The Utica Comets goaltending situation changed a little bit this week.
November 24, 2016
By Ben Birnell
Comets goaltender Richard Bachman is out with a lower-body ailment after being injured in the third period of last Saturday’s victory.
Comets head coach Travis Green, who is usually tight-lipped when it comes to his goaltender situation, did not have a timeline Wednesday for when Bachman might return to the lineup.
The veteran goalkeeper, who is in his second season with the Comets, was injured while trying to make a save on a shot late in Saturday’s game. The 28-year-old appeared to be in pain almost immediately after attempting the save. He later needed to be helped off the ice by teammates.
Bachman’s injury leaves Thatcher Demko and recent call-up Michael Garteig — both rookies coming off excellent collegiate careers — to carry the goaltending load for foreseeable future. The Comets (6-9-1 overall) play Friday at Rochester and Saturday afternoon at Toronto.
Is it a situation where both players push each other to make it hard to choose a starter?
“You hope they both play well,” Green said. “I hope all of our players play well.”
Demko, who split duties with Bachman before he was injured and came on in relief last Saturday, has won his last three starts after going winless in his first four. On Wednesday, he stopped a career-best 31 shots to help the Comets earn a 2-1 victory over the Syracuse Crunch at the Utica Memorial Auditorium. Alex Grenier and Derek Hulak each had goals in support of Demko, who made some big stops throughout, to help the Comets win their third consecutive game.
The highly touted Demko, who turns 21 on Dec. 8, is 3-3-1 with a 3.08 goals-against average and an .893 save percentage this season.
What’s been working for Demko during his recent win streak?
“Honestly, I was just sick of losing,” Demko said with a smile and a chuckle after Wednesday’s win. “I know that’s pretty straightforward, but it’s the truth. I’m not a guy that likes to lose.”
He knows there is an opportunity to help the Comets.
“You never want to see someone get hurt, especially (Bachman),” Demko said. “But, at the same time I’m going to be getting some more games here and I have to be ready for that. I have to try to string together a few more wins here.”
Garteig back to Utica
Garteig joins the Comets after spending the preseason in Utica before assigned to the Alaska Aces, the organizations’ ECHL affiliate.
The 25-year-old Garteig has gotten off to an exceptional start in his first pro season. He brings with him from Alaska a 7-1-0 record, a 2.32 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage.
“The team is pretty good as well … so that obviously helps,” Garteig said Wednesday. “I have had the opportunity to play and that’s all you can really ask for. … As a rookie in any league, you’re happy to get games. The coach believes in me there and it’s allowed me to develop.”
Garteig has racked up the miles over the last week. In that span, he’s been part of three different teams in Canada and the United States.
Garteig’s journey started early last Thursday morning as the Aces prepared to fly to Wichita, Kansas. He was an emergency recall by the Vancouver Canucks after starter Ryan Miller was sidelined with the flu. Garteig, who was recalled by the Canucks because of his proximity to the team, backed up former Comets goaltender Jacob Markstrom in Vancouver’s overtime win over Arizona before being returned to the Aces the next day.
“That was awesome,” Garteig said. “They made me feel so comfortable. I didn’t feel like I was a callup. I felt like I was already there. That was really nice.”
He flew to Wichita and arrived about midnight last Friday. The next day, he earned his first pro shutout by stopping 36 shots in Alaska’s 5-0 victory and followed that with a career-best 40 saves Sunday afternoon.
“I feel like I’m in really good shape,” said Garteig, who points to his offseason workouts as a reason why.
He flew into Syracuse on Monday in the middle of the snowstorm that hit Central New York, which made for an interesting landing, he said. He practiced with the Comets on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Garteig, who signed a one-year deal with the Canucks in April after a solid college career at Quinnipiac, said he only had enough clothes and a suit with him for the road trip to Wichita.
He said Demko took him shopping at Sangertown Square in New Hartford to buy more clothes for his stay with the team.
“Since I’ve been here, the guys have treated me so well,” Garteig said. “That’s all you can ask for.”
He said he doesn’t know when he might get into the Comets’ lineup, but is looking forward to the chance. Garteig said he plans to work hard in the weight room and in practice in preparation.
“I’ve wanted an opportunity from Day One. This is it,” Garteig said. “I have to make sure I take advantage of it and make sure I play well to give this team a chance to win.”