UTICA — Prior to this season, Frederik Gauthier’s experience was playing against the Utica Comets.

The 26-year-old forward recalls his last visit as a member of the Toronto Marlies when the team faced the Comets in a tough first-round playoff in 2018 before ultimately winning the American League Calder Cup. hockey. The atmosphere at the Adirondack Bank Center made a strong impression the last time a Comets team made a playoff appearance.

“It’s a difficult building to play, everyone knows that,” said Gauthier. “It’s the vibe and the fans. When you come here they’re involved in the game and when you get the momentum you feel it. They’re behind you.

Now a member of the Comets in the team’s first season as an affiliate of the New Jersey Devils in the AHL, Gauthier pointed to instances where the team scored early in the third period, which helped create momentum.

“You feel the energy in the building and it helps you,” Gauthier said.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound forward, who is known for his five pro seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, has been a reliable and dependable defensive tackle with Utica.

“This season has been good so far,” said Gauthier, who has played 392 games between the NHL and AHL. “It’s been nice.”

Utica (31-11-5-0 overall) is among the best teams in the AHL as the team heads into the playoffs. Going into games Friday and Saturday at rival Syracuse, the Comets’ 0.713 point percentage is the best in the Eastern Conference.

While tying a career high in points (18) in 37 games, Gauthier has one of Utica’s top penalty killers. He was named Comets Defender of the Month for February by the technical staff.

“I think it’s a good reflection of what he brings to our group and what he has brought throughout his career. He’s a guy you rely on wherever he’s played to play against other teams,” Comets coach Kevin Dineen said. “It’s a big body. He does a great job on the penalty kill and putting on the pressure. He’s a guy who’s definitely very comfortable when the other team has the puck, especially on our side.

He was also a key part of a line alongside AJ Greer with the Comets. Another attacker interfered on the line. It’s the first time Gauthier and Greer – both Quebec natives – have been on the same team since the midget triple-A level in Canada when they were around 14 or 15 years old.

“I like playing with Freddie. We know each other very well,” said Greer, who was recently scorching with 10 goals and four assists in February 12 games with the Comets. We get along very well and we compliment each other.

“I think knowing where that other guy is going to be without even talking to each other is very important as a line. It was a blessing to play with him. In all three zones, he is very responsible and also produces attack.

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