’s second of the game was also scored on the power play and came after taking a feed from Sven Baertschi and wiring it past Dell for his fourth goal of the season. Sven earned his second assist of the year on the play, while Nolan Stevens grabbed his first. Side note, it’s always fun for me to see brothers suiting up for the same team. Nolan and John Stevens are both with the Comets this year and both scored today. One of my brothers is two years older than me and neither of us played hockey until we were in our 20’s. Early on we both played in a “duffers” league together and it meant a lot to me to be able to suit up with him for the short time that we were able to. I miss those days.
Back to the Lind goal… it was a beauty.
Something else that was encouraging in this game was how quickly Jett Woo came to the aid of Lukas Jasek when the latter was decked by former Comets’ forward Cam Darcy. Darcy isn’t a big guy, but he’s a scrappy Bostonian who doesn’t back down from anybody. To see Woo jump in and be willing to tangle with a vet like Darcy shows us that he is a team-first player who isn’t about to let anyone manhandle one of his mates.
The Comets finished the first period feeling pretty good about their game. They were up 3-1.. and then the second period happened.
After outshooting Binghamton 14-10 in the first, the Comets managed just eight shots on goal in the middle frame while giving up 11 and finishing the period tied at four.
Jake Kielly had a sound first period and looked like he wasn’t going to give up much to the Devils. The wheels fell off the wagon over a two-minute stretch early in the second period and the Devils had pulled even and had some life. It’s never a good feeling to let a team back into the game, but Kielly stuck with it and rebounded to finish the game on a better note.
With the game now tied at three and the Devils swelling with momentum, Comets defenceman Josh Wesley, (son of Glen Wesley… the player taken with the Vancouver’s pick that Boston got in the Cam Neely trade) was dinged for a cross-check and Utica had a penalty to kill. Bingo had a chance to put their collective foot on the throat of the Comets and take the wind out of their sails completely.
The Comets penalty-killing duo of Dakota Joshua and John Stevens had other ideas and broke out shorthanded. The result was a shorthanded goal by Stevens to help breathe some life back into the Comets. They ended up killing off the Wesley minor, but the Devils knotted the game at four about seven minutes later.
This time it was a complete breakdown by the Comets that led to a Nikita Okhotiuk marker. Please do not ask me how to pronounce that last name. I’m sure the Comets play by play men Jason Shaya and Michael Fehr are happy that the Comets only play the Devils one more time this year so they won’t have to pronounce it again after that.
We saw each team score another goal in the third period as Nolan Stevens and Ben Street traded tallies. For Stevens, I imagine it was a case of not letting his brother have bragging rights for the game when he forced a turnover, had Lukas Jasek open and elected to hold onto the shot for himself. Seems like he made the right call.
The Street goal came late in the game after Jett Woo, and Mitch Eliot were in the box, and the Comets had been killing a two-man advantage. Defender Steven Santini took a penalty at the time of the goal, so the Comets also had to finish all but the last 14 seconds of the third period killing the infraction off.
They did just that and the game was sent to overtime and eventually the shootout where the Comets won the game on goals from Sam Anas and Mitch Reinke. Fabian Zetterlund was the loan Devils’ shooter to beat Kielly. The Comets netminder finished the game with 29 saves.
The Comets went 2/5 on the power play and scored a short-handed goal while also giving up a pair of power-play markers.
How the Canucks’ prospects fared
Kole Lind continues to show promise as an offensive centerman with another pair of goals. Kole is now up to four goals, three of which have come while up a man. He has no assists yet and is now a minus-four on the season. The defensive side of the game is still a work in progress for Kole in his new role as the team’s number-one pivot.
Carson Focht took another step in the right direction when he picked up his first pro goal. Focht continues to show a smart stick as he has been able to use it to his advantage in forcing turnovers for his line. He was used on the power play and penalty kill in the team’s first two games, but no such luck in game three as the coaching staff gave some other players looks there. Carson skates well, seems to handle his faceoff duties reasonably well, although there is always room for improvement there, and he doesn’t appear to be concerned about lining up against players with a lot more experience than he has.
Jett Woo showed up for a teammate today and that speaks volumes about another young player in the system. Woo has had ups and downs so far in his three pro games, but I feel like his good moments have outweighed the not-so-good ones so far. He was once again seeing his minutes on the penalty kill and he hasn’t looked out of place in that role. He’s had a different partner in each of his games so far and today saw him playing the left side as a righty. The Comets have just two left-shot defenders and one of them wasn’t playing today.
