FLINT, Mich. -- I have covered a lot of hockey games, and a lot of them have been at Perani Arena.
This was one of the best I've seen, especially the overtime.
The Flint Generals won 7-6, on a goal by Jamie Schaafsma.
Flint center Bryan Smolinski chipped the puck into the offensive zone, and a clutch-and-grab race down the ice ensued between Generals forward John Mori and Komets defenseman Guy Dupuis. In the process, Komets goaltender Nick Boucher poked the puck away and it went behind the net, where Schaafsma bodied his way to control of the puck, skated out and tucked it just inside the right goalpost for victory at 11:52.
"I knew I would have a little bit of time, but I had to shoot it quick, and luckily I got it in," said Schaafsma, after cutting the Komets' lead in the best-of-seven series to 2-1. "We have to remain focused here now, going (into Game 4 on Friday). Our first two games weren't our best two games, and we brought the physical play back into it. We've just got to keep doing what we're doing and I think things will work out for us."
For the Komets, who had fought back from deficits all night, and thought they had the game won on a third-period Justin Chwedoruk goal, it was a bitter loss to swallow.
"It was just a tough night," Komets coach Al Sims said. "Nine seconds away from being up 3-0 (in the series). (Colin) Chaulk, (David) Hukalo and our defensemen did everything they could, but we just couldn't stop them in the end."
What was he talking about? The game-tying power-play goal by Smolinski with 9.8 seconds remaining.
The Generals pulled their goaltender for a 6-on-4 advantage during the ensuing power play, and the action was furious. Defenseman Kevin Bertram exchanged cross-check after cross-check with forward Rick Smith in front of the net. Chaulk slid to block passes. And the Generals didn't get a shot until there was only 9.8 seconds remaining in regulation time. That's when Smolinski, a former NHL player, faked a shot, then another, then wristed the puck over Boucher's stick, to the awe of 2,421 fans.
"Smolinski just faked Chaulker down, then he faked David Hukalo down, and maybe a defenseman down, too," Fort Wayne coach Al Sims said. "He faked everybody down and he shot it into the net. There's not much you can say. It was a great play by him."
One that renewed hope for the Generals, a team that was in last place in February, has endured myriad financial problems and overcame a 3-1 deficit in their semifinals victory over top-seeded Muskegon.
"(Smolinski) is unbelievable. There's a reason he played over 1,100 games in the NHL," Mori said. "He's a great player. He's a great person on and off the ice. You learn so much watching that poise with the puck. Having him pump-fake twice, see two guys go down, and he kept holding it and waiting to find that opening. It was great for us to see him take advantage, but it was a great learning experience for all of us, too."
On the Generals' future
As I reported Friday, the IHL may have found an ownership group to take over the Generals next season, and it includes Evansville Icemen owner Ron Geary and Dave Lewis, former coach of the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins.
Here's what Komets president Michael Franke, head of the Board of Governors, told our own Ben Smith: "We have people who have interest in the Generals team for next year and the future. It's just getting the right situation with that ownership group, the new management company of this building and a warm feeling for the community from those particular interested parties. As you can see, they've made tremendous improvements to the inside of this building, and there's a lot more that are gonna happen this summer."
However, Franke added: "The economy up here is terrible. It's just terrible. It has been for awhile, and it ain't gettin' any better, and that is the negative for anyone coming in. And so what we have to do to get somebody worthy of taking this thing over is sell them on the upside of what it can be. And that's the key. That's gonna be the key. ... Probably, if the facility was the way it was four months ago, there'd be no chance. But this makes a big difference."
Keeping Flint in the IHL is integral to the future of the league.
"Oh, yeah, absolutely," Franke said. "You keep Flint in the league -- that's very very vital to the league's longstanding possibilities versus not being around next year. I think everybody knows Muskegon's leaving. We're down to six teams. You lose one more … you don't want to go with five. We're in the middle of all kinds of conversations right now in regard to the future of this league. There's all kinds of talks going on right now which is good. There's a lot of people interested in the Midwestern concept of our league, which is also very, very good. But things have to get done here pretty good. ... The thing we feel good about is there are numerous possibilities."
I will go with what I've been saying for ages: The chances of the IHL returning are 50-50, but I'm getting people telling me there could be big announcements next week.