FORT WAYNE – The Komets are calling this their “Redemption Weekend,” after they lost three in a row and their stranglehold on the Turner Conference lead last week.
The redemption tour started smoothly Friday, with an exciting 3-2 victory over the Tulsa Oilers before 6,731 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
“What happened last weekend wasn’t the way we wanted to play. It wasn’t our style and we let those points slip away,” said Tom Mele, who put the Komets ahead 3-1 early in the third period. “We’ve been talking about it all week in practice, how we have to get back on track and keep the puck. Once we have it, we can’t give it back to the other team. That was the game plan all week and I think it worked out tonight.”
Mele was the beneficiary of linemate Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock’s speed. Schrock surged down the left wing, easily getting past a Tulsa defenseman, then sent a pass from behind the net to Mele, who one-timed it home.
“(Schrock) is so good at taking the puck wide and turning the defensemen, I just tried trailing him and I screamed for it,” Mele said. “He obviously heard me. He put it in the perfect spot, where I could get good wood on it.”
Fort Wayne goaltender Nick Boucher closed things down from there, finishing with 28 saves, including three during a third-period 5-on-3 power play.
“Kaleigh, he was just owning that right defenseman,” Fort Wayne coach Al Sims said. “I don’t know who it was or if it was the same game all night, or different guys, but he blew around that side twice. … It looks like Kaleigh is getting his confidence and that’s a good thing for us. When you get two goals from your third line, your kids, that’s really encouraging.”
Tulsa goalie Ian Keserich stopped 35 of 38 shots.
It was the first ever meeting between the Komets and Oilers, who play again at the Coliseum tonight. The Komets (23-11-2) have a one-point lead over second-place Evansville in the conference.
After a slow first period, the intensity was ramped up in the second, particularly in the a 30-second sequence that saw Tulsa’s Tyler Fleck elbow a falling Colin Chaulk into the boards and Tulsa’s Gerome Giudice wallop Jamie Milam from behind and into the boards.
Fleck got a minor penalty. Giudice got nothing. And it was all too familiar for the fans, who have seen stars Brett Smith and Chris Auger suffer concussions on hits to the head in recent weeks.
Smith, who leads the team with 14 goals and 42 points, missed his third straight game with concussion. Auger, who had missed nine of the previous 13 games with a concussion, played.
Fort Wayne opened the scoring 1:47 into the second period, when Artem Podshendyalov redirected David Starenky’s shot from the point into the net. Tulsa’s Dylan Clarke answered at 9:11 by fending off a defender and wristing a 20-foot shot past Boucher.
Giudice thought he had given the Oilers a second-period lead, but it was waved off because it was kicked into the goal. Seconds later, Fort Wayne’s Frankie DeAngelis scored with a shot from 40 feet out that sailed through a crowd for a 2-1 lead.
After Mele’s goal, the Oilers (17-15-3) got one from Jay Sprague, set up by Giudice’s cross-ice pass.
Notes: Tulsa is coached by Bruce Ramsay, a player/assistant coach with the Komets in 1999-2000. He also coached against the Komets with Port Huron and Muskegon. … Tulsa defenseman Luke Lucyk is the cousin of former Komets defenseman Carey Lucyk, who played eight seasons with Fort Wayne. Luke Lucyk, who considers Carey an uncle, played for Notre Dame. … The ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings and president Paul Pickard have parted ways. The former IHL commissioner came under fire from the Komets in 2009, when he moved the Wings to the ECHL, costing the IHL one of its flagship teams. Ironically, the Komets have recently been considering a move to the ECHL. … The Komets also played without defenseman Dustin Molle (groin) and goaltender Alex Kangas (hip). … The Komets wore special pink jerseys to help raise money for breast cancer research. They will wear them again tonight, and they will be silently auctioned through the second intermission.