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Daws, Utica Comets score solid Game 1 win over Rocket

Ben Birnell
Sports writer
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Posted 4/19/23

The Utica Comets made a statement on the road to open these American Hockey League Calder Cup playoffs.

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Daws, Utica Comets score solid Game 1 win over Rocket


The Utica Comets made a statement on the road to open these American Hockey League Calder Cup playoffs. 

The even-keel Comets were opportunistic offensively, played a solid game defensively – the team blocked countless shots – and second-year netminder Nico Daws was also impressive when needed Wednesday.

It all equaled a dominant start for the No. 4 seed Comets in Game 1 of a first-round North Division playoff series against the No. 5 seed Laval Rocket.

Daws stopped all 33 shots he faced and captain Ryan Schmelzer scored twice – one an empty-netter late – as the Comets scored a 4-0 victory to down the Rocket and quiet a sell-out crowd of 10,275 at Place Bell in Quebec. 

It was the third shutout for Daws, a midseason All-Star selection, in his last six starts with Utica dating back to March 25. Combined with the regular-season, Daws has 19 wins this season.

The 22-year-old, who was making his fifth postseason start after going 2-2 last spring, is the first Comets goaltender to record a playoff shutout since Jacob Markstrom on June 2, 2015 against Grand Rapids. 

Utica will look to carry the effort over to Friday with the opportunity to clinch the best-of-three series. Game 2 is set for 7 p.m. Friday at the Adirondack Bank Center at Utica Memorial Auditorium. A Game 3 would be Saturday in Utica. The winner of the series advances to face Toronto in a North semifinal.

Wednesday was all-around solid effort for the Comets, which had a smattering of these similar outings over an up-an-down regular-season that saw the team climb out of last place in the North in mid-December. 

Wednesday's outing makes for an impressive win considering Utica struggled against Laval during the regular-season. The Rocket won five of six meetings, though Utica's lone win was March 17 in Quebec.

Utica – which had standout forward Alex Holtz and Brian Halonen officially return from extended health-related absences — had 10 players register a point.

Defenseman Reilly Walsh, playing in his second career playoff game after missing most of last spring’s playoff series due to a health-related reasons, and Aarne Talvitie each scored their first postseason goals.

Utica got off to a solid start in the opening 20 minutes against an out-of-sorts Rocket team, which had four consecutive games and eight of the last nine to close the regular-season and claim the last playoff spot. 

Both Daws and Cayden Primeau (20 saves) had some key early saves before Utica grabbed the lead for good. 

With the Comets in the Laval zone, Walsh got the puck near the blue line and then had a give-and-go with Jayce Hawryluk in the right circle. 

Walsh then cut across the slot before slipping a backhander in for his first career point with 7:39 to go in the period. Hawryluk and Jeremy Groleau also got their first AHL playoff points with assists on the goal. 

Daws made a big stop on Lucas Condotta’s short breakaway with 2:00 remaining after a turnover on an unfavorable bounce. 

The Comets continued their solid play in the middle frame and extended the lead with early and late goals.

The team showed their opportunistic side as Tyce Thompson sent a pass from near the boards to Talvitie, who used time and space to score on a 2-on-1 from the right circle less than four minutes into the period.

Utica’s defense limited Laval’s high-scoring offense by blocking opportunities. 

The Comets went ahead 3-0 after a few slick moves and centering feed from behind the net from Holtz to Schmelzer, who scored unchecked in the slot with 1:11 remaining. 

In the third period, Utica was methodical and killed its lone penalty of the game limiting Laval's sixth-ranked power play from the regular-season to few opportunities.

It was the first time this season Laval has been shutout at home. 

Utica Comets 1, Laval Rocket 0
North Division First Round 
Utica 4, Laval 0
Game 2: Laval at Utica, 7 p.m.
Similar to past seasons, the Comets said fans should wear white clothing.
The team will also be giving each fan in attendance a red rally towel.
x-Game 3: Laval at Utica, 7 p.m.
x-if necessary


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