A league representative came to Fort Wayne on Wednesday to pick up the Huber Trophy, which goes to the IHL regular-season champion and was won by the Komets the last two years.
While the Cup was leaving Memorial Coliseum, it’s not out of the realm of possibility it could do a U-turn.
Muskegon still has a stranglehold on first place, and the home-ice advantage that comes with it, but the Komets dominated the Lumberjacks in a 3-0 victory at the Coliseum. With six games remaining, one more than Muskegon, Fort Wayne is now only six points back.
And the schedule works favorably for Fort Wayne, which faces the three worst teams in the league (Dayton, Quad City and Flint) the rest of the way, with only two games on the road. Muskegon, on the other hand, has only one game at home.
I thought it was a playoff-type game, Komets coach Al Sims said.
And no one seemed more in postseason form than goaltender Nick Boucher (20-10-2), who stopped 27 shots for his third shutout, tied for the most in the IHL.
Boucher was at his best when his teammates were at their worst – on the power play. Muskegon had three odd-man rushes in short-handed situations and Boucher stopped them all, except for a Mario Larocque shot that hit the goalpost.
They’re a team, especially when they’re down a man, they’re really looking to score, Boucher said. Whenever the puck changes possession for them on the penalty kill, they’re looking to hit a guy streaking. They’re pretty notorious for getting the odd-man rushes on the penalty kill and they did that tonight. Luckily, they messed a few up on their own and I was able to come up with a couple saves on the others, and it was a momentum shifter.
Boucher has played eight straight games, his longest stretch of the season, as Tim Haun has recovered from a concussion. Haun is expected to be the backup this weekend, when the Komets hope their power play fares better than Wednesday’s 0-for-5 outing.
We were just struggling mightily to get anything to their net, and they actually had better chances short-handed than they did 5-on-5, Sims said. I think they were hoping for us to be on the power play because they had a breakaway and 2-on-1s. It was just one after another, and we couldn’t get anything going in their end. But credit their penalty killing; they were aggressive and gave us a lot of trouble.
Fort Wayne’s David Hukalo opened the scoring at 10:49 of the first period, when he backhanded the puck from 18 feet out and it ricocheted off the right post, then the back of goalie Sebastien Centomo and slid into the net. Centomo came out of the game after one period, having stopped 11 of 12 shots, for undisclosed reasons.
His backup, Matt Lundin, stopped 18 of 20 but was bested by P.C. Drouin and Colin Chaulk in the third period.
It may have been the last meeting between Fort Wayne and Muskegon, which is dropping to the junior ranks after this season. Meanwhile, the Turner Cup, which goes to the playoff champion, remains at the Coliseum.
Note: Mitch Woods was in the lineup after missing two weeks with a leg injury.