Excuse me while I wax poetic here.
In November of 2018, I had a scheduling change at work that would completely alter the next few years of my life.
I was home by 3:30 PM every single day and needed something to fill the void before my wife got home from work.
Enter the Utica Comets!
For the last two and a half years, I’ve devoted most of my spare time to clipping, recapping, tracking, and reviewing AHL games for a team on the other side of the continent.
It’s been a long journey since that first Farmies post on Reddit.
Little did I know that this hobby would end up with me covering an NHL game live in Rogers Arena.
Nor did I realize the kinds of doors that would open for me over the next few years.
Just a dude, vibing, watching an atrocious AHL team bench their prospects in favour of AHL grinders for the purposes of “development.”
The first clip I made of Utica Comets hockey was Tanner MacMaster channelling his inner Elias Pettersson and teeing up a slapshot from point-blank range down the left-wing.
I wonder what will be the last?
This season has been bizarre, from the mix of St. Louis Blues and Vancouver prospects, the COVID shutdown that lasted an entire month, and the fact that the games never had any stakes due to there being no playoff format this season.
It is no doubt disappointing to have this truncated season be the one that closes the Canucks/Comets near-decade-long affiliation. The Utica faithful ought to have had a full barn to say their goodbyes.
For me, it’s been a fun ride covering the Utica Comets for Canucks fans! I can’t wait for Abbotsford to enter the fold, and I can cover games live.
With all of my revisitation of the past out of the way, let’s look ahead to tonight’s final game against the Rochester Americans that closes out the Canucks longest-serving AHL affiliation.
Today’s ‘do something’ belongs to Sven Bärtschi, who will finish a tumultuous run with the Canucks organization in Rochester.
Bärtschi hasn’t had much puck luck over the past eight games, so it would be great for him to finish his time in Canucks blue and green with some points.
- The Comets’ final lineup as the affiliate of Vancouver is the same as it has been for most of this season, with Ethan Keppen being the lone substitution for Trent Cull.
- 19-year-old rookie, Will Cranley, makes his pro debut between the pipes for Utica
- Cranley has not started a game in 432 days.
- Michael Houser starts his third-straight game in three days for Rochester
- The Amerks play their third game in three nights to close their season, and they will be doing so without Dalton Smith, who received a one-game suspension for his sucker punch on Utica’s Vincent Arseneau during their Friday game.
- In theory, this game should be a pretty lowkey affair.
Don’t feel like reading? Click here for spoilers!!
- An early wrist shot from Nolan Stevens
- Comets spend the first two minutes of the game hemming Rochester inside their zone.
- The skaters for Rochester appear to be completely gassed
- A LOT of whistles through the opening six minutes of play. The game has been quite tedious thus far
- Tyler Tucker (#2) capitalizes on a giveaway by Dylan Blujus and rips a shot that gets deflected wide. Josh Wesley (#24) then accepts a zippy pass from Shawn Cameron (#15) before ripping a blocked shot of his own.
- Nikita Alexandrov (#41) lays a massive hit in the neutral zone (on his own teammate, Nolan Stevens (#17).
- Rochester generates a three-on-two after a turnover off a breakout pass by Tucker (#2). Mitch Eliot (#52) makes a smooth play on the rush to block J.S. Dea’s centering pass.
- Comets are suffocating the Amerks with offensive zone pressure; Jett Woo (#22) attempts some dangles along the blue line, Josh Teves (#4) rips a shot through traffic, and Lukas Jasek (#9) picks up a rebound for a shot that goes wide of the net.
- This entire sequence began with Jasek stripping the puck from an Amerk, who was about to clear the zone.
- Jasek (#9) sets up Teves (#4) for a dangerous one-timer that Amerk netminder Michael Houser barely gets a piece of to deflect.
- Amerks ice the puck after spending a full minute defending the Comets’ pressure.
- Nathan Staios with a great poke-check in the neutral zone to turn over the puck for Utica. John Stevens (#16) leads the zone entry and drops for a Sven Bärtschi one-timer attempt. Sam Anas (#7) picks up the loose puck after Bäe misses on the slapper. Anas manages to draw a penalty against Remi Elie to give Utica the first powerplay of the day.
PP2 – McGing, Alexandrov, McKenzie, Focht, Woo
- Houser makes a stop on Carson Focht off the faceoff draw
- Hugh McGing (#14) almost opens the scoring after Curtis McKenzie (#81) deflects a puck on Houser that goes uncontrolled in the crease.
PP1 – Anas, Bärtschi, Jasek, John and Nolan Stevens
- Anas drives through the center of the offensive zone, and a few fortunate bounces lead to some chaotic crease action that results in Michael Houser sprawled out in the “draw me like one of your french girls” position.
