UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - The Utica Comets recorded a franchise record 44 shots on goal but were defeated 2-1 by the Abbotsford Heat on Friday evening at the Utica Memorial Auditorium. With the point, the Comets inched a little bit closer to the playoff line in the Western Conference and now sit five behind eighth place Charlotte.
Alex Friesen scored the lone goal for the Comets, while Joacim Eriksson turned aside 28 of 30 shots in defeat. Joni Ortio was named the game’s first star with a 43 save effort, while Sven Bertschi and Ben Street scored for the visitors.
For the first time in eight games, the Comets scored a first period goal as Alex Friesen’s impressive effort found its way past Ortio 8:14 into the game. While shorthanded, Friesen made a series of moves on Abbotsford defenseman Chad Billins and dumped the puck to Jeremy Welsh behind the net who hit Friesen with a no look feed for the goal. The tally was Friesen’s third of the season, while Welsh recorded his eight point with the assist.
The Comets appeared to have made their way to the locker rooms with a lead through 40 minutes but the Heat had a bit of dramatics up their sleeves as they scored exactly as the buzzer sounded. Winger Sven Baertschi was the Abbotsford goal scorer, the tenth marker of the season for the winger. Street and defenseman Derek Smith were awarded the assists on the play.
The third period featured a back and forth game as both teams nearly found a winner. An Abbotsford chance in front from Tim Miller slipped through Eriksson’s pads but did not cross the goal line as the Utica netminder recovered just in time to keep it out with his glove hand. The Comets had a golden chance of their own just a few minutes later as Yann Sauve walked in from the point and fired a wrist shot past Ortio, but off of the left post.
The Comets were keen to make it five straight in overtime contests, but came up just short as Street ended the game 2:19 into the extra session. Street’s goal was a team high fourth this against the Comets and was his 25th this season, also tops on the Heat. Chad Billins and Max Reinhart collected the assists on the play, Reinhart’s ninth point against Utica.
Despite the loss, Eriksson retains good numbers against the Heat, with a .941 save percentage and a 1.83 goals against average to accompany a 5-3-0 record. Friesen remained hot as of late, with his seventh point over his past nine games.
The Comets remain right in the thick of the playoff hunt, with two crucial games on the slate tomorrow and Sunday. Utica and Abbotsford meet again tomorrow evening at The AUD, with puck drop slated for 7:00 p.m. Tomorrow is also Salute the Troops night, with several branches of the Armed Forces being honored. The Comets also faceoff with the Iowa Wild on Sunday in a matinee matchup, slated to begin at 3:00 p.m.