Walsh relishing Calder Cup playoff experience with Utica Comets
UTICA — Reilly Walsh’s experience with the Utica Comets in the Calder Cup playoffs last season was limited.
The defenseman and New Jersey Devils prospect – who played Game 1 last spring and then missed the rest of the series against Rochester due to an appendicitis – is making a mark with the Comets early in this postseason.
There’s added meaning to be able to play during this year’s postseason.
“Definitely,” Walsh said. “Watching us lose to Rochester in that first round (last year) with me being on the sideline definitely sucked. I had to live with that ... just the ‘what ifs?’ We had a couple injuries too. It was definitely a good team (last season) that could have made a run and just peaked at the wrong time. …
“I knew I had a lot of momentum into last year and I found I had a lot of momentum going into these playoffs. I think, for me, it is playing my game and just elevating it. I think I always have another gear. I’m trying to find that. But, that doesn’t mean crazy offensive plays. That could be physical and block shots.”
The Comets’ wins over Laval to send them to the next playoff round against Toronto was the result of two quality efforts throughout the lineup. Utica will need that to continue in its best-of-five series against a tough Marlies team. The series begins at 7 p.m. Thursday in Toronto.
Walsh had a slower start this season but found momentum in the second half on both sides of his game. Offensively, he had nine goals and 41 points in playing all but one of the team’s 72 games.
Walsh celebrated his 24th birthday Friday with a standout game. He made a huge defensive play by knocking a trickling puck out of Nico Daws’ crease in the first period.
He turned in a memorable moment later, sending the crowd into a fever pitch with the game-tying goal with two seconds remaining in regulation and was elated in celebration. Then, he had an animated celebration after being named one of the game’s three stars.
“I was all over the place at the end of that game,” said Walsh, who jokingly described ‘losing consciousness’ after his game-tying goal. “It was just a lot of excitement and kind of just pure happiness. The crowd and I, (it) felt like we bonded pretty well the last few minutes of that game. I kind of just ran out there (post-game) and just flew around the sheet a little bit and just chucked my (souvenirs) and ran off to the locker room.”
Comets coach Kevin Dineen said Walsh’s offense speaks for itself with his dynamic play. One thing he likes is how Walsh’s “emotion is in check.”
“There’s a lot of positivity coming out of him,” Dineen said. “That makes a difference for our team as a whole for a guy like that that doesn’t wear (a letter) A (on his jersey) but to grab the reins as an emotional leader.”
Forward Nolan Foote, who missed Friday’s game, remains day-to-day with an upper-body injury, according to Dineen.
Foote will likely be “questionable” for Game 1, he said.
Forwards Filip Engaras, T.J. Friedmann, Josh Filmon and Timur Ibragimov joined practice a little bit into the session signifying that they are extra players for now.
Utica had 12 healthy forwards at Tuesday’s practice.
One new face was defenseman Santeri Hatakka, who wore a yellow jersey Tuesday. Acquired as part of New Jersey’s trade for Timo Meier, Hatakka has been working his way back from injury and hasn’t appeared in a game since November.
The team had seven healthy defensemen Tuesday, including Mason Geertsen.
The team announced Tuesday that rookie Isaac Poulter is signed for the 2023-24 season.
It is a two-way American Hockey League contract, which relates to salary when playing in the AHL and ECHL.
The 21-year-old goaltender, who is currently with Utica as Daws’ backup, has played admirably when thrust into action this season over 13 games.
Poulter has a 3.62 goals-against average, an .882 save percentage and 7-7-3 record. He also appeared in 22 games for ECHL Adirondack. With Adirondack, he has a 10-8-2 record with a 2.93 goals against average and .910 save percentage.
He is one of three goalies signed to an AHL deal this season along with Mareks Mitens (injured) and Jake Theut.
Poulter is the fourth player under an AHL contract for the 23-24 season, joining captain Ryan Schmelzer and forwards T.J. Friedmann and Erik Middendorf.
Earlier Tuesday, the Comets officially announced defenseman Jarrod Gourley was assigned to Adirondack, which is in the middle of a playoff series against Newfoundland (Toronto’s affiliate).
Gourley had been an extra defenseman for Utica. He’s appeared in eight games with Utica.
Utica Comets vs. Toronto Marlies
North Division semifinals
Game 1: Utica at Toronto, 7 p.m.
The Comets said there will be a watch party at 72 Tavern and Grill, which is attached to the Adirondack Bank Center. The team said there will also be a watch party at the eatery for Game 2.
Game 2: Utica at Toronto, 4 p.m.
Wednesday, May 3
Game 3: Toronto at Utica, 7 p.m.
There were plenty of tickets available as of Tuesday afternoon on empirestatetix.com.
Friday, May 5
x-Game 4: Toronto at Utica, 7 p.m.
Sunday, May 7
x-Game 5: Utica at Toronto, 4 p.m.
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