FINAL: Comets 5 vs Pirates 2
by Mark Caswell, Jr.Feb 17, 2016
Once again the Utica Comets special teams stepped up to lead the team to a 5-2 win over the Portland Pirates. Buoyed by a power-play goal and a short-handed tally, the Comets completed the season sweep of the Pirates with a perfect 4-0 record.
Alexandre Grenier (1-2-3) exploded for three points, including the eventual game-winning goal in the second period. Brendan Gaunce (0-2-2) and Jon Landry (1-1-2) recorded multi-point games for the Comets, while Joe Cannata made 33 saves for his 14th victory of the season. Gaunce’s multi-point game gives him eight points (4-4-8) in his last five games.
Brandon Prust, in his first period as a member of the Comets, kicked off the party at The AUD the right way. After he received a pass in the slot from Landry, Prust spun and fired a wrist shot on net that Joseph LaBate redirected past McKenna for his fifth of the season. The goal came just 7:06 into the game.
Chris Higgins doubled the Comets lead a little over eight minutes later when he buried a short-handed breakaway goal. Brendan Gaunce and Andrey Pedan assisted on the marker.
The lead was stretched to 3-0 when Grenier tapped home a beautiful back door feed from defenseman John Negrin in the second period. Gaunce’s second assist came when he picked up the secondary assist on the goal.
The Pirates picked up a short-handed goal of their own in the third, but the Jon Landry quickly erased their tally with a power-play goal just 49 seconds thereafter.
With a little over seven minutes remaining in the game, Hunter Shinkaruk inched a goal closer to the franchise record for goals scored in a single season when he sniped a wrist shot over the glove of goaltender Mike McKenna.
Tyler Sikura jammed a loose puck past Cannata 30 seconds later to make the final score 5-2.
With the win the Comets improved to 25-17-4-3, and they have now collected 15 out of a possible 16 points over their last eight games.
The Comets will be on the road Friday night as they meet the Crunch at the OnCenter in Syracuse, puck drop is scheduled for 7:00pm.
Tonight’s Game: The red-hot Comets look for the season sweep of the Portland Pirates tonight at the Utica Memorial Auditorium. Puck drop between the Comets and the Florida Panthers’ American Hockey League affiliate is scheduled for 7pm.
The Comets, with 55 points, currently sit in third place in the North Division by a point over the fourth place St. John’s IceCaps. The Pirates also sit in third place, albeit in the Atlantic Division with 59 points.
Last Game: The Comets jumped out to an early 2-0 lead and never let up as they steamrolled the Lehigh Valley Phantoms 5-2 on Saturday night the PPL Center. The Comets outshot the home team 40-23 en route to their sixth win in their last seven games. In that stretch the Comets have collected 13 out of 14 possible points as their lone loss came in overtime.
David Shields (1-1-2), Michael Zalewski (0-2-2), Ronalds Kenins (1-1-2), and Darren Archibald (1-1-2) all posted multi-point games in the victory. The multi-point game was Kenins second consecutive night with multiple points and his first period tally was his first of the season. Cole Cassels (1-0-1) chipped in his second goal of the season, while Hunter Shinkaruk (1-0-1) added an empty-net goal as he inches closer to the franchise’s record for goals in a single-season.
Scouting the Pirates: The last time these two teams met the Comets left Portland with a 2-0 weekend sweep that saw Utica outscore their opponent 10-4, and left the Pirates with a 7-10-0-0 record on the season. Since then, the Pirates have lit the league on fire with a 22-7-1-0 record, a .762 points percentage. Only the impenetrable Toronto Marlies have collected a better record in the time. Fulton, NY native, Rob Schremp (17-16-33), leads the team in goals (17), points (33), shots on goal (126) and power-play goals (7). The all-star forward has hit a bit of a skid recently, and has recorded just one point, a goal, in his past 11 games. All-star goaltender Mike McKenna has played in 36 of the team’s 48 games this season. He has backstopped the team to a 23-10-1-0 record to along with a .920 save percentage, and a 2.31 goals against average.
Sibling Rivalry: When Comets forward Brendan Gaunce hits the ice tonight he will see a familiar face. His brother’s. Brendan’s older brother, Cameron Gaunce, is off to a great start for the Pirates, an all-star start to be. The defenseman has 21 points (2-19-21) on the season so far. Brendan has played as of late and currently sits second on the team in goals (14) and points (28). In his last five games, Gaunce has collected six points (4-2-6), and tied the American Hockey League record for fastest goal to start overtime (five seconds) on Feb. 6.
Shoot and Score: In the last seven games (6-0-1-0) the Comets have collected 29 goals, just a tick under five per game. Prior to that the Comets scored 21 goals in 11 games (1.9 per game), while collecting a 2-7-1-1 record. Scoring three or more goals is important for this season’s Comets. When they 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 23-3-1-1.
Shields Up: The Comets have collected a point in 11 out of 12 games, and a record of 9-1-1-1, in games that defenseman David Shields suits up in. Shields, 24, signed a his second PTO with the team over the weekend to extend his stay in Utica by 25 more games. He originally 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.
Coming for That #1 Spot: Shinkaruk’s 20 goals this season not only paces the team, it also puts him just two goals shy of tying 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 (20), power-play goals (9), and points (37) in 42 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.
Next Game: The Comets continue their quest for their third straight Galaxy Cup victory when the team heads to Syracuse on Friday. Puck drop from the War Memorial is scheduled for 7pm.