It took the regular season and three playoff games, but the Komets’ locker room was eerily silent Sunday.
There was no blaring music. There were no smiles. There was no joking around.
The atmosphere was what you’d expect after the two-time defending champions lost 4-3 to the Port Huron Icehawks, who lead the best-of-seven Turner Cup semifinals 2-1 with the series heading back to Michigan.
We’re going to be OK, Fort Wayne forward Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock said. We’ve got a lot of veterans on this team and all the rookies have confidence. We just need to go in there (McMorran Arena) and steal one. It’s hard to win a series without winning one on the road, anyways, so we’ve just got to go and take the next one and we’ll have home-ice advantage again.
Game 4 is Wednesday at Port Huron, Mich.
The Komets pointed to their inability to stay out of the penalty box for the reason they squandered an early two-goal lead.
They drew nine minor penalties and allowed Port Huron, which has the IHL’s top power-play unit, to score on 3 of 7 power plays against the league’s top penalty killers.
And it’s not like the penalties were in the defensive zone, Komets coach Al Sims said. The penalties were in the offensive zone, neutral zone, places where we shouldn’t be taking penalties.
After the Komets went up 2-0 on goals from center Justin Hodgman and defenseman Guy Dupuis, it was time for Port Huron defenseman Jamie Lovell to shine with back-to-back goals.
To the delight of 6,591 in Memorial Coliseum, right wing Matt Syroczynski put the Komets ahead 3-2 at 11:05 of the second period when he accepted a pass to finish a 2-on-1 rush.
But the Icehawks got third-period power-play goals from right wing Matt Auffrey, who capitalized on a crossing pass from forward Mike Kinne, and forward Brandon Naurato, who picked up a rebound and blasted it past goaltender Tim Haun at 14:37.
Obviously, the penalties killed us. It’s part of the game. We’ve just got to stay disciplined, said Hodgman, who leads the IHL in playoff scoring with three goals and six points.
His teammates agreed.
If you watch NHL playoffs, IHL playoffs, any playoffs – special teams are a huge thing, Komets defenseman Brandon Warner said. If you give a team nine power plays, chances are they’re going to get (some) goals off of them. It’s a big thing. But that’s why we play the game. Guys aren’t going out there thinking, OK, I’m going to go take a penalty.’ They’re laying everything on the line and sometimes you just cross that line. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it goes.
Port Huron goaltender Larry Sterling (2-1) stopped 33 of 36 shots Sunday and has stopped 96 of 105 shots in the series. Haun (1-1), who has only played the playoff games at the Coliseum, stopped 24 of 28 shots.
I thought these last two games would be big for us, Icehawks coach Stan Drulia said. I thought we did a real good job (Saturday) of wearing guys out, and I thought our young legs were good today. Our veteran guys stepped up. (Kris Vernarsky) has been a big horse for us. And when they were getting scoring opportunities, Larry was there to make big saves for us.