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Clint Keller | The Journal Gazette
Komets Kaleigh Schrock scores during the first period Saturday against Port Huron at Memorial Coliseum.

K’s survive, thrive short-handed

Special-teams goal energizes team missing 5 top players

There were some moments of trepidation Saturday night, as the Komets squandered a two-goal lead against the Port Huron Icehawks.

Right wing Sean O’Connor turned the anxiety into excitement.

During a 2-on-1 rush, with his team short-handed, he faked a pass, faked a shot, then rocketed the puck into the top of the net at 5:50 of the third period.

He cemented the 4-2 Komets victory, in front of 7,283 fans at Memorial Coliseum, by tucking the puck just inside the right goal post for Fort Wayne’s fourth victory in its last five games.

Not bad for a team missing four of its best forwards, Konstantin Shafranov (concussion), Rick Varone (knee), Matt Syroczynski (call-up) and Brad MacMillan (suspension), and its two-time Turner Cup-winning goaltender, Nick Boucher (hand).

“If you had told me at the start of the year all the guys we’d end up missing, I’d be real happy with (an 11-5-0 start). I look at other teams’ lineup sheets and they have five rookies or four rookies. We’re the only team in the league that has this many young people in the lineup playing,” said Komets coach Al Sims, who has seven rookies in his lineup.

The third-place Komets opened Saturday’s game against the second-place Icehawks with a goal from forward Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock, who accepted a pass from teammate Bobby Phillips and then scored from the right circle 2:35 into the first period.

Just after a power play expired – one that saw Fort Wayne fan on a couple shots at wide-open nets – right wing Justin Chwedoruk sent a shot from the right circle above and sliding defender and into the top of the net for a two-goal lead at 18:37.

Chwedoruk has scored in five straight games, tied for the longest streak in the IHL this season with Muskegon’s John DiPace. Chwedoruk had six points in six games since signing as a free agent with Fort Wayne.

A bit of good fortune got the Icehawks (11-5-1) into the scoring column. They were icing the puck, but defenseman Mike Gershon came out of the penalty box in time to stop it and get a breakaway. He beat goaltender Tim Haun, who has played 10 straight games since Boucher went down.

With Fort Wayne center Colin Chaulk in the penalty box, serving a double-minor for high-sticking Nick Lindberg, Port Huron defenseman Daniel Tetrault scored on a shot from 40 feet out to tie it at 2 at 16:40 of the second period.

“We know Port Huron is one of the top teams in the league, and it’s always a battle against them. It feels like the playoffs every time they come to town. It’s huge for us to have a lead, give it up, but still come back and get the win,” said O’Connor, the first player to score a short-handed goal on the Icehawks this season.

“I like the short-handed plays, going straight for the puck or having a race like that. Just get the puck on net somehow, see if you can do it quick and get a lucky one somehow. That’s kind of what happened.”

Haun stopped 24 shots, Port Huron’s Adam Russo 31.