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Amerks drop season opener to Comets



For the first time in nearly 11 months, the Rochester Americans (0-1-0-0) made their long-awaited return to the ice at The Blue Cross Arena, where they nearly erased a two-goal deficit before ultimately coming up short in a 3-2 loss to the Utica Comets (1-0-0-0) to open their 65th season in the American Hockey League.

After signing a tryout agreement earlier this week, Patrick McGrath opened the scoring for Rochester late in the first period before Arttu Ruotsalainen capped of the night with a power-play goal. Two-time Calder Cup champion and goaltender Dustin Tokarski stopped 31 of the 34 shots he faced but suffered the loss.

Along with McGrath, Ruotsalainen and Tokarski, Oskari Laaksonen, Dylan Blujus, Matej Pekar, Steven Fogarty, Ryan Jones, Mattias Samuelsson, Patrick Polino, Dominic Franco and Nick Welsh all made their Amerks debuts.

Kole Lind (2+0) and Sam Anas (0+2), the AHL’s top point-getter from last season, each tallied two points to lead Utica to the victory while goaltender Jon Gillies, who spent the last five seasons with the Stockton Heat, made 27 saves in his season debut for Utica. Jonah Gadjovich rounded out the scoring as he netted his first of slate midway through the second period.

After being outshot 12-3 in the first 20 minutes of play but tied at one goal apiece, Utica appeared to get its road legs as they carried much of the play in the opening 10 minutes of the second period. The Comets grabbed a 2-1 lead, their first of the contest, as Gadjovich capitalized on a turnover atop the slot from Lukas Jasek.

The tally at the 9:25 mark was the only of the middle period and gave Utica a one-goal cushion going into the final period.

Rochester’s deficit doubled seven minutes into the last 20 minutes of play as Lind hammered in his second of the night from the face-off dot to the right of Tokarski. Utica drew its sixth penalty of the night, and after being held off the scoresheet the previous five attempts, Anas teamed up with Mitch Reinke for the go-ahead goal.

The Amerks, despite trailing 3-1 with 13:05 left in regulation, set out on their own power-play. Less than 30 seconds into the infraction, second-year defenseman Jacob Bryson kept the puck inside the offensive zone before centering a pass to Ramus Asplund at the hashmarks. The Swedish forward faked a shot before sending a cross-ice pass to Ruotsalainen for a one-time feed to make it a one-goal game.

Rochester was given another power-play opportunity late in the third, but Gillies and the Comets were able to hold on after seeing Casey Fitzgerald’s shot clang off the goal-post in the final minutes.

During the first period, moments after Rochester’s initial power-play of the contest was unsuccessful, Utica opened the scoring at the 9:43 mark with Lind’s first of the night.

Rochester nearly held the puck in the offensive zone for the length of the man-advantage, however, Anas, Sven Baertschi and Lind countered the attack and went in on a three-on-two odd-man rush. After Anas hit Baertschi in the middle of the face-off circles, Lind fired a shot over the glove of Tokarski to put the visitors up 1-0.

Prior to the end of the first period, the Amerks tied the game at one as Franco banked a pass to Samuelsson atop the left point. With bodies crashing the net, Franco corralled a Samuelsson point shot and slipped the puck between the pads of Gilles. With the puck sitting in the blue paint, McGrath shoveled it past the Utica netminder to even the score with just 25 seconds left in the frame.

The Comets added two more over the second half of the contest and survived a late push by the Amerks to earn the 3-2 win.

The Amerks remain at home on Wednesday, Feb. 10 for their first of 12 meetings on the season against the Syracuse Crunch at The Blue Cross Arena. Game time is slated for a 7:05 p.m. start.