A career season keeps getting better and better for Kimberley native Carter Bancks.
After previously being recognized for his community efforts with the Utica Comets Man of the Year Award, the 26-year-old Bancks was presented with the Tom McVie Award for coach’s most valuable player.
“It’s a huge honour, it was something that was very exciting for me,” Bancks said over the phone from Albany, N.Y., Thursday afternoon. “With our team this year, we didn’t have any real superstars. This award could have gone to a lot of different players. We had some guys that went up to Vancouver [NHL] that ended up not being here for a while that were playing real good hockey for us.
“[The MVP award] probably could have gone to six, seven or eight different guys in the dressing room, but obviously, it’s a huge honour and something I’m very proud to win.”
The banner season for the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Bancks saw him register career highs in goals (14), assists (25) and points (39) as the only player to suit up for all of the Comets’ 76 regular season games.
While the personal accolades are great, Bancks isn’t satisfied as his Utica Comets — minor-league affiliate of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks — open the 2016 American Hockey League playoffs Friday night against the Albany Devils.
After trekking all the way to the 2015 Calder Cup Championship only to fall in five games to the Manchester Monarchs, Bancks and the Comets are hungry to get back to the big stage and take care of business.
“Last year, we came up short and so there’s that bitter feeling even though we had a great season,” Bancks said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys in our locker room this season, but we’re excited and we’re going to push hard to get back to that spot and give ourselves another chance at it.”
Still, the focus remains one step at a time as the Devils present a formidable opponent for the Comets in a best-of-five first-round clash.
The Devils (46-20-8-2) finished the regular season second in the AHL’s North Division, while the Comets (38-26-8-4) rounded out the campaign a distant third.
“They are a really good team that has had a great season,” Travis Green, head coach of the Comets, told Tyson Giuriato of Canucks.NHL.com. “They play a real sound game and they don’t give you a lot. They are real structured and have a big defence core. They don’t give up a lot of scoring chances and they don’t give up a lot of goals. You have to earn everything you get against them.”
In an eight-game season series between the two divisional rivals, four games required overtime to find a resolution. The Devils scored four regulation victories and two overtime wins, while the Comets’ only triumphs came via overtime. The Devils outscored the Comets by a 28-15 margin in the process.
Not convinced this is a tough first-round match up for Bancks and the Comets?
The Devils also rank as the stingiest team in the AHL’s Eastern Conference, having allowed a paltry 167 goals against over the 76-game regular season (2.20 per game).
“We’re going to have to compete hard and manage pucks,” Bancks said. “[The Devils] thrive off turnovers, so we’ve got to take care of pucks. It’s going to be a bit of a war in the offensive zone. They’re big and they try to stop you from getting to the net. We’ve got to be prepared to get greasy and fight hard to try and create some havoc in their goalie’s crease.”
With a tall task at hand, the young Bancks keys on something heard very often around these parts from his father and former Kimberley Dynamiters head coach Jerry Bancks.
“In playoffs, you’ve got to remain even keel,” Bancks said. “There’s going to be highs, there’s going to be lows. You can’t get too high and you can’t get too low. You’ve got to forget things real quick and move on.
“We’re going to need a full-team effort. Like I said, our team’s not the type of team that relies on a superstar or one line. It’s going to take all four lines, all six ‘D’ and goaltending. We’re going to have to be ready to compete, grind and stay patient, because Albany can certainly frustrate you in how they play. You’ve just got to keep doing the right things and eventually it will pay off.”
ScheduleGame 1: Friday, April 22 at AlbanyGame 2: Saturday, April 23 at AlbanyGame 3: Tuesday, April 26 at Utica*Game 4: Thursday, April 28 at Utica*Game 5: Saturday, April 30 at Albany* = if necessary