UTICA, N.Y. – After upsetting the Belleville Senators in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, the Rochester Americans will take on their in-state rival, the Utica Comets, in a North Division semifinal that is sure to entertain.
At the beginning of the season, most people would have predicted this to be the North Division final, but a weak second half of the season by the Amerks begged the question, “will the Amerks even make the playoffs?” Now that they have, they have a legitimate shot to knock the top-seeded Comets out of Calder Cup contention. As for the Comets, they’ve cooled off a bit, going 4-4-2-0 in their last ten games including an 8-1 loss to the Amerks to close out the season.
Final Regular Season Records:
Utica Comets: 43-20-8-1 .660 points percentage (1st in the North Division)
Rochester Americans: 37-29-7-3, .553 points percentage (5th in the North Division)
How They Got Here:
Utica finished the season slow, but a strong start was enough to guarantee them the first seed in the North Division playoffs. As for the Rochester Americans, they found a way to sneak into the playoffs on the final day of the season and their prize was the Belleville Senators. After clawing their way back in game one, the Amerks took both games by a score of 4-3 in overtime to secure their spot in the second round.
Series Schedule (Home team in CAPS and all times local):
Game 1 – Tuesday, May 10 – Rochester at UTICA – 7:00 pm ET
Game 2 – Saturday, May 14 – Rochester at UTICA – 7:00 pm ET
Game 3 – Sunday, May 15 – Utica at ROCHESTER – 5:05 pm ET
Game 4 – Tuesday, May 17 – Utica at ROCHESTER – 7:05 pm ET*
Game 5 – Thursday, May 19 – Rochester at UTICA – 7:00 pm ET*
Season Series Recap:
As we all know, Utica started the season with a bang, and that included taking the first three matchups against the Amerks. During the Comets’ 13-game winning streak to start the season, everyone circled games against the Amerks as potential streak-breaking contests, which became a reality on November 24th when the Amerks defeated the Comets 4-2, giving them their first loss of the season.
The usual suspects played big roles in the season series for both squads. For Utica, AJ Greer was excellent, putting up 15 points (7G, 8A) in 11 games played. Chase De Leo averaged nearly a point per game, registering eight points (3G, 5A) in the nine games he suited up for. Perhaps the thing that Comets fans have to look forward to most is the return of, Fabian Zetterlund, who was an Amerks assassin this season. Before being called up to the parent club, Zetterlund put up more than a point-per-game with eight points (4G, 4A) in seven games played. Alexander Holtz faced a similar situation, only playing in seven games for the Comets against the Amerks, but registering six points (4G, 2A) in those seven contests.
Games between Utica and Rochester prove to be high-scoring affairs. In their twelve-game season series, there were 85 goals scored, good for 7.08 goals per game. Needless to say, none of the goaltenders available for this series are looking back at the regular season for a boost of confidence, with the exception of Aaron Dell, who only started in two games but posted a .949 save percentage and a goals against average of 1.50. Nico Daws and Akira Schmid started the season series strong, but Daws finished with a save percentage of .898 and Schmid finished with a save percentage of .868.
AHL Rookie of the Year Jack Quinn only played in eight of the 12 matchups between the Comets and the Amerks this season, but he certainly put on a show whenever he was on the ice. Quinn led Amerks goal scorers with 14 points (4G, 10A) against the Comets in only eight games, while Sean Malone played at over a point-per-game pace as well, registering 11 points (5G, 6A) in eight games played. Peyton Krebs only suited up for four games between the two squads, but managed a point-per-game with two goals and two assists, good for four points. JJ Peterka was consistent in the series as well with nine points (5G, 4A) in 11 games played.
How Utica Wins:
Simply put, the Utica team that started the season 13-0-0-0 needs to return to the ice. After such a hot start, it felt like the Comets were in the clubhouse well before everyone else and their play on the ice was demonstrative of that. Utica has proven to be a team that does its work by committee. While none of their players may have led the league in scoring, four Comets – De Leo, Zetterlund, Greer, and Holtz – ended the season with over 50 points and 20 goals respectively. Luckily for the Comets, Zetterlund and Holtz will return to the lineup, a pair of very welcomed additions.
Similar to any team that matches up against the Rochester Americans, the Comets will have to stay out of the box. While Rochester only capitalized on one of their six opportunities in their opening-round series against the Senators, their power play is dangerous. Luckily for the Comets, they finished the regular season in the top-1o on the penalty kill and found themselves a man-down the least amount of times in the entire AHL this season.
Finally, Utica needs Schmid and Daws to be slightly better than how they finished their season. Schmid and Daws don’t need to be the best players on the ice, but they have to make a crucial save or two down the stretch to keep Rochester from piling it on like they did to close the regular season, putting up four against both goaltenders.
How Rochester Wins:
It all starts with Jack Quinn. Quinn was left off of the scoresheet in Rochester’s opening series and the Amerks will not beat the Comets if that remains the case. Luckily for the Amerks, Arttu Ruotsalainen had his way with the Belleville Senators, so Quinn’s absence from the scoresheet wasn’t quite as noticeable. Perhaps the Amerks need another player to have an eye-popping performance to upset the Comets. Amerks’ captain Michael Mersch or Sean Malone could be good candidates for that honor.
Mattias Samuelsson is another player to watch out for – he’s looking to return from injury and make and make an immediate impact on this postseason run for Rochester. If he can return, it would be huge for a blue line that has struggled tremendously at times this season. The Amerks were bullied by the Senators for the first 40 minutes of their first-round matchup – they need to make sure that doesn’t happen against the Comets, or they may not have a fighting chance in this series.
If it all starts with Quinn, then it certainly all ends with Aaron Dell. He was perhaps the best player for the Amerks against the Senators, and he’ll need to keep it up against the Comets. If Dell can keep the Amerks in it by allowing three goals or less per game, an upset could be in order. Rochester has shown in these playoffs they can score, and they can score quickly. The Amerks don’t need Dell to shutout the Comets every night, but they need him to give them a chance.
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