Coutesy of the UticaComets.com
Ever since the Comets' Calder Cup run last spring, the Utica Memorial Auditorium has quickly gained a reputation as one of the loudest buildings in all of the American Hockey League.
Their 2015/16 home opener on Wednesday night was no different.
After only converting one goal on 69 shots in two road loses to start the season, the Comets were due to have a breakout performance on the score sheet, and the script was perfectly set in front of an electric crowd on a night where the Comets lifted their North Division and Eastern Conference Champions banners from last year's successful run.
The banners were hung with care... pic.twitter.com/fhIf5u1Z2H— Utica Comets (@UticaComets) October 21, 2015
Former captain Cal O'Reilly, who was waived by the Buffalo Sabres after signing on to hopefully play alongside brother Ryan, dawned the captaincy for Rochester and was a clear fan favourite during his time in Utica.
In what was guaranteed to be an emotional night for the Comets leading playoff scorer from last year's postseason run, it was O'Reilly's former left-winger Hunter Shinkaruk who stole the spotlight in front of a sell-out crowd of 3,815 hockey crazed up-state New Yorkers by potting his first hat trick since his junior days in Medicine Hat.
Shinkaruk later noted in the post-game show that O'Reilly was one of the best teammates he's ever had during an interview with Comets play-by-play man Brendan Burke.
The Comets struck only 2:04 into the first frame when Linden Vey just barely connected with Hunter Shinkaruk at the Americans' blue line. Shinkaruk then blasted past three Rochester defenders to pot his first goal of his season. Taylor received the secondary assist on the power play marker.
Vey, who has pointless in the two previous game with a nasty -4 plus minus, recorded his first helper of the year. Vey should conceivably score at a point-per-game rate playing on the Comets top line with Hunter and Alexandre Grenier; Vey registered 186 points in 203 career games with the Manchester Monarchs (now the Ontario Reign) when he was in the Los Angeles Kings' farm system.
The Amerks got the goal right back, as O'Reilly jumped on the scoresheet by feeding former Flyer Jason Akeson to draw it back up at ones.
The Comets outshot Rochester 19-6 in the first stanza.
Shinkaruk would break the tie late in the second period, clicking on the man advantage once again. Jordan Subban maintained possession while exceuting a spin-o-rama at the top of the zone. Subban fed Brendan Gaunce in the slot area who then put an smart, subtle touch on the puck that found a streaking Shinkaruk well inside the Comets' blue line. Hunter walked in uncontested and ripped one short side past Amerks' goaltender Linus Ullmark for his second tally of the night.
For Subban, it was his first official point in professional hockey if we discredit goal he scored for the Canucks in the 2014 pre-season.
"Shink" then completed the hat trick 6:46 into the final period after a smart pinch by rugged defenceman Audrey Pedan. Pedan gained Rochester's zone with a carry-in entry and sort of faked a shot and fed it over to Nicklas Jensen. Jensen corralled the puck after receiving the pass in his feet and found Shinkaruk all alone right in front of Ullmark. Shinkaruk brought it to his backhand slid it past Ullmark.
Jerome Leduc pulled Rochester to within one on a odd redirection of slapper from Chad Ruhwedel. Alexandre Grenier would score his first goal in the form of an empty netter to restore the Comets two-goal lead.
Full highlights can be found below:
New team captain Alex "The Bulldog" Biega had a team-high seven shots on goal.
The Comets peppered the frozen rubber disc at Ullmark 47 times in total and now have directed 116 SOG on the year, good for 3rd highest in shots for/per game in the AHL at 38.67%.
Their possession stats indicate that Utica has a had a strong start to the season -- Utica is currently 3rd highest in Est.FenwickFor% in close games at 60.8% according to Josh Weissbock's CHL/AHL fancy stats website. Yes, the Comets have only played three games, and the sample size is obviously small and will likely has little no zero effect come April, but, regardless, it's still an encouraging sign to see the Canucks youngsters out possessing teams without Sven Baertschi, Cal O'Reilly and Brendan DeFazio, whom the Comets relied on for offence down the stretch and into their playoff run.
Despite the high shot totals in their two previous games, the team managed just one goal and it was this laser from Nicklas Jensen:
Jensen's goal Assists to Zawleski and Shinkaruk https://t.co/npxOlNPRNv— Winthagame (@WinThaGame) October 11, 2015
Eight different Comets registered an assist in the victory -- Travis Ehrhardt, Jordan Subban, Brendan Gaunce, Nicklas Jensen, Linden Vey, Taylor Fedun, Wacey Hamilton and Andrey Pedan.
The Comets play games on Friday and Saturday night at The Aud against Hershey and Syracuse, respectfully.