If you had counted the Komets out, you most certainly were not alone.
The Memorial Coliseum crowd of 6,966 spent the better part of Friday night jeering, as the Komets fell four goals behind the Wichita Thunder.
But then the Komets did something they almost never do: They showed heart … at home … in a game they trailed … against a seemingly superior foe.
And they won, 5-4 in an overtime shootout, in what coach Al Sims called his team "making a statement."
"I guess we're the hottest team in the league now," said Sims, whose Komets (17-18-5) have won 5 of 6 games. "For our guys to win at home like that, after almost everybody had probably counted us out, and said, 'They can't play at home. They can't do it. They can only do it on the road.'
"I think we put a lot of rumors to rest tonight."
(I took the video in the top right of this post during the shootout. It gives you, at least, a good look at the Komets' goals and hopefully you feel some of the atmosphere.)
In defense of the doubters, the Komets are riding a seven-game winning streak on the road, the longest such surge in the CHL this season. But they came into Friday in a 1-3-3 drought at the Coliseum, where the league-best attendance average of 7,388 fans should make for a huge home-ice advantage.
The Komets had led in at the first intermission in only eight of their 19 home games, and they were 0-5-0 when trailing at the break. Those numbers looked sure to worsen, after Wichita (23-15-4), which had won 8 of 10, scored four goals in myriad ways.
Left wing Matt Robinson netted a power-play goal 15:43 into the game. Center Chris Greene redirected a slow-rolling puck at 17:23. Left wing Lance Galbraith polished off a 2-on-1 rush at 5:02 of the second period. And right wing Jesse Bennefield scored on a penalty shot at 15:56, after he was hauled down by defenseman Craig Cescon.
Playing without defenseman Michael Ratchuk, who was recalled to Springfield of the American Hockey League, and the injured Leo Thomas, Neil Musselwhite, Brandon Warner and Danko Mironovic, a Komets comeback seemed unlikely.
But it began 2:43 into the third period, when defenseman Bobby Phillips' shot from the blue line floated over the stick of goaltender Marc-Antoine Gelinas. Forward Tab Lardner netted a rebound, during a power play at 12:10.
With fans filing out of the building, forward Sean O'Connor redirected left wing P.C. Drouin's blue-line shot at 19:20. And 32 seconds later, a Drouin pass set up Lardner for a spinning backhand shot from 20 feet out to force overtime, as the Komets tallied 32 of the game's final 39 shots.
The only shootout goals were scored by Artem Podshendyalov and Guy Dupuis. Fort Wayne goalie Nick Boucher stopped 21 of 25 shots and all four shootout attempts. Gelinas stopped 38 of 42 shots and 2 of 4 shootout attempts, and the teams meet again tonight at the Coliseum.
- Sims said he never thought of pulling Boucher from the game.
- I'm not sure if I'm more surprised at the Komets' comeback, or that the Thunder let down so much in this game.
- Fort Wayne was 1 for 7 on the power play. Wichita was 1 for 5. The referee was Boone Bruggman.
- IHL commissioner Dennis Hextall was at the game. Asked if the IHL/CHL collective thought it could get back any of the now-defunct IHL markets, he said he's hopeful Flint, Mich., will return. "We feel that if we can get back in the building, I do know there are people in Flint who are interested in it. There's a junior team there that's not drawing very well. We know they are losing money. And I think there's got to be some common ground somewhere to put the pro team back in there. There's definitely some interest from investors." Asked about Port Huron, he thinks that won't happen because no one could do better than the Kinneys did last season.