by Don Laible | AHL On The Beat
As Utica Comets fans are finding out this season, Curtis Valk is full of surprises.
If you would have said at the beginning of this season, after a quarter of the schedule is in the books, Valk would be the Comets’ leader in shots on goal you more than likely would have experienced opposition.
Valk has risen his game to being a prominent playmaker and an offensive threat each shift taken. The difference of the centerman’s role this season isn’t by chance, but as a result from multiple avenues in which his game is approached.
“Confidence,” says Valk, who leads the Comets with eight goals and is third on the team with 17 points in 22 games through Friday. “Last season I was coming off an injury, and hadn’t been on skates for 11 months.”
The dozen times Valk did suit up in Utica in 2015-16, the Medicine Hat, Alta., native managed to register six points. Re-signing with Utica this past July couldn’t have come quick enough for Valk. Remaining a full season on the AHL level was the next step being prepared for.
“At first, it was tough to get going here, because of the injury. I like the way we play in Utica. That’s the way I’d like to play my whole career,” Valk says.
Along with the confidence being instilled by Comets coach Travis Green and his staff, Valk is a believer in taking advantage of opportunities presented. Speaking after a recent visit by Rochester to Utica, Valk revealed that at first this season, there may have been some hesitation on how he would perform, given different situations.
“They may not have known how I would play. Then, things started going good. I’ve been getting more chances,” explained Valk.
Along with confidence and a noticeable pick up in minutes each game, take one glance at Valk, sans his Comets uniform and the padding that is included, and you would be correct to wonder how his 5-foot-9, 170-pound frame withstands the violent punishment, game in and game out.
Valk is a fighter by his own admission. He must be, for his survival in hockey.
“Being ready (physically) is a big part of my game. I can tell how my game will go, from the first shift,” Valk said. “Right from the face-off, I get a feel for the game.”
Described by Green as “gutsy and brave,” Valk takes pride in declaring that he enjoys going into the “dirty areas” at the rink. Having to continually prove that he belongs on the same sheet of ice as men larger than he, Valk believes to reach the level of success he is shooting for there can be no let up in his attack.
Seeking respect begins at practice. Having role models also fuels Valk’s approach to being a full-timer in Utica. The Buffalo Sabres’ Tyler Ennis and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Conor Sheary, both nearly identical in size and weight to Valk, are two on the NHL level he keeps a close eye on.
Crediting working hard this past summer on his game, Valk isn’t shy to say that he feels like he’s “learned so much about being a pro” this season. The “perfect hockey storm” in Valk’s favor, to his recollection, this season began in Hartford back on Oct. 29.
Curtis Valk — meet Darren Archibald.
On a four-game road trip that would see them travel to Connecticut, St. John’s and Syracuse, Valk and linemate Archibald would begin to mesh.
“It just happened,” said Valk of his and Archibald’s offensive success. “That game (Hartford) was the first time we had some chances, and it felt all right. We had two solid games in St. John’s, and since, it seems natural between us. We find each other on the ice. I think we’re better together.”
Aside from the brief visits to Utica over the past two seasons, while skating in Kalamazoo (ECHL), there were definitely signs of offensive life in Valk. In 61 games for the K-Wings, Valk collected an eye-opening 63 points.
And as the Comets’ 2016-17 season progresses, given the pesty approach to chasing the puck and scrambling to the net that Valk has already demonstrated, happier days seem destined for Valk with the Comets.