If you follow Phantoms hockey, you probably know Nina. Maybe not personally, but you know her photographs, which have appeared on our friend Tony’s Highland Park Hockey and our friend Brent’s Flyerdelphia sites–as well as here, once or twice. We’re all Phantoms fans now, but like many of us, she was a hockey fan before the Phantoms came to town–with other loyalties. She’s been looking forward to the Utica visit, and sent along the following preview:
The Utica Comets, who until this season played in the Western Conference, make their first ever visit to Allentown Saturday as members of the Eastern Conference. We see the same intra-conference teams so often in the AHL, it’s a bit of a treat to get a first look at a new opponent. They get a first look at the PPL Center.
The previous two match ups between the Phantoms and the Comets could not have been more different.
Their first meeting on Thanksgiving Eve was a lopsided, penalty-laden touchdown. Utica won it 7 to 1; Palushaj with the sole tally. After allowing one goal in the first period, Anthony Stolarz mysteriously did not return for the second, and was replaced by Martin Oullette; Cannata was in net for Utica. Utica seized command in the second, scoring three goals in the last four minutes. Sam Morin took his first fighting major, and made a mess of Joseph LaBate, who got stitched up and returned to sink one en route to being the evening’s number three star. Former Phantom Blair Jones had two goals and was the number one star.
A week later in their return to the AUD, after an eventful bus ride, Lehigh Valley played a much more disciplined and patient game. Anthony Stolarz, spectacular in net, stopped 27 of 28 shots and was first star. 2015 AHL All Star Richard Bachman was in net for Utica. With Leier in the box for a double minor, this was some of the best penalty killing the Phantoms have done all season. The Phantoms played a very determined, very focused game. It was a close one that finally tilted the Phantoms way late in the third.
Saturday is the third meeting between these teams this season. Blair Jones, Lehigh Valley’s first Gordie Howe hat trick holder, returns to the PPL Center. With both teams right around the .500 mark, Utica is in the eighth and final playoff spot, with Lehigh Valley outside at number 12. Not that much ground separates them statistically.
Players to watch:
Hunter Shinkaruk: LW: This year’s All Star selection is an offensive weapon and hard to contain. Fast and shifty, keep an eye on him.
Jordan Subban: D: The youngest of the talented Subban family, he is near the top in production but has a way to go in his own end.
Utica has the weapons of size (Grenier, Archibald), speed (Shinkaruk) and skill (Zalewski, Gaunce) but has yet to find the consistency of last season.
With 25 sellouts this season in a building that holds 3,850 fans, the Comets are accustomed to loud. I am curious to see their response to ~9,000 fans in orange.
The Comets return to PPL in two weeks for their final match up of the season.
- A young franchise like Lehigh Valley, AHL hockey returned to Utica and the AUD for the 2013 – 2014 season.
- Utica Coach Travis Green said in Thursday’s press conference, that Brandon Prust will not dress this weekend. Prust was assigned to Utica on February 4 and has yet to suit up for the Comets.
- Utica’s GM is Robert Esche. The Flyers and Coyotes swapped Brian Boucher for Esche in 2002, where he remained until 2008; he also represented the USA in the 2006 Olympics in Turin.
- Taylor Leier played for Travis Green on the WHL Champion Portland Winterhawks in 2012 – 2013.
- Cam Reid has suited up for both teams this season.
- Joe Rehkamp played his first professional game in Utica on December 2, 2015.
- Canuck veteran Chris Higgins has 5 points in 7 games since being reassigned on January 27.
- Current call ups to Vancouver: Captain Alex Biega (D), Alex Friesen (C), Yannick Weber (D). Not sure Weber even got on a plane, he yo-yoed so quickly.
- The oldest active AHL building and the newest active AHL building? Close to it!
Follow Nina on Twitter: @trancemoment