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Surprise! Reiter gets start, wins

Komets stave off elimination with backup in net

No one was more surprised to hear coach Al Sims skate over after Tuesday's practice and say, "Rides, you're going tomorrow," than Rides himself.

That, of course, is the Komets' backup goaltender, Kevin Reiter.

Well, maybe the fans would claim they were higher on the shock meter.

After all, Nick Boucher had backstopped the Komets to their IHL championships in 2008, 2009 and 2010, was 6-0 in games that the Komets could have been eliminated and came into Wednesday with a 15-game home winning streak.

But after the Komets lost the first two games of the Turner Conference semifinals, coach Al Sims decided to roll the dice and make a change, and it paid off. Reiter stopped 27 of 31 shots and the Komets defeated the Rapid City Rush 5-4 in overtime at the Coliseum.

Forward Mathieu Curadeau's goal from 35 feet out 10:53 into overtime cemented the victory – Fort Wayne scored four unanswered goals – and prolonged the best-of-five series that the CHL-champion Rush leads 2-1.

"I was walking on eggshells a little bit," Reiter said of the Komets' woeful first period, after which they trailed 2-0 and had been outshot 7-3. "But I came out in the second and, I thought, made some decent saves and got better as the game went on."

Reiter is no stranger to pressure. He was the IHL's Goaltender of the Year in 2007-08 and that season was 3-3 with a 2.84 goals against average in the playoffs before making way for Boucher.

Reiter then spent two injury plagued seasons in Europe before returning to the Komets – at Boucher's request – and he was 13-12-2 with a 2.92 goals-against average in this regular season.

Reiter hadn't played since getting yanked in the second-to-last regular-season game March 25. He had to watch as Boucher manned the first-round sweep of Bloomington and lost 5-2 and 4-3 to open the series on the road against the Rush, stopping 46 of 54 shots.

"You want to prepare as much as possible. You never know what's going to happen with Nick," Reiter said. "And with the guys, you want to work as hard with them during practice, just to make sure you make them better scoring goals. You've got to be ready to play and there's no excuse if you have (a lot of time off).

"It would have been nice to get in for some mop-up duty a little earlier. But you've always got to be ready. That's the nature of the backup goalie."

While the players were also surprised at Sims' decision, they had confidence in Reiter, who went up against another backup goalie, the Rush's Tim Boron. He stopped 41 of 46 shots in subbing for the injured Danny Battochio.

"We have confidence in Kevin. We love the guy. He's a great team player," said left wing P.C. Drouin, whose goal at 16:30 of the third period forced overtime. "Bouch has been our No. 1 guy for a long time, and we have confidence in him, too. But whoever comes in after two losses like we had, we expect them to win."

If there was something in particular that aided the Komets in having Reiter play, it was his mobility. Because forward Sean O'Connor served the first game of his three-game suspension for a blindside hit on Ryan Menei, the Komets had to play one man short of a full lineup and were winded as the game progressed. Reiter's penchant for handling the puck eased the strain on the defensemen.

"We expected Kevin to make some big saves, and he did," Drouin said. "The mood wasn't any different. We wanted to win for him, just like we would want to win for Bouch."

Game 4 is Friday at Memorial Coliseum. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. at Memorial Coliseum.

Justin A. Cohn, pro sports coordinator for The Journal Gazette, has been covering the Fort Wayne Komets since 1997. His reporting includes game stories from home and away, features about the players and personalities associated with the Komets, plus coverage of issues affecting hockey at all levels. A native of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Cohn graduated from Emory University in Atlanta. He can be reached at 260-461-8429 or by email at jcohn@jg.net.

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