FLINT, Mich. – Game 3 of the Turner Cup Finals was all about fast-paced action, hard hitting and lots of stick work, so it’s fitting that it ended with a play that incorporated all of it.
Flint forward Jamie Schaafsma’s goal capped a 7-6 overtime victory over the Komets on Wednesday in front of 2,421 fans at Perani Arena.
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.
Things were certainly working for the Generals early. They got the game’s first two goals, from forwards Matt Moffat and Mike Olynyk, and repeatedly staved off comeback attempts from the Komets.
And there were plenty of comebacks. The Komets got a first-period hat trick from left wing Matt Syroczynski, a breakaway goal from center Justin Chwedoruk, and center Colin Chaulk’s goal on a wraparound at 14:50 of the second period tied it at 5.
Chwedoruk gave the Komets their first lead, 14:08 into the third period, capitalizing on a turnover by Pascal Rheaume to finish off a 2-on-1 rush for a 6-5 lead.
We were on the back of our heels for a while, Syroczynski said. (The Generals) were down 0-2 in the series, fighting for their lives at home. We knew they were going to come out hard, but we didn’t respond early. We fought back and it was back-and-forth, but we wound up making too many mistakes for the win.
The biggest mistake was a hooking penalty by forward Sean O’Connor at 18:23 of the third period. The Generals pulled their goaltender for a 6-on-4 advantage. The Generals didn’t get a shot until there was only 9.8 seconds remaining in regulation time. That’s when Smolinski faked a shot, then another, then wristed the puck over Boucher’s stick.
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 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. It was a great learning experience for all of us, too.
It was just a tough night, Sims said. Nine seconds away from being up 3-0 (in the series). Chaulk, Hukalo and our defensemen did everything they could, but we just couldn’t stop them in the end.
Note: The future of the IHL seems to rest of whether the Generals return next season. Even though a North American Hockey League junior team is coming to Perani Arena, the IHL may have found a prospective ownership group to keep the Generals, too, and it includes Evansville Icemen owner Ron Geary and former Detroit Red Wings coach Dave Lewis. The Icemen are slated to join the IHL in 2011-12.