PORT HURON, Mich. – The Komets are blaming themselves. They’re blaming the officiating. There’s plenty of blame to go around after a 4-2 loss at McMorran Arena on Wednesday put the two-time defending Turner Cup champions on the brink of elimination.
Two sequences can be pointed to for the Komets’ 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven semifinal series, which returns to Memorial Coliseum on Friday. The first came 11:56 into the third period with the game tied at 2. The Komets had a 2-on-0 rush into the Port Huron zone. Rather than shooting the puck at rookie goalie Raffaele D’Orso, who had spent all but about 24 minutes of the series on the bench, David Hukalo sent a cross-ice pass to Matt Syroczynski, whose shot went into the corner.
It was the most significant in a flurry of missed opportunities for the Komets, who outshot the Icehawks 42-29 in front of 1,230 fans.
It’s us not finishing on our chances, Komets coach Al Sims said. They’re finishing on most of theirs, and that’s the difference in the series. We’re not getting any bounces. We’re not getting any help. On that 2-on-0, Hukalo passed it and it skipped off the ice, just bad breaks. That’s an automatic goal, (usually), as Syro’s going to shoot it into an open net.
The Komets also continued to struggle with penalties. At the 13:13 mark of the third period, Port Huron’s Kris Vernarsky was penalized for roughing Sean O’Connor. But within the span of two minutes, Komets center Colin Chaulk and defenseman Kevin Bertram were called for interference, setting up 1:11 of 5-on-3 action for the Icehawks.
That was all they’d need. Defenseman Jamie Lovell’s shot from the point was knocked down by Fort Wayne’s Danko Mironovic, but Vernarsky was there to pick up the puck and score with a two-man advantage at 16:18. With Bertram still in the box, left wing Mickael Bedard redirected the puck, got to his own rebound and beat goalie Nick Boucher for a 4-2 lead at 16:58.
I didn’t think the calls were warranted, Chaulk said. But the referee makes the call that he sees. Berty and I are veteran guys and can’t be taking penalties like that. I’ll take responsibility for that.
Port Huron has scored on 7 of 21 power plays, and the Icehawks have only 13 goals in the entire series.
Some of the calls that are being made are ridiculous, left wing P.C. Drouin said. The call on (Chaulk during) our power play is just something that’s never called. I just don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know what the refs are doing, but it’s getting really embarrassing. It’s turning the momentum around completely. We have a power play. We’re buzzing. We’re shooting. We’re getting rebounds. All of a sudden, the ref decides to switch the momentum around and give us a penalty.
The Komets could be facing D’Orso from the outset Friday. With Port Huron leading 2-0 on goals from right wing Mike Kinnie, on a power play, and forward Brandon Kaleniecki, Icehawks goalie Larry Sterling was knocked out of the game. He went to play the puck behind his net, collided with Chaulk and Port Huron’s Paul Cianfrini, and his head struck the ice. He appeared to lose consciousness for a couple of minutes. Sterling has stopped 110 of 119 shots in the series.
The Komets tied the game on Drouin’s shot from the left circle during a 5-on-3 power play at 18:33 of the second period and a shot from Bertram at the bottom of the left circle at 4:52 of the third period.