FORT WAYNE – The big difference between the Komets on Friday night, compared with the previous three weeks, was their killer instinct.
With the game tied at 2 after one period, the Komets started attacking with authority – T.J. Miller and Brett Smith broke the game open by rushing in and burying rebounds – and it led to a 6-3 victory over the Dayton Gems.
With two games remaining in the regular season, the Komets’ lead in the Turner Conference remains one point over Evansville. Missouri and Rapid City were three points back of Fort Wayne, with Rapid City playing a late game at Arizona.
Fort Wayne (38-19-7) has had many opportunities to grab the top seed in the conference this month, but they had been on a 1-2-4 run, with all but one of those games coming at Memorial Coliseum.
We needed that game, said captain Colin Chaulk, who scored twice. We can’t keep relying on everyone else. We need to win games and, if we do, then we’re in great position.
It was the first of three straight games between Fort Wayne and Dayton who meet tonight at Dayton’s Hara Arena in what could be the 3-year-old Gems’ final home game. They said at a news conference Thursday they need new investors to continue playing, though it’s unclear whether the Gems would join the Komets in a possible move to the ECHL anyway.
We’ve talked a lot about trying to get pucks to the net when guys are driving the net, Chaulk said. And we have to do it at the right times. If guys are already at the net and then you lay a hard shot, the rebound is going to hop out if you don’t score. You want to have some strategy to it, so you have one or two extra chances.
The rivalry between the Komets and modern Gems (23-28-13) has been marked by the Fort Wayne fans’ hatred of goalie Larry Sterling, and he gave the 7,557 in attendance plenty of fodder Friday. He led the game with 14 penalty minutes – including a misconduct for complaining about a delay-of-game penalty for knocking the net off its moorings – and stopped only 27 of 33 shots before getting yanked after the second period.
It was a dominating performance in the second period. Sterling would make first saves and second saves, and we’d score on the third one, Komets coach Al Sims said. Our guys were determined tonight to get (the puck) to the net and get to the net. A lot of goals from close in and (Mike) Vaskivuo – you can’t say much more about him; he’s probably our most skilled player and he had four points tonight.
Sterling’s replacement, Dan Dunn, stopped all 14 shots he faced. Fort Wayne’s Nick Boucher stopped 23 of 26 but was bested by forward Jonathan Ornelas twice and defenseman Greg Labenski.
Vaskivuo (goal, three assists) and Jean-Michel Rizk also scored for Fort Wayne.
Notes: Rapid City’s Riley Weselowski was selected as the CHL’s Most Outstanding Defenseman, and Fort Wayne’s Frankie DeAngelis was the runner-up in voting among coaches, reporters and various team officials. Defenseman Brent Henley didn’t play in the third period for undisclosed reasons. Sims said he’ll play tonight.