- Will Cranley makes a save but breaks his stick in the process! A lack of whistles results in him making follow-up saves without the usage of a stick.
- GOAL – ROCHESTER – 1-0 AMERICANS: Despite a full period of Utica domination, Will Cranley’s broken stick results in a very fortunate opening goal for Rochester. The goalscorer is none other than former Utica Comets blueliner Dylan Blujus, who scores his first point of the season to add insult to injury.
- Nolan Stevens (#17) gets hooked by Brandon Hawkins inside the d-zone and gives him a retaliatory slash.
- The ref calls Stevens for the slash, and the Comets will close out the final two minutes on the penalty kill.
PK1 – Tucker, Wesley, Jasek, John Stevens
- John Stevens brute-forces the puck into the neutral zone, and the Amerks are forced to reset
- Cranley drops to his back after making a save, then makes a phenomenal stretch-glove-save to his right post that stops a wraparound attempt dead on the goal line!
PK2 – Teves, Eliot, McGing, McKenzie
- McGing (#14) generates a shorthanded rush for Utica that results in a shot from McKenzie (#81) that goes wide of the net.
- Time winds down on the period with the Comets dominating Rochester in shots, fifteen to eight, but down on the scoreboard, one-zip.
- Comets open the second period with twenty seconds spent shorthanded
PK1 – Jasek, Tucker, Wesley, John Stevens
- Amerks win the faceoff draw, but they can’t generate anything with the brief man-advantage
- Carson Focht (#19) with a shot into the glove of Houser that bobbles out briefly
- You can sense some frustration in Focht’s play as he shoots the puck into the endboards after the whistle. The kid has been snakebitten as of late.
- GOAL – ROCHESTER – 2-0 AMERICANS: Dylan Blujus picks up his second point of the season with a secondary assist on a goal from Brendan Warren. Will Cranley made the initial save on Blujus’ shot, but some ugly positioning on his left post hands Brendan Warren the Amerks’ second goal of the day.
- The Comets fourth line rattles off back-to-back icings as they begin to face sustained pressure from the Amerks.
- Oskari Laaksonen wades into the slot for a shot on Cranely, but he hits his teammate Patrick Polino in the face.
- Carson Focht takes an interference penalty in the neutral zone, and the Comets head to their second penalty kill of the game.
- During the replay, it looks like Tyler Tucker was the perpetrator
- Comets will take the mixup as Tucker starts with PK1 for Utica
- Thirty seconds left in the Amerks powerplay, and Brandon Hawkins records the first shot of the powerplay; an easy save into the chest of Cranley.
- The Comets finally post up inside the offensive zone, but a pass from Josh Teves goes over the stick of Nikita Alexandrov and out into neutral territory.
- Comets are struggling during this middle frame to thread passes
- Teves (#4) makes an aggressive pinch in the neutral zone that hands the Amerks an odd-man rush. Teves makes it back to defend, but it’s Will Cranley with a clever deflection to deny the Amerks tip-in attempt.
- Jett Woo (#22) records the Comets fourth shot of the period
- Teves (#4) with some slick moves through the neutral zone to gain entry for Utica. Unfortunately, his drop pass for Focht (#19) is just out of reach, and the Amerks recover.
- Jasek (#9) hands the puck over to Rochester’s J.S. Dea, who wades into the Comets zone to set up Brandon Hawkins for a shot attempt.
- Comets finally set up inside the offensive zone, but they generate zero shot attempts with their efforts.
- Rochester’s Nick DeSimone rips a shot off the crossbar and out
- Nathan Staios (#45) displaying some slick skating and puck-handling in the offensive zone to evade Michael Mersch and Brendan Warren.
- Tucker (#2) takes a high-sticking penalty while trying to impede J.S. Dea
- Comets to their third straight penalty kill with less than four minutes remaining in the second
PK1 – Wesley, Woo, John and Nolan Stevens
- Rochester is forced to reset from their zone after a shot attempt wrings around the glass and out of play.
- Rochester ices the puck attempting a zone entry; the Comets PK continues to have success.
- McKenzie brute-forces the puck out of the d-zone as Tucker leaves the box
- Comets PK has allowed only two goals over their last twenty penalty kills. A 90% kill-rate which would make it the AHL’s best penalty kill
- Period winds down with the Comets outshot eight to six over twenty minutes.
- Tucker (#2) with an early shot that takes a few fortunate bounces on its way towards Houser.
- Another turnover inside the d-zone results in a dangerous chance for Rochester
- Staios steps in for a one-timer blast that goes off the leg of Steven Fogarty and out of the offensive zone.
