Utica Comets ready for Game 3 vs. Toronto Marlies
UTICA — The Utica Comets’ early exit in last season’s American Hockey League postseason provided solid experience for many players.
Forward Aarne Talvitie is among 14 players who experienced last season’s disappointing end in the postseason. The 24-year-old center appreciates the opportunity as the Comets try to push for a longer Calder Cup playoff run this spring.
“Personally, that was a huge experience boost,” said Talvitie, who is in his third pro season. “We were good in the regular-season (last season). Then, in the first round got knocked out of it and it was like ‘what just happened?’ I think it is a big help for what has been expected to win and just playing hard throughout the game no matter what happens.”
Fourth-seeded Utica is looking to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five North Division semifinals series against top-seeded Toronto when the teams meet again at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Adirondack Bank Center. Game 4 is Friday in Utica.
In the first two games against Toronto, Utica navigated through some ups and downs. The team surrendered a 3-0 advantage and forced overtime before falling 6-5 in Game 1. The Comets scored five consecutive goals in Game 2 en route to a 7-2 win.
“Mission accomplished that you get some home ice advantage here,” Comets coach Kevin Dineen said Tuesday. “We liked the way we played in our loss, too. It has the makings for a good series right now.”
He said the team will be ready to go for Game 3.
As Dineen will tell you, the team is the most successful when everyone in the lineup is making contributions. That was evident in Game 2 when all four offensive lines were key and goaltender Nico Daws turned in a solid game.
Notably, Talvitie has been key for Utica against Toronto. He does a little bit of everything while centering the fourth line with Tyce Thompson on his right. Timur Ibragimov was a linemate Saturday.
“Aarne starts with the puck a lot. He’s been good on face-offs, he’s out there killing penalties. He’s certainly contributing on the offense side,” Dineen said. “He’s a big piece for us right now.”
Talvitie, who will be a restricted free agent this offseason with the parent New Jersey Devils, had a goal Saturday with help from a fortuitous bounce that helped give Utica a 2-0 lead.
“There’s a lot of stuff that goes into producing offensively and playing a good defensive game,” said Talvitie, who noted he’s had an up-and-down season. “In the playoffs, the contributions throughout the lineup have been huge.”
Defenseman Topias Vilén, the 20-year-old New Jersey Devils prospect assigned to Utica this week, has gotten acclimated this week with Utica.
Vilén, a fifth round NHL draft pick by the Devils in 2021, joined the Comets Monday after an extended playoff run to the Liiga finals in Finland. Vilen had a standout playoffs with the Lahden Pelicans.
Dineen said “we’re not going to let him feel his way into it” with regard to getting into the lineup. The left-handed Vilén is among eight healthy defensemen on the roster, if Mason Geertsen is counted among them.
“I think (Vilén) has had a fabulous year. We’re excited about his prospects as a member of our organization,” Dineen said. “We feel he can be a contributor right off the bat. Our expectations are to see him sooner than later.”
Dineen said forwards Nolan Foote (upper-body) and Samuel Laberge (undisclosed) are expected to be doubtful for Game 3. Foote hasn’t played since Game 1 against Laval on April 19.
Laberge earns honor
Forward Samuel Laberge is the Comets’ recipient of the AHL Man of the Year award for the 2022-23 season.
The award goes to a player for their outstanding contributions to the local community and charitable organizations during the season.
Laberge earned the team’s community service award last month, so the Man of the Year honor isn’t surprising. It is the first time Laberge has earned the honor.
The Comets noted in a news release Laberge “has been an outstanding pillar of the
community since coming to Utica” last season. That includes community appearances, working with the team’s kids club and spending time at a local parish.
Recently, it was his idea to raise money for charity, helping total $5,000 and shaving his hair.
Laberge was twice awarded the QMJHL Humanitarian of the Year award while playing for Rimouski Océanic in juniors, the Comets said.
He’s among 32 finalists for the AHL’s 2022-23 Yanick Dupré Memorial Award, which will be announced Thursday.
Toronto 1, Utica 1
North Division semifinals
Toronto 6, Utica 5, OT
Utica 7, Toronto 2
Game 3: Toronto at Utica, 7 p.m.
Friday, May 5
Game 4: Toronto at Utica, 7 p.m.
Tickets for Games 3 and 4 are available at empirestatetix.com.
Sunday, May 7
x-Game 5: Utica at Toronto, 4 p.m.
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