Golden Goose Eggs – Utica Goalie Markstrom Seeks AHL Shutout Streak Record
By Jay Flemma – Special to Facewash Magazine
UTICA, NY – When the foghorn blared for the last time Saturday night at the Utica Aud, the ovation that rocked the arena from the basement to the rafters was more than just a tribute, it was an acknowledgement. The word had spread from the hockey stats geeks throughout the fanbase, and now everyone knew – from Italian grandmothers to baby-faced school kids and everyone in between: The next time they saw their beloved Comets return to the Aud, the team could make AHL history.
With his third straight shutout, a 4-0 drubbing of division rival Toronto, Utica Comets goalie Jacob Markstrom stands just 36 minutes and four seconds from setting the all-time, league record for most consecutive shutout minutes.
That record is a Gold Standard measuring stick for a goalie – critically important – one of the most significant records in this storied, venerable, 78-year old league and a benchmark by which the true greats of the position can be measured. Since surrendering a mid-1st period goal to the same Marlies team on opening night, Markstrom has tallied 232 minutes and 13 seconds of scoreless hockey, just 36:04 shy of the AHL record of 268:17. He’s blanked San Antonio, Adirondack, and Toronto in that time, turning back a total of 84 consecutive shots over the three games, two of which were against division rivals.
Talk about a stratospheric stat line – look at these numbers:
— he has stopped 108 of 109 shots overall;
—that’s a .991 save percentage; and
—his goals against average stands at a sterling 0.25 per game.
He’s on a real good run,” said Comets Head Coach Travis Green. “He’s seeing the puck well, and he works hard.”
Well the results are showing in the biggest way. It’s been four-and-a-half decades since a team in the area made an impact on not just a league-wide, but game-wide scale.
Poor Barry Brust! He broke the 55-year old record of Johnny Bower in November of 2012 net-minding for the now-defunct Abbottsford Heat (now the Adirondack Flames), but he may hold the record for less than two years if there is a goose egg by Binghamton’s line score with 3:55 to play in the second period Friday night. Utica’s other stellar keeper, Joacim Eriksson took first star honors last night in a 3-2 Utica win over the Senators in Binghamton. In what was the Comets’ fourth straight win, Eriksson made 27 while defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti tallied the game-winning goal in the second period.
Still, for the moment, Markstrom is the lead story on a team that has become the darlings of hockey for the feel-good way in which they have electrified the entire region.
“It’s amazing what Markstrom’s been doing right now. He’s been phenomenal…and it’s really fortunate that we have two goalies going back and forth like that,” said super-star forward Alexander Grenier.
Strictly as an aside, while some casual observers may off-handedly dismiss Comets Head Coach Travis Green’s unorthodox system – alternating the two as a matter of course – as “musical goalies,” but winning talks and everything else walks. In a way, it’s the simplest system ever – no thinking necessary! Never mind stats, match-ups, or won-loss records of the other squad: Markstrom starts and wins, then Eriksson starts and wins, then Markstrom starts and wins, then Eriksson starts and wins: lather, rinse repeat. Is Travis Green the smartest coach in the AHL or the luckiest? He may well be both! “Yes, and also yes,” as musician Mike Doughty might sing.
But now the Markstrom and the Comets have the fans in Utica singing a different Mike Doughty tune: “What is this happiness? It was not ever thus!” (Well at least not since 1970, when the Clinton Comets last won the EHL.) Buoyant with anticipation, the region’s fans have embraced the team with both arms, partly for their winning ways, but more importantly for their winning attitude. At long last a Utica team could be in the record books for the right reason. For once, it’s Utica winning games in spectacular fashion, scoring short-handed goals instead of surrendering them, winning the puck battles that lead to gritty goals, and denting the twine with the redirections that always used to sail just wide. Utica, once the butt of jokes in beer commercials and on The Simpsons, is now the epicenter of the AHL and is making all hockey stand up and cheer. The Comets lead the entire Western Conference with 13 points and are tied with the Albany Devils for the most points in the league.
“It’s the team,” explains Markstrom, whose only goal against was 7:27 into the first period of their first game in Toronto on Oct. 11. “Guys were blocking shots even with four minutes left on the 3rd period, and the D-men were doing a fantastic job boxing out. I can see almost every shot with them keeping the crease clear.”