- Comets battling hard to keep the puck inside the offensive zone but are struggling to generate dangerous chances
- Josh Wesley (#24) with a good rush down the right-wing to set up Nolan Stevens (#17) with the puck. Stevens makes an extra move in the slot that allows Rochester to strip him of the puck and regain possession.
- Will Cranley with a terrific save on J.S. Dea’s backhand shot from point-blank range.
- Remi Elie takes his second penalty of the night as he trips up John Stevens inside the Comets’ d-zone.
PP1 – Anas, Jasek, Bärtschi, John and Nolan Stevens
- The Comets bench rages at the refs after an Amerk defender slashes John Stevens stick in half
- Comets fail to re-enter the zone, and PP2 hops over the boards to take over
- Comets looking utterly lifeless on the man-advantage
- Woo (#22) fans on his breakout pass from behind the Comets net, turning over the puck, as J.S. Dea rips a shot off the goalpost.
- Elie leaves the box as the Comets with Rochester generating more shot attempts than Utica.
- Rochester ices the puck after a TV timeout, giving the Comets an offensive zone faceoff.
- The Comets generate their best scoring chance of the game after Josh Wesley (#24) moves up to the right circle to fire a one-timer off a Jasek (#9) cross-ice pass.
- With less than five minutes remaining in the third period, Tyler Tucker gets called for slashing to put the Comets on their fourth penalty kill of the day.
PK1 – Jasek, John Stevens, Wesley, Woo
- Comets quickly dump the puck after the faceoff, and Rochester spends the first minute of their powerplay attempting to re-enter the zone.
PK2 – McKenzie, Nolan Stevens, Teves, Eliot
- Amerks bobble the puck on the blueline, forcing them to reset in the neutral zone
- Tucker leaves the box after another solid PK by the Comets
- Comets regain possession, drive through the neutral zone, and set up inside the offensive zone as Cranley heads to the bench for the extra attacker
- Comets generating nothing with the man-advantage, as Jason Shaya notes, the Comets don’t even have a player posted in the slot.
- Oh man, chaos in the crease as Dominic Franco covers the puck with his hand to clear the zone. The Comets are awarded a penalty shot with less than forty seconds remaining in the period.
- Sam Anas is the Comets man to break the shutout.
- GOAL – UTICA – 2-1 AMERICANS: Sam Anas (#7) weaves through center and scores on the penalty shot to close the gap with 36 seconds remaining in the game. Utica calls a timeout immediately after the goal.
- Nikita Alexandrov (#41) makes an incredible defensive backchecking effort to deny the Amerks an empty-netter.
- Comets re-enter the offensive zone but get tied up along the half-wall as time expires.
- Comets outshoot Rochester nine to seven in the third, 29/23 overall, but couldn’t make it happen in their final game as Vancouver’s affiliate.
- Comets three-game win streak comes to an end in the finale
Rochester def. Utica 2-1
- The first clip of Utica Comets hockey was a teed-up slapshot from a player no longer in the Canucks/Comets system. The last one, an incredible backchecking effort from a player not in the Canucks/Comets system.
- The number of turnovers by the Comets during this game was too damn high.
- LMAO, the Comets play-by-play man, Jason Shaya, has such utter contempt for in-arena DJs. He’s been popping off over the past couple of games, and I very much appreciate it. I will be tuning in to future AHL games where he is the pbp guy. He provided some much-needed comedy over the last few games that were devoid of on-ice entertainment.
Pascal Pelletier scored the first Utica Comets goal as VAN affiliate in 2013.
Who scores the last one? 🤔
— Ben Birnell (@OD_Birnell) May 16, 2021
- Comets fans can blame Ben Birnell of the Utica Observer-Dispatch for jinxing the Comets in their final game as Vancouver’s affiliate. It took a penalty shot, so it wasn’t quite a shutout, but it sure did feel like it. The Comets spent 60 minutes struggling to generate anything remotely dangerous.
- Comets were thirty-six seconds away from being shut out for the first time this season. Anas bless.
- Just like last game, there is nothing to take away from tonight’s action. Until Dylan Blujus’ opening goal, the Comets dominated the Americans with sustained pressure in the offensive zone. Unfortunately, after Blujus’ goal, the wheels fell off for Utica. Michael Houser didn’t even look particularly good tonight. Houser was struggling with rebound control, holding pucks in the glove, staying upright in his crease; By all accounts, the Comets should have scored at evens or on one of their two powerplays, but the bounces weren’t going their way tonight.
- The top-six combined for a total of eight shots on goal while the defence combined for twelve.
Sven Bärtschi has played his last game as a member of the Canucks organization.
