FINAL: Comets 5 @ IceCaps 2
by Mark Caswell, Jr.Feb 5, 2016
The Utica Comets struck early and often, and then never looked back en route to a 5-2 win against the St. John’s IceCaps Friday night at the Mile One Centre. The Comets first ever game could not have gotten off to a better start as the team struck three times in their first four shots during the first 5:16 of play to jump out to a quick 3-0 lead.
Wacey Hamilton (2-1-3), Carter Bancks (1-2-3), John Negrin (0-2-2) each recorded multi-point nights. Fresh off of his American Hockey League All-Star Challenge appearance, Hunter Shinkaruk (1-0-1) scored his team-leading 18th goal of the season. Richard Bachman made 40 saves for his ninth win of the season.
The Comets wasted absolutely no time jumping on the IceCaps. Just 16 seconds in the hard-working line of Chris Higgins, Carter Bancks, and Wacey Hamilton, staked the Comets to a 1-0 lead. Higgins chipped a pass to the slot that Hamilton sticked up-and-over Fucale for his fifth goal of the season.
Two minutes later Joseph LaBate scored an odd one. From the boards, and along the blue line, Joseph LaBate shoveled a back-handed dump-in that hit the ice and took a screwy hop that kicked into the empty net. IceCaps' goaltender Zach Fucale had vacated the net in an attempt to knock down the dump-in attempt, and could not recover in time to stop the tricky hop.
The Comets successfully chased St. John's starting goaltender when Hunter Shinkaruk scored his team-leading 18th goal of the season with a nifty backhand deke just 5:16 into the game. Zalewski added an assist on the goal, his sixth point since returning to the Comets three games ago.
The IceCaps finally got on the board 15:27 into the game. IceCaps leading point-scorer Bud Holloway one-timed a shot that just barely trickled over the goal line while on a 5-on-3 power play.
With a little over three minutes remaining in the second period, the Higgins-Hamilton-Bancks line struck yet again. With extended pressure in the St. John’s zone, Chris Higgins rang a wrist shot off the post. Higgins collected his own shot and cycled the puck back to Taylor Fedun. Fedun fed a pass over to his defensive partner, John Negrin, who quickly fed the puck down to Wacey Hamilton. Hamilton connected with Bancks on a cross-crease pass that forced the goaltender out of position for Bancks to easily score his seventh of the season.
Hamilton notched his second goal of the night after he cleverly redirected a Carter Bancks pass through Pasquale late in the third period.
Jacob de la Rose of the IceCaps scored a power-play goal with less than three minutes left in the third to wrap up the game’s scoring.
The Comets penalty-killing unit killed seven of the IceCaps’ nine power-play opportunities, while the Comets failed to convert on four power-play chances. With the win the Comets record improves to 21-17-3-3.
The Comets are right back at it tomorrow night in St. John’s to wrap up their brief two game road trip in Newfoundland. Puck drop is scheduled for 6pm.
Tonight’s Game: The Comets return from the long All-Star break with two big games against a divisional rival, the St. John’s IceCaps. The trip to Newfoundland is the first time the Comets will visit “the rock”, and pits two teams that are jockeying for the final two North Division playoff spots.
The Comets currently sit in third place by mere percentage points over the fourth place IceCaps, with a .535 to .522 edge. The Comets have collected 46 points in 43 games, while St. John’s has 47 points in 45 games.
Last Game: Down 2-0 early at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, Michael Zalewski and the Utica Comets stormed back for a 4-2 win vs the Rochester Americans on Saturday night. For the second consecutive night Zalewski netted two goals, including the game-winning goal.
Hunter Shinkaruk (1-0-1), Mike Zalewski (2-1-3) and Jon Landry (1-2-3) scored goals for the Comets and Joe Cannata stopped 20 saves en route to the win.
Scouting the IceCaps: The IceCaps return home for their fifth homestand of the season after winning just two of their six road games. Tonight, the IceCaps will don their brand new Royal Newfoundland Regiment tribute jerseys as they honor World War I soldiers who sacrificed their lives. Leading the offensive charge for the IceCaps is Bud Holloway (12-24-36), who ranks tied for 10th in the American Hockey League in points. Sophomore center Charles Hudon (14-16-30) leads the team in goals with 14, and is second in points. Rookie goaltender Zachary Fucale has taken the lion’s share of games in net for the Canadiens’ American Hockey League affiliate, and has appeared 26 games. With a record of 10-10-3, he sports a 3.15 goals against average and a .902 save percentage.
Z for Zalewski: Michael Zalewski has appeared in two games since being reassigned to the Comets on Jan. 25, and all he has done in those two games is collected four goals, two game-winning goals, and an assist. The forward improved on his impressive sophomore campaign by increasing his season totals to 12 goals, and 10 assists in 38 games. Zalewski has already bested his totals from last season’s 55 game campaign that saw him score 3 times and add nine assists.
Lucky Number 3: Scoring three goals is a big deal for this year’s Comets. When the Comets fail to reach the three-goal mark in a game, the team is 1-14-3-2 this season. When they successfully strike three times, the team is 19-3-0-1.
NHL Vets Missing in Action: The most popular questions asked about this weekend’s tilts between the Comets and the IceCaps center around John Scott of the IceCaps and Brandon Prust of the Comets. Scott, the darling of the hockey world after being named the NHL All-Star games Most Valuable Player and enduring a very public battle with the NHL, will miss this week’s action due to the birth of his twins. Prust, who was assigned to the Comets on Thursday, will not make the trip and is expected to join the Comets in Utica next week.
Shields Up: The Comets have collected a point in nine out of 10 games, and a record of 7-1-1-1, in gams that defenseman David Shields suits up in. (Hat tip to Comets superfan Greg Wrate for that stat). Shields, 24, signed a PTO on Dec. 11 and joined the Comets with four seasons and over 200 games of AHL experience under his belt with the Peoria Rivermen and Chicago Wolves. Shields spent the past two seasons with the Chicago Wolves, where he collected 21 points (5-16-21) over 97 games played. Prior to joining the Comets this season, the Rochester, NY native has played in 15 games for the Adirondack Thunder, and has registered nine points (2-7-9) and 9 penalty minutes.
Chasing Pelts: Shinkaruk’s 17 goals this season not only paces the team, it also puts him just five goals shy of breaking Pascal Pelletier’s single-season record of 22 set during the 2013-14 season. Shinkaruk, 21, in just his second season as a professional, leads the Utica Comets in goals (17), power-play goals (9), and points (32) in 36 games played. The 24th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Level Draft made his National Hockey League debut for the Canucks against the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 16. In 2014-15, his first professional season, Shinkaruk recorded 31 points (16-15-31) and 28 penalty minutes over 74 games played. The Calgary, Alberta native also scored six points (4-2-6) in 23 postseason games with Utica through the 2015 Calder Cup Finals. Shinkaruk was the Comets lone representative in the 2016 Toyota AHL All-Star Classic that took place this past weekend in Syracuse, N.Y.
Next Game: The Comets are right back at it tomorrow night in St. John’s to wrap up their brief two game road trip in Newfoundland. Puck drop is scheduled for 6pm.