UTICA — It won’t erase the tough season the Utica Comets have had, but Friday night’s 8-1 win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins had it all.
The scoring outburst set a team record for a single period and a game. Reid Boucher had a hat trick capped with his team best 31st goal of the season. Coach Trent Cull also called it Marek Mazanec’s best game in net.
And the Comets had each other’s backs in seven fights.
Along with three from Boucher, the Comets got goals from Lukas Jasek, Tom Pyatt, Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich and Jaime Sifers. Mazanec made 24 saves for his second straight win.
Gadjovich started the scoring with the lone goal of the first period, shoveling a backhand shot past Penguins netminder John Muse three minutes into the game. Wacey Hamilton and Jasek picked up the assists. That was it for the first period, but things would heat up for a wild second period at the Utica Aud.
Boucher doubled the lead with a snipe from the left circle 1:38 into the middle frame, sneaking the puck inside the post. Brendan Gaunce had the assist. Pyatt scored on a power play three minutes later, looping in a loose puck over the goalie and a tangle of bodies in front of the net. Zack MacEwen and Tanner Kero tallied assists.
There were five fights in the second half of the period, as the game the Penguins needed in their push for the playoffs slipped away from them.
Boucher scored his second of the night and 30th of the season. at the 10:58 mark of the second, taking advantage of a Penguins turnover and deking out Muse. The lone Penguins goal was scored by Jarrett Burton 48 seconds later. Boucher got his hat trick with seven minutes to go in the second, banking a backhand off of Muse from behind the goal line for a power play score. Kero and Pyatt collected the assists. Jasek — on the power play — and Lind scored with a pair of wrist shots two minutes apart to bring the score to 7-1 after 40 minutes.
The seven-goal period was a team record.
“Everybody was sticking together and standing up for each other,” said Boucher after the win. “It’s good to win games and we did in pretty big fashion.” He added, “They guys are pretty fired up about a big win.”
After the sixth and seventh fighting majors of the game were handed out within the first minute of the period, Sifers kept the onslaught going with a wrist shot from the slot while the team was short handed.
“We’ve always talked about our team work ethic,” said Cull. He said the players have held themselves accountable to each other, and the fights proved they’re still “sticking up for each other.” The Comets “were physical when we needed to be.”
As for the offensive fireworks, Cull said, the goal was important and “our power play looked as dangerous as it has in a long time.” The scoring, he said, “was very impressive.”
Cull called it “Marek’s best start by far,” a game where he looked solid, composed and big in net.
Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning was at the game to get a look at the team’s AHL affiliate. “Utica is an important part of what we’re doing up in Vancouver,” he said after the win. He noted how the franchise called up Ashton Sautner, Guillaume Brisebois and Thatcher Demko, and has had players like McEwen up for a time too. He said Brisebois is on the cusp of being a full-time NHL player and McEwen “didn’t look out of place” in his four games with the parent club earlier this year.
“Having a good minor league team is important to the development of our young players,” Benning said. The Canucks earlier this season signed an deal to keep the team in Utica up to an additional six years. “It’s been a good working relationship.”
Benning was also supportive of the Comets’ coaching staff, who he said have “worked hard with the young players.” And when asked what Cull’s future will be with the franchise, he said: “He’ll be back next year.”
The Comets are back at it today with a 7 p.m. game on the road against the Hershey Bears.
They end the season with a home game against the Syracuse Crunch on Sunday afternoon at 5 back at the Aud.