He’s absolutely right: the defense has been mesmerizing, especially the penalty kill: three home games, three shorthanded goals, one each game. Meanwhile the team hasn’t given up a power play goal since the second period of last Friday’s game against San Antonio.
“The defense has been superb, giving up only one PP goal all season,” admired hockey fan Pete Connors, proudly sporting his Brandon DeFazio jersey. “But there’s so much more to like! They play an exciting, up-tempo game, going to the net, getting lots of shots, and their forcing turnovers at the blue line, and the transition game has been lightning. It’s fundamentally sound, winning hockey, and it’s paying off on the scoreboard.”
“They’re the best thing to happen to this city in years,” agreed Comets fan Mike Mosely. Saranac, the Boilermaker, and the Comets – that’s a tri-fecta!” he finished triumphantly.
The Comets name has always had mojo: they won the EHL playoffs in 1958-59, 1963–64, 1967–68, 1968–69 and 1969-70. Now this new generation of Comets seeks to streak to their own glorious history and take the whole area with them.
They carry themselves with pride and a dedicated work ethic. They want to win, are willing to go to any length necessary to put themselves in position to win, and when they have to they can close tight games out. They win the scrappy battles, yet they can fly past you with their speed and skill: they are doubly dangerous and can play any style of hockey. Best of all, they make the other teams play their game, not vice-versa.
“They are an inoculation against the culture of losing that plagued the teams that came before them,” explained Connors. “Change is in the air, and we’re all loving it.”
Ernesto the Prediction Iguana went a dismal 3-3 last week, 1-2 in teasers, dropping the season totals to a mediocre 7-8 in teasers, 20-10 overall. Who knew the Steelers would turn into a football team after those miserable losses to Cleveland, Baltimore, and Tampa? Thanks Packers for not covering, (for the first time this year with us anyway). And the normally useless Redskins finally won over what were the high-flying Cowboys.
As such, Ernesto is off on his yearly vacation, (which he hasn’t earned this year, but he’s off anyway…), so the cats are left to fill in for a few weeks. Squeakers takes her turn this weekend. When not hiding under the bed because her owner, Crazy Agatha, is a drunken mess half the time, she likes playing Kitty Soccer, eating tuna, and hunting mice. She also successfully recovered from cancer surgery as well, so well done Squeakers!
PATRIOTS-broncos OVER 38
DOLPHINS-chargers OVER 38
The Pats or Broncos should score that much themselves. Meanwhile, it’s nice to see Miami and San Diego playing well and offering us something besides the usual AFC suspects. With the NFL average at 43 PPG, these two should have no problem hitting 38.
TAKE THE POINTS!
NINERS -1.5 vs. rams
eagles +8.5 at TEXANS
The Eagles will BEAT the Texans straight up, so take the bloated 8.5. The Rams are an ATM machine in reverse.
raiders +22 at SEAHAWKS
STEELERS-ravens OVER 38
“What? Squeakers is playing OAKLAND???!!! She’s nuttier than Crazy Agatha!” you say? No…Squeakers is taking the 22 points. We have a rule here at AWITP: if you get 20 points, you take it. We’ve lost only one play in three years taking 20 or more. Though Oakland is winless, they only lost one game this season by 20 or more. As for Pittsburgh and Baltimore, those two defenses are former shells of themselves. And Pittsburgh can’t stop anyone.
We’ll have our recap of last night’s COMETS-marlies game up later tonight. In the meantime, never let it be said that we don’t engage in self-effacing humor here:) Send in your captions too. Winner gets their’s published. AND KEEP IT CLEAN PEOPLE:) The best so far…
10. I had one drink with Jay and look what happened.
9. Who’s that weird space alien with Audie?
8. I said take me to your LEADER…
7. Wow, the Incredible Hulk has really let himself go.
6. ***Insert voice of Emperor Palpatine*** “I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment, my little green friend…”
5. It must be Doppleganger Week on Facebook again.
4. At the NASA Space Academy “Welcome New Recruits” event
3. Miley Cyrus’s real parents
2. Wow. Audie knows Frodo Baggins. That’s cool.
1. These aren’t the droids we’re looking for either.