A video montage got the 7,337 fans at Memorial Coliseum fired up Friday night. It featured a man reading one newspaper article after another about the Komets' horrendous play this season.
Then, the man stood up and revealed himself to be newly re-signed center Colin Chaulk, the team's four-time MVP and storied leader, in uniform, and he took to the ice to be the savior of this Komets squad.
But today's headline is, no doubt, a familiar one as the Komets lost 3-1 to the Evansville IceMen, dropping Fort Wayne's record to 9-16-3, worst in the 18-team Central Hockey League.
A savior Chaulk was not, not this night.
It was Chaulk's first game of the season with the Komets – he played 26 games with HC Alleghe in Italy before rejoining the last-place Komets – and before he put on the uniform again, he had already been named the team's captain by coach Al Sims.
Strangely, the Komets' fate was worse than it had been the previous two Chaulk-less weeks, when they went 4-0-2.
Evansville (11-18-5) came in with a four-point lead over the Komets for the eighth and final playoff spot from the Turner Conference, but the IceMen had won only two of their previous 18 games. Their newest acquisition, goaltender Jeff Harvey, who arrived Thursday night in a trade with Texas, foiled the Komets repeatedly in the first 31 minutes.
He made acrobatic saves to stop shots from point-blank range by Tab Lardner, Artem Podshendyalov, Sean O'Connor and Derek Patrosso, keeping the game scoreless until Evansville's Mario Larocque netted a shot from the right circle during a 5-on-3 power play at 14:42 of the second period.
Defenseman Jordan Little's shot from the left circle made it 2-0 at 18:08 and, one minute later, left wing Brian Bicek skated in on a 2-on-2 rush, cut across the zone and put the puck into a relatively open net for a short-handed goal and a 3-0 lead.
The Komets were without several of their stars, including alternate captains Leo Thomas (ankle) and Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock (leg), plus defenseman Brandon Warner (shoulder) and forward Olivier Legault (undisclosed). The temporary alternates were defenseman Guy Dupuis, who had been stripped of the captaincy Dec. 14, and Lardner, who wasn't acquired until a Nov. 26 trade with Missouri.
Dupuis netted the Komets' goal, during a power play :21 into the third period, with a shot from 45 feet out. It was only his second goal of the season. He has reached double-digits in goals each of the last seven seasons.
Notes: Komets general manager David Franke said the team, at this time, has no interest in re-signing forward Brad MacMillan (released by Colorado) or defenseman Jake Pence (released by Evansville), but the team planned to discuss it this weekend. … The referee was Kevin Webinger.