Defenseman Brent Henley made his much anticipated return to the Fort Wayne Komets’ lineup. Goaltender Kevin Reiter was chasing history. A former NHL star, Darren McCarty, was on the ice for the opposition.
Lots of story lines, but it was right wing David Hukalo who stole the show.
He scored two goals, and the Komets defeated the Flint Generals 4-2 Wednesday, in front of 5,791 fans at Memorial Coliseum. The Komets (25-9-4) extended their International Hockey League lead over second-place Flint (19-7-9) to seven points, though the Generals have played three fewer games and the teams meet 11 more times over the final 38 games.
“These teams show up to play,” Hukalo said. “We play them a lot here at the end of the season, and they’re all going to be rough, tough, hitting games.”
Henley, the popular tough guy, was on the ice for the second time this season. After offseason knee surgery, he played Dec. 14, re-injured his knee and missed the next 17 games.
“Our defensemen and our forwards, everyone’s been playing well, so I just wanted to step in and try not to screw up,” said Henley, who had two penalties and a plus-1 rating. “I don’t have to make a difference right now; I have to just do my job.”
Reiter came into the game not having allowed a goal in 180 minutes – no one in franchise history had ever had shutouts in three straight games – but it didn’t take the Generals long to solve him. Right wing Michel Beausoliel scored from 18 feet out 1:41 into the game. That was the first goal Reiter had allowed since he was pulled in a 5-4 loss at Bloomington, Ill., on Jan. 9.
The franchise record for shutout records remains 198:24, set by Mike O’Neill over four games during 1991 in the AAA-level former incarnation of the IHL. The league record for shutout minutes is 275:29, set by the Michigan K-Wings’ Marty Turco in 2000.
In tandem, Reiter and his backup, Corey Wogtech, put together a string of 189:02 of scoreless goaltending, just missing the team record of 189:27 set by Kevin St. Pierre and Kevin Kurk during 2006 in the now-defunct United Hockey League.
As for McCarty, the 35-year-old three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Detroit Red Wings, it was his fifth game with the Generals as he pursues a comeback to the NHL. He took one penalty, which set up the Komets for their first goal, from defenseman Sergei Durdin.
Left wing Konstantin Shafranov’s goal-scoring streak ended at six games, but his pass from behind the net set up Hukalo for a goal and a 2-1 lead at 9:17 of the first period.
After Generals right wing John DiPace drew a cross-checking penalty on Henley, he scored on the ensuing power-play at 3:58 of the second period.
Subsequent to getting outshot 13-2 to open that period, Fort Wayne went up 3-2 when defenseman Kevin Bertram sent a pass up the boards to Hukalo for a short-handed goal and 3-2 lead at 19:52.
Defenseman Guy Dupuis’ short-handed goal from the left circle put the Komets up 4-2 at 16:58 of the third period.
“You can’t have two short-handed goals against and expect to win hockey games,” Flint coach Kevin Kerr said. “Our specialty teams aren’t sharp right now. … I thought we battled back and had some good chances in the third period, but we just couldn’t capitalize.”
Reiter stopped 32 of 34 shots. Flint’s Eric Marvin stopped 26 of 30.