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K’s cruise at home, expand lead

Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Fort Wayne’s Leo Thomas takes the puck down the ice with teammate Jamie Milam trailing during the second period against Evansville on Saturday at Memorial Coliseum.

– The Komets’ explosive offense is a big reason they’re atop the Turner Conference with a 15-7-0 record.

They swept a home-and-home series with the Evansville IceMen – culminating with a 7-4 victory at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night – to leapfrog the IceMen and take a three-point lead in the conference.

And for those who thought this wasn’t quite a rivalry between the in-state squads yet, it sure looks to be one now.

There was Jesse Bennefield slapping Nick Schneider repeatedly in the face in the waning seconds as they were grappling on the wall. And there were three fights that ensued, including one after the final horn between Fort Wayne’s Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock and Steve Makway.

“He didn’t want to fight, so I called him a wuss and he still didn’t want to fight,” Bennefield said. “I can’t start sucker-punching him, so I thought I would give him a couple slaps, hopefully piss him off. … I had to let him know he doesn’t pull nothing in our barn.”

Bennefield had three assists and his linemate, Colin Chaulk, had two goals and an assist. Fourteen times this season, the Komets have had a player tally three or more points in a game. Through 22 games last season, three-point nights happened only three times.

“We’ve got a lot of speed in our lineup, and we’re catching teams flat-footed. We just have to continue doing that,” said Bennefield, whose Komets are 5-2-0 against the second-year IceMen (13-7-1), including a 5-3 victory on Friday night.

The game was tight early, but the Komets scored four goals in the second period to take a 5-2 lead.

It was the eighth time this season that the Komets had at least three goals in a period.

Forward Chris Auger, who suffered a concussion later in the game on an elbow from Karl Linden, got the surge going by redirecting a shot from defenseman Jamie Lovell for a 2-1 lead.

After Evansville defenseman Philippe Plante tied the game at 2 by skating in from the left dasher boards and tucking a backhand shot just inside the left post at 3:24, Chaulk scored his second goal by capitalizing on Bennefield’s pass from behind the IceMen’s net.

Center Brett Smith made it 4-2 with a shot from the left circle at 5:55 and forward Stephen Thorne had a short-handed breakaway goal at 13:39.

Evansville left wing Matt Pierce scored twice in the third period, but the Komets got empty-net goals from forward Tom Mele and Thorne to close the scoring.

“We’ve always had a rivalry with Evansville, and it goes back to Muskegon,” Fort Wayne coach Al Sims said, referencing the many IceMen who played for the Lumberjacks in the now-defunct IHL. “And the way both teams have been playing and being atop the standings, battling each other all year, it’s naturally going to get ugly.

“(This series) was huge. Our hockey team took a giant step as a group. … I think our guys were having a lot of fun tonight. There was a lot of offense, all kinds of chances. We could have had maybe 10 or 15 goals, but we’ll take seven.”

Fort Wayne goaltender Nick Boucher stopped 21 of 25 shots, as the Komets won their fifth straight home game. Pier-Olivier Pelletier stopped 24 of 29.