It bodes well for Woo that he was able to play his off-side today and end up a plus-two in a game where his team gave up five goals.
Will Lockwood didn’t put up any points today, but he was back on the penalty kill and did his job there. Lockwood has wheels for days and shows it in every game. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and doesn’t mind dishing out hits at every opportunity. Would I like to see more offence from him? Of course, but I think that will come. Lockwood is the type of player whose offence will come from being sound defensively. He has the wheels to take advantage of any turnovers that he or his team can force and I expect that is where we will see his points start to come from.
Lukas Jasek continues to do Lukas Jasek things. The Comets’ coaching staff seem to be using him as their shutdown center with Curtis McKenzie riding shotgun with him. Those two, along with Nathan Walker when he is healthy, will be doing the heavy lifting in terms of shutting down the opposition’s best line.
Jonah Gadjovich had a quiet game this week. He wasn’t nearly as noticeable as he was in the team’s previous two contests. I would expect that we will see Jonah back out there throwing his weight around on Wednesday when the Comets play their home opener against Syracuse. Gadjovich and Luke Witkowski have already made acquaintances once this season and I would imagine that could become regularly scheduled programming between the two this year as the teams will play each other roughly 397 times.
I’ve had the opportunity to speak with some players and coaches over Zoom chats during the week and I asked Trent Cull about the Comets using rookies like Carson Focht, Will Lockwood, and Jett Woo on the penalty kill early this season. Cull said that he wants to make sure that everyone has a piece of the pie in Utica. He wants players to have a role that they can dig into and feel like they are part of something with the team.
That’s going to be a real work in progress. We have young guys who are getting acclimated to the league and we’re giving them specialty teams on top of that… it’s going to be a lot of work there. I think they’re fine, they’re eager and they are learning on the fly as best as they can and it’s gone reasonably well so far.
Trent’s thoughts on Kole Lind in the middle;
I think he’s doing well with the position. I think it’s very early here still, but I like the chemistry between the three hockey players, (Sven Baertschi, Lind, Sam Anas) but again, I think that some of our details and structures need to be better with that line. One of the unfortunate aspects of moving a player from the wing to the middle is that you don’t start out with the puck as often. That’s not something that I enjoy, but we’re going to try to get better at that.
On the Comets inexperienced blueline;
It’s a great challenge. We enjoy the challenge, that’s our job. We’re going to have some hiccups, we’re going to have some evenings like Saturday night in Syracuse unfortunately. It kind of is what it is. Our focus will be to be patient, try to groom these guys along. We’ve got seven defencemen here and those are the guys that we’re rolling with. It’s not going to change, that’s what we have right now. We have 30 games left and we want to see those guys get better within those 30 games. That will be our focus. They’re good kids trying to do the right thing, so it makes it easier on us.
I asked Carson Focht about how he felt his adjustment to the pro ranks has gone after his first two games in the AHL.
I didn’t know what to expect coming in, but at the end of the day, you’ve just got to play hockey. There’s a lot of great guys in the room who have really helped me along and given me some tips. When I get out there, I just want to help my team win. I know we didn’t get that done on Saturday, (last week) but I think we did a lot of good things and I’m looking forward to the next game.
I went on to ask Carson how important it is for him as a first-year player to have the coaching staff trusting him with power-play and penalty-killing duties already.
Yeah, trust between players and coaches is big and I want to prove that I can play and be trusted to play in any situation out there. It’s on me to refine my details and it’s good to get some of that trust early.
What does Carson think his biggest adjustment will be at the pro level?
I’m not sure, everything is obviously a little faster… we haven’t played in 10 months, there’s obviously no excuses for me and I’m just excited to play every night. I want to work my hardest and make plays with my linemates. I guess the biggest adjustment is that guys are bigger, stronger, faster and just think the game a bit quicker. I think that as a team we’ve done a good job early on.
On his active stick
Yeah, you definitely want to have good positioning out there and I think that having a good stick goes along with that. I’m just trying to play my best in all three zones and be relied on, so having a good stick and being aware is always crucial out there.
It sounds to me like Carson Focht just might be another one of those players in the Canucks system who just “gets it.” You can never have too many players who give it everything they have on the ice and have some skill to go along with it.
The Comets are back in action with a pair of mid-week games as they will kick off their home-opener on Wednesday against Syracuse followed by a Thursday game vs Rochester. No, that isn’t a typo… that is actually a game on a Thursday. I can’t say that I can recall many… if any of those in my four years of covering the Utica Comets.
Until next week!