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Stevens filling key roles with Comets

Ben Birnell
Sports writer
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Posted 11/29/22

Time flies when you get to do something you enjoy.

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Stevens filling key roles with Comets

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UTICA — Time flies when you get to do something you enjoy.

The old adage could be applied to Utica Comets forward Nolan Stevens, who is in his fifth professional season.

The 26-year-old appeared in his 200th and 201st American Hockey League games last weekend while helping the Comets earn three of four points against the Charlotte Checkers.

The forward said Tuesday he wasn’t aware of the milestone when asked by a reporter. While he’s played 12 games this season with Utica, he also appeared in 27 games with the team during the shortened 2021 campaign as a member of the St. Louis Blues organization. His older brother, John, was also part of that Comets team. He’s a member of the Vancouver Canucks organization.

“(200 games) sounds like a lot,” said Stevens, who has played for San Antonio, Springfield and Iowa. “I feel like I’ve had a lot of ups and downs through those 200 games. It is kind of nice to look back. There’s a lot to learn from those 200 games, for sure.”

He’ll have an opportunity to add more experience with three games this week as the Comets (6-6-2-1, 15 points) get some good tests against the three North Division teams from Canada. Utica is set to play visiting Laval at 7 p.m. Wednesday before getting a visit from division-leading Toronto at 7 p.m. Friday. Utica travels to Belleville for a 7 p.m. Saturday game.

“I think we’re a team that has a lot of new bodies and sometimes that takes a little bit to get some continuity and get going,” Stevens said. “I feel like (the Charlotte trip) was good for us to get some traction. Hopefully, we can build on that moving forward.”

Stevens has provided a versatile skillset with the Comets. He’s been a staple on the Comets’ power play (21.2%, 15th in the AHL) and the penalty kill (76.1%, 21st) while also playing in different spots in the lineup. He noted the return to Utica has been “a fresh start.”

“I think I’m a guy that takes pride in playing up and down the lineup,” Stevens said. “Whatever the team needs at the time, I’m going to try to provide. It has been good.”

Comets coach Kevin Dineen said the organization “knew what it was getting in Nolan.” Notably, Stevens’ dad, John, played on the same Hartford Whalers team as Dineen.

“He comes from a hockey family. He’s a very astute player. He has a good feel for the game,” Dineen said of the younger Stevens. “There’s a reason he’s the first over the boards on the penalty kill. He’s done a good job (in the) net-front (role) on the power play.”

Stevens showed off good hands and awareness in scoring his first goal of the season last Wednesday in a 3-2 win over Belleville. During a power play, Stevens was in front of the net when he got the puck and flicked it high past the goalie.

Dineen noted Stevens has had an opportunity to work with skills coaches this season to help hone his game.

“I’ve been really impressed with the resources of the organization and how they’re willing to help everyone in the room get a little bit better,” Steven said. “That’s been awesome.”

Roll call

Forward Aarne Talvitie (undisclosed) is “at least a week” from a return, Dineen said.

Forward Samuel Laberge (lower-body injury) skated after main practice Tuesday. However, Dineen said “at this point, he is weekly” in terms of a possible time frame.

Dineen also “didn’t know” whether a forward would be recalled from Utica with New Jersey’s Nate Bastian expected to be out for an extended period.

“The good thing for us, is we have lots of options to fill quality roles,” Dineen said.

Goaltender Nico Daws remained on recall with New Jersey as of 7 p.m. Tuesday. Dineen wasn’t sure when Daws might return, noting “we’ll be able to put our full lineup on the ice (Wednesday).”

The Comets do have rookie Isaac Poulter — who earned his first pro win Saturday against Charlotte —and were helped in practice by Utica University coach Adam Dekker on Tuesday. Dekker has filled-in in during practices in previous seasons and served as an emergency backup in rare instances.

The Comets hadn’t officially announced an addition to the roster Tuesday evening. The ECHL transactions page listed 29-year-old Jake Theut being loaned to Utica from ECHL affiliate Adirondack. He’s played in nine consecutive games for the Thunder, but doesn’t have any AHL experience.

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