Dugan relishing opportunity to play closer to home with Utica Comets
UTICA — Jack Dugan’s family has the opportunity to see him play a little more often these days.
That’s because the 24-year-old forward is a little bit closer home as member of the Utica Comets.
Dugan grew up and played high school hockey in Rochester — at McQuaid Jesuit High School — before the sport took him to other parts of the country. He played collegiately at Providence College in Rhode Island and the first two years of his pro career were with AHL Henderson (Nevada).
“It is the closest I’ve been to home since I was 16, I think,” Dugan said Thursday. “It is definitely cool. I’ve got my whole family and my parents coming to a lot of games.”
It helps that North Division rivals Utica and Rochester are set to play 10 times during the 2022-23 season. After a lopsided win last weekend at Belleville, the Comets (7-7-3-1, 18 points) wrap up a three-game road stretch at 7 p.m. Friday at Rochester (11-8-1-1, 24 points) before a contest at 7 p.m. Saturday at Syracuse.
“Those are two big games that hopefully we’ll be able to win,” Dugan said. “I think we have a really good team. I think the first 15 or so games there’s growing pains. It is just guys getting used to each other. Overall, I think we’re finding our footing.”
Dugan has been a key forward for Utica, including having a role on the power play. He has a goal and two assists during a recent three-game point-streak. His 10 points are tied for second-most with Nolan Foote and Reilly Walsh among active Comets players. Brian Pinho leads with 14.
“I think Jack has had plenty of opportunity this year,” Comets coach Kevin Dineen said. “I think he’s done a good job of committing to making himself better in the gym and establish himself as a player in this league. He came out of college after a fabulous college career and he was a finalist for Hobey Baker. ... He’s getting a new opportunity. We see the skillset there and we’re trying to round out his game at both ends of the ice.”
Dugan said there was some nervousness in joining a new organization. He cited that as a reason for a pair of healthy scratches toward the end of November. Dineen referred to them “as a kick in the tail,” after his play was not “up to par.”
Dugan said it is about sticking with what you know as a player.
“I just kept coming to work every day and got back in pretty quick,” he said. “(Dineen) has been great with me. He’s a great communicator.”
Nemec set for world juniors
Eighteen-year-old Slovakian defenseman Šimon Nemec will get an opportunity to represent his country.
Nemec, the No. 2 overall pick in last summer’s draft, is set to join Slovakia for the World Junior Hockey Championship that begins Monday, Dec. 26 in Canada. The parent New Jersey Devils said Wednesday in an article that Nemec would join Slovakia unless there were “injuries or other roster issues” within the organization.
On Thursday, President and General Manager of Slovak Ice Hockey Federation Miroslav Satan tweeted Nemec would be part of the team.
“We couldn’t be happier for him,” said Dineen, who coached Team Canada’s women’s team to a gold medal at the 2014 Olympics and earned bronze with the country’s Under-18 Team for the 2014 IIHF World U18 Championships. “I played in the world championship (in the 1980s). I’m a huge fan of the male and female game at the international level.”
Dineen provided some humor about Nemec’s opportunity: “I couldn’t be more thrilled to see him try to finish in second behind Canada.”
The tournament begins Dec. 26 and runs into early January in Nova Scotia.
Comets General Manager Dan MacKinnon confirmed Thursday that Nemec departs Sunday, Dec. 18. Nemec could miss at least five Utica games depending on how Slovakia performs.
Other Devils prospects in the tournament include: Luke Hughes (U.S.) and Topias Vilen (Finland). Defenseman Seamus Casey (U.S.), goaltender Tyler Brennan (Canada) and Samu Salminen (Finland) could also be involved.
There were 24 players participating in Comets practice Thursday.
That means none of the players on the roster were absent or wearing a no-contact jersey. That includes forwards Aarne Talvitie and Samuel Laberge, who both recently missed time with injuries.
It is the first time this season the team has had all of its active players — 14 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies — available. Two forwards and two defensemen will have to be scratches for games.
“There will be some grumpy bodies around, but that’s the nature of our business,” Dineen said. “If you play the game the right way, there are going to be injuries. It just goes with the territory. I think every time we show video and somebody is blocking a shot, it gets a little snap of the fingers around the room. ... So, those aches and bruises are something that hopefully get managed. If not, then we have the depth to keep moving forward.”
Utica has approximately 39 man-games missed due to injuries or illness this season.
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