‘Comfortable’ Akira Schmid ready to be factor in return to Utica Comets
UTICA — Akira Schmid has flourished in his second professional season.
The 22-year-old Swiss goaltender has shown a confidence and impressed while splitting time between the Utica Comets and the parent New Jersey Devils. Last season was about getting pro experience after making the jump from the junior-level United States Hockey League.
“I’ve played with great teams in both (Utica and New Jersey),” Schmid said Tuesday. “They’re making the transition easy to go up there. I try to keep it as similar as possible between the two teams. I feel comfortable in both situations.”
Schmid returned to Utica with Mackenzie Blackwood back from injury. While some were confused about the move because Schmid has shown an ability to be clutch in many of his opportunities, NHL teams typically don’t carry three goaltenders and New Jersey has Vitek Vanecek. And, Schmid was the lone goalie that was eligible to play for Utica. Joining the Comets gives him an opportunity to play more games.
“I think experience plays a role (in being comfortable),” said Schmid, who displays a calm demeanor on and off the ice. “There’s lot of things that you want to work on (in Utica) because you have (more) practice during the week. It helps to work on small things like pace.”
Schmid — arguably an MVP candidate for Utica — joins fellow second-year goalie Nico Daws, who was stellar Saturday in a 1-0 shootout loss to Rochester in his return from a three-week injury absence, again with Utica. Rookie Isaac Poulter, who is 5-2-1 in March after Sunday’s 6-1 loss at Syracuse, is also with the team.
“We feel like that with amount of the games we’ve played in the last little stretch as well the stretch we have coming up, having depth at all positions is vitally important,” Comets coach Kevin Dineen said. “Now we have three quality guys that can practice hard and make the coach’s decision hard when it comes for putting a starter down in the lineup.”
In 20 games with Utica this season, Schmid has a 2.53 goals-against average and a 10-6-5 record. In 17 NHL games, he has 2.24 GAA.
Given his performance, it is possible his return to Utica is limited. He could re-join the playoff-bound Devils at any time. And, next season could see him seize an NHL role.
“To watch the level of maturity and composure he’s played with in big games for the Devils is really exciting,” Dineen said. “I think it is a credit to his parents and upbringing in just his understanding of the mental aspect and playing the game the right way. That’s what I see: Just a level of maturity that’s beyond his years.”
Utica (31-24-6-3 overall) has a slim hold on second place in the North Division as the team tries to seize momentum — and a playoff spot. Utica (71 points) is ahead of Syracuse (70) while Rochester (69) plays Cleveland on Wednesday.
Utica has a home-and-home series with the Amerks this weekend beginning at 7 p.m. Friday in Utica before a 5:05 p.m. meeting Saturday at Rochester. Syracuse visits Utica at 3 p.m. Sunday as part of another crucial weekend.
“Obviously, you try to get ready for playoffs. It is the most fun time of the year,” Schmid said. “It is going to be fun to see what these last eight (regular-season) games have in store for us.”
‘A challenging spot’ for Hawryluk, team
Jayce Hawryluk was obtained at the AHL trade deadline March 3 as an experienced right winger that brings an edge in his game.
More than three weeks later, he hasn’t played a game with the Comets and has yet to arrive in Utica.
Obtained from the Ottawa organization, he’s still dealing with immigration-related issues.
“It is a frustrating time for him and us not to join the team yet,” said Dineen, who noted that Hawryluk did skate with the team when they were at Belleville and Laval in mid-March. “The immigration process has really put us in a challenging spot. He’s impatiently waiting on the other side of the border. As soon as that clears, he’ll be on his way.”
Players deal with immigration-related issues all of the time, but Hawryluk’s situation has seemed like one of the longer instances.
Hawryluk played in Sweden last season and Dineen said with that aspect there might “be more areas to cover.”
“There’s basketball teams, baseball teams and obviously hockey teams north of the border and usually these things are a little more seamless,” Dineen said. “He also had a lower-body injury for the last stretch, so he’s had a good chance to heal that.”
Alex Holtz, who missed Sunday’s game in Syracuse, didn’t practice Tuesday. Dineen said Holtz is “sick right now,” but didn’t elaborate. It is unclear what his status would be for the weekend.
Nolan Stevens missed Sunday after making a return from a 19-game absence due to an upper-body injury Saturday. He appeared to be a full participant Tuesday.
“Our hope is that he can get to the other side of this injury and start being a real competitor every time he’s been in the lineup,” Dineen said.
Forward Brian Halonen missed the last two games due to “a non-hockey-related health issue” that will keep him out for an undisclosed time, Dineen said Saturday.
Michael Vukojevic (broken finger) and Nick Hutchison (upper body) remain out.
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