The New Jersey Devils had a bad 2021-22 season. The team’s affiliate in the American Hockey League had a fantastic 2021-22 season. The Utica Comets, the Devils’ first season with the Comets, came out storming into the season and finished first in the North Division with a record of 43-20-9. Head coach Kevin Dineen got a lot out of his players from veterans like Chase De Leo, A.J. Greer, Robbie Russo, and Frederik Gauthier to prospects like Fabian Zetterlund, Alexander Holtz, and Reilly Walsh. Utica’s power play was very potent and their penalty kill was solid based on their respective success rates. The Comet goalies - mostly led by Nico Daws and Akira Schmid - have been good too. Whereas the Devils suffered, the Comets soared. As a result, the Comets are not only in the playoffs, but with a high seed.
The AHL Calder Cup playoff format is different from the NHL playoffs. 23 teams were set to qualify in a divisional based format. There are a series of best-of-three playoff series, the First Round, where the winner qualifies for the Division Semifinals, which are a best-of-five series - which is where the other teams join in. Since the four AHL divisions are unequal in size, this is an unbalanced bracket. The North and Central Divisions had 4th and 5th place battle it out for the right to play for 1st in their division. The Atlantic Division had two series - 3rd and 6th place face each other and 4th and 5th place face off - to play the 1st and 2nd place teams, respectively. In the Pacific Division, only the 1st place team does not need to qualify. The other six teams do: 2nd versus 7th, 3rd versus 6th, and 4th versus 5th. The playoffs do not become a best of seven series until the Conference Finals and the Calder Cup Finals.
What this all means is that the Calder Cup Playoffs already started. Since Utica finished first, it does not begin until tonight for them. Oddly, the other North Division semifinals already started (it’s 1-1 between Syracuse and Laval) That is why you are seeing this open post today and not earlier.
The Division Semifinals: The Utica Comets (#1, 43-20-9) versus the Rochester Americans (#5, 37-29-10, NHL Affiliate Blog: Die by the Blade).
About the First Opponents: The Rochester Americans got here by beating the Belleville Senators 2-0 in a best-of-three series. In Game #1, Rochester made a three-goal comeback in the third period to force overtime. Arttu Ruotsalainen ended it for the Americans at 16:54 into the overtime period. In Game #2, Rochester scored first and second. They entered the third period up 3-1 with a brace by Ruotsalainen. However, it was Belleville’s turn to make a third period comeback with two goals in the period. Overtime was needed again and it was another long one. Brett Murray finished it for Rochester at 17:39 to give them the win and the right to face the Comets.
The Rochester Americans are the AHL affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres. The Americans are led up front by rookies John-Jason Peterka and Jack Quinn, Ruotsalainen, Michael Mersch, Bretty Murray, Brandon Biro, and Mark Jankowski. Their blueline is led by Ethan Prow and Josh Teves. Goaltending has had a lot of different names, with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Aaron Dell leading the group in appearances. (Aside: Dell is the only ex-Devil I identified on Rochester’s roster. Apologies if I missed anyone.) Dell has been the one in the net for the two playoff games, so expect more of Dell. Rochester’s power play finished with the highest success rate in the North at 23.5% (and the most shorthanded goals allowed at 14) and the second lowest success rate on the penalty kill at 79.5%. The latter may be an issue as they finished with the second most penalty minutes in the division.
While they finished fifth in the division, they do have the advantage of being sharper by playing two games - to overtime, no less - while the Comets have only been practicing. In the AHL season, the Comets went 5-6 against the Americans. The Comets beat the Americans 6-2 on October 17, 3-2 on November 17, 5-3 on November 20, 4-2 on February 18, 3-2 in OT on April 22. The Comets lost to the Americans 2-4 on November 24, 3-4 in OT on December 8, 6-7 on January 12, 2-3 on March 12, 2-4 on March 30, and 1-7 on April 29. Of note that the losses were more recent than their wins. Between that last game on April 29 and Rochester beating Belleville twice in overtime to get into this series, the Americans may have plenty of confidence for the first game.
The Divisional Semifinals Series Schedule: It is a best of five and it starts tonight.
- May 10 - Comets vs. Rochester, 7 PM ET
- May 14 - Comets vs. Rochester, 7 PM ET
- May 15 - Comets at Rochester, 5 PM ET
- May 17 - Comets at Rochester, 7 PM ET (If necessary)
- May 19 - Comets vs. Rochester, 7 PM ET (If necessary)
Games will be available locally and AHL.TV. Want tickets? Here’s the site from the Utica Comets’ website.
If You’re Going to Utica: Wear white. They’re doing a Whiteout. It is a tradition dating back to 1987.
The Rules: All usual site rules apply for this open post. No bad language, no illegal comments (read: no streams, I don’t care how much AHL.tv is expensive, no streams), no personal attacks, and all comments here are to be about the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs.