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Holtz's two-goal game helps Utica Comets score home win over Belleville

Ben Birnell
Sports writer
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Posted 3/10/23

Alex Holtz returned to the Utica Comets last month to get game reps in after spending most of this season scratched from the NHL lineup. He played a big part in Friday's game for the Comets.

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Holtz's two-goal game helps Utica Comets score home win over Belleville


UTICA – Alex Holtz returned to the Utica Comets last month to get game reps in after spending most of this season scratched from the NHL lineup.

The goal for the 21-year-old Swedish winger and 2020 No. 7 draft pick of the New Jersey Devils is to continue to develop all aspects of his game following a breakout season last year with Utica.

Oh, and it is a chance to help the Comets pile up some vital victories as the team continues a push for a spot in the American Hockey League playoffs. 

Holtz turned in a memorable game offensively, showing some of his skill in scoring on a penalty shot in regulation and then adding the game-winner 47 seconds into overtime to help the Comets score a 4-3 victory over the Belleville Senators on Friday in the first of two meetings over the next six days between the North Division teams. 

In 3-on-3 overtime Friday, Holtz came off the bench and got a pass near center ice. He headed into the zone before cutting to his right and firing from the top of the right circle. He released a shot with a defender near him and the puck sailed past the stick of goalie Luke Richardson, who was making his third AHL start. Holtz was mobbed by teammates near center ice.

He also had a successful penalty shot in the second period helped tie the game after the Comets fell behind by two goals. 

Comets coach Kevin Dineen said while Holtz’s “fingerprints” are a big part of the win, the winger would be the first to acknowledge he’s got some areas to clean up in his game. With the team traveling following Friday’s contest for weekend games at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Lehigh Valley, Holtz was not available for an interview. 

“(There) … were some pew-ewwy (bad) plays that can’t happen during the course of the game. He has to work that out of his repertoire because (Devils coach) Lindy Ruff is not going to give him the rope that I do,” Dineen said. “There’s a learning process were in the middle of. He’s got to keep on learning and understanding that there’s nothing given. He’s got a special, special skill when the puck is on his stick. He’s got to continue to make sure hes plays a responsible two-way game. That’s why he’s here as well to help us win hockey games.” 

A few other New Jersey prospects pitched in: Simon Nemec’s goal in the third period tied the game and he added an assist. And, Graeme Clarke had an assist to give make him the first Comets player to reach 45 points. 

Robbie Russo also scored in support of Isaac Poulter, who totaled 17 saves while making his third consecutive start with Nico Daws out. 

Dineen said he liked the way his team composed themselves after falling behind 2-0 and 3-2. He was happy with the team’s offensive chances. 

“We’ve got some good lines going right now and a good way to start a really hard weekend,” Dineen said of the team’s 3-in-3 stretch with games Saturday at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Sunday at Lehigh Valley. 

The win also helped push Utica’s points-streak to six games (5-0-1-0) as Utica is trying to stay near the top of the North standings. Utica is also 5-0-0-0 this season against Belleville. 

While the Comets got Brian Pinho back from injury, the team played without Jack Dugan and Dylan Blujus. Both were traded before the AHL’s trade/loan deadline Friday afternoon. Neither player that Utica obtained – forward Jayce Hawryluk or Zack Hayes – had yet to join the team

With the victory, Utica (28-20-6-2 overall) has 64 points. Combined with Syracuse’s overtime loss Friday to Laval, Utica is two points ahead of its Thruway rival, though Syracuse has played one fewer game. The seven-team North remains tight as teams two through six (Belleville, 25-27-5-1, 55 points, are separated by eight points. Toronto has a healthy hold on first-place with 79 points.

“I think it is the understanding that, I guess I’d use the terms, ‘we can’t outscore our mistakes,’” Dineen said of the recent hot stretch. “I think there’s a full realization of what we are and how we have to play to have success. If we are porous on defense and just rely on our excellent goaltending we’ve had all year, we’re just leaving things to chance. I think there is a buy-in on that. I think there is some leadership reinforcing that. I think that’s making a difference in our game.” 

Daws update

Second-year goaltender Nico Daws has been out of the lineup in recent games. 

That forced the call-up of Jake Theut, who was signed to an AHL contract in December, from ECHL Adirondack. Theut doesn’t have any AHL experience.

Daws remains day-to-day with lower-body discomfort. 

It is “highly probable” Daws will not play Saturday at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton or Sunday at Lehigh Valley, Comets GM Dan MacKinnon said. 

Saturday's game is scheduled for 6 p.m. and Sunday's game is set for 4 p.m., which could put Theut in line to start one of the games.

Daws is expected to make the trip when Utica plays Wednesday at Belleville and hopefully “be good to go,” MacKinnon said. 


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