Still blows my mind how he was cast out. Sven, if you want to do a tell-all for CometsHarvest, by all means, my DM's are open! 🤣
His final goal in Nux blue and green, from game 22 vs SYR:
— Cody Severtson (@CodySevertson) May 16, 2021
- Bärtschi was unceremoniously deemed “not good enough” for the NHL by Benning and Green before the 2019-20 season. In the previous season, Bärtschi dealt with post-concussion symptoms while still producing fourteen points in 26 games, the eighth-best points-per-game rate on the team. The Canucks then signed Michael Ferland to be that top-six replacement for Bärtschi, above value with an extra year added to the term. Despite Ferland’s admission, he had health concerns following concussion issues of his own during the 2018-19 season. After essentially telling the entire league that Bärtschi’s contract made him impossible to trade and tanking his value, Bärtschi went to work for Utica. In his first season with the Comets since 2014-15, Bärtschi posted thirteen goals and thirty-three assists for slightly above a point-per-game pace. This season, the production hasn’t come for him as much. It hasn’t come for many members of the Utica Comets. Of the 31 skaters who dressed for the Comets this season, only two players produced at a point-per-game pace, with only one player above a point-per-game in Jack Rathbone. As an observer, it’s been tough watching the Canucks roll out the sea of Granlund while Bärtschi, a proven producer at the NHL level, toiled in the minors making less money than the man they signed to replace him. Even though he had zero reasons to opt into playing this season for a team that turned their backs on him, he did, and he played admirably. Sven provided his usual highlight-reel playmaking ability and sage mentorship to a very young and rookie-laden Comets team in an otherwise meaningless season of AHL hockey. It wasn’t the way anyone expected the final years of his contract to go, but he made the most out of it.
- It is tough to say what the Canucks brass will take away from this season. A tumultuous offseason lies ahead of the Canucks. Between the expansion draft, the entry draft, and re-signings galore, the Canucks will need to construct both a credible NHL team but a brand new AHL team as well!
- Jett Woo had his struggles but ended up being a pretty credible 2nd pairing defenceman, mostly while playing with fellow rookies Jack Rathbone or Nathan Staios.
- Lukas Jasek proved himself once more as a utility forward who can consistently produce at 5v5.
- Josh Teves proved that he can still wheel and make smart decisions with the puck in both ends while still being prone to turnovers.
- Mitch Eliot struggled to produce this season, his shot is still one of his best attributes, but outside of it, there isn’t much noteworthy about his game.
- Carson Focht struggled down the stretch to produce, but he displayed a decent two-way game and an impressive shot.
- Will Lockwood proved that he has NHL wheels and utility as an effective penalty killer, but whether that translates to the NHL remains to be seen.
- Jack Rathbone is an NHLer. He won’t gain much from playing in the AHL.
- Ethan Keppen is a big body with ok skating, but his game is a complete work in progress. Did he do enough to earn an ELC?
- Jonah Gadjovich proved he could score, but as Canucks fans will find out in Sunday’s action against Calgary, will he even be able to keep up?
- Kole Lind had a rather unspectacular start to the season, then found himself the beneficiary of a quarantine loophole when he had his nose broken. He’s been whatever at the NHL level over the past few games, but so has everyone on the Canucks. Am I spending an expansion draft protection spot on him after this season? I don’t know; his first step isn’t that great at the AHL level and hasn’t been impressive at the NHL level either. Lind has played much better defensively in the NHL than the AHL ironically, but he looks to be another blade in the Plains of Highmore than an effective top-six contributor.
- Guillaume Brisebois played for the Comets a bit, and he was fine.
- Once I’ve finished tracking the final two games of the Comets season, I’ll get into the nitty-gritty of how the Canucks prospects fared overall in their shot-share metrics.
Comets end VAN affiliation with a 277-203-47-19 record in 546 regular-season games.
Trent Cull record (2 full 76-game seasons, 2 partial seasons): 122-93-18-9
Travis Green record: 155-110-29-10
Utica playoffs record (3 apps in 6 seasons in which postseason happened): 15-17 pic.twitter.com/SV9wgxURNt
— Ben Birnell (@OD_Birnell) May 16, 2021
- It’s been a blast covering hockey taking place 4700-kilometres away; shoutout to Ben Birnell, Scoop and the boys at KROCK radio, former pbp man Joe Roberts, Michael E. Lehr, and so many more for being supportive and lending me a helping hand over the past few years.
COMETS HARVEST THREE STARS
- Will Cranley
- Sam Anas
- No one
HM: Will Cranley again
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Cheers for tuning into this season, and I’ll see everyone for my year-end recapper as we turn our heads towards next season with the to-be-named Abbotsford AHL squad!