The Komets didn’t make the playoffs last season. Weeks ago, it seemed as if that fate would be repeated. But now, they’re heading to the Eastern Conference semifinals, thanks to Sunday’s 2-1 double-overtime victory at Memorial Coliseum.
No eighth seed had ever defeated a No. 1 seed in a best-of-seven series in the history of the ECHL, and the Komets happened to do it against the defending champion Reading Royals.
The hero was left wing Aaron Clarke, who accepted forward Christian Ouellet’s pass out of the left corner and one-timed the puck from the right circle past goaltender Brandon Anderson, setting off a celebration among the 5,008 fans who had endured a 3-hour, 35-minute game.
It’s relief right now that we’re not getting back on the bus tomorrow back to Reading. Olie made a great pass, and I was in the right spot, said Clarke, whose team will take on either Cincinnati or Orlando in a series expected to start Friday.
Cincinnati leads that series 3-2. Game 6 is Tuesday in Orlando.
Seconds before Clarke’s goal at 6:45, Reading looked as if it had it won. But defenseman Matt Campanale made one too many moves and goaltender Ben Meisner deflected the shot with his glove.
Meisner, he played a great game, Clarke said. That kid has been unbelievable. And that’s usually how it goes; a great chance at one end and then you come down the ice and score.
Meisner stopped 39 of 40 shots, bringing his playoff total to 155 saves on 161 shots.
The Komets may be without forward Mike Embach for Game 1 of the next series. He faces mandatory disciplinary review from the league for clipping forward Kevin Walrod with 1:17 remaining in regulation. The Komets killed off the ensuing major penalty but spent the rest of the game missing two forwards, since Sy Nutkevitch suffered an undisclosed injury in the third period.
We were down to eight forwards, and I was doing the Powerball lottery system, just cranking out numbers (to send guys out), Fort Wayne coach Gary Graham said. Anybody was playing with everybody. The guys battled and found a way. The guys logged a lot of minutes tonight.
The Komets had two power plays in the first overtime, both because Reading had too many men on the ice. But they failed to convert and were 0 for 5 in the game 0 for 13 in the series
During pregame warm-ups, players from both teams engaged in pushing, namely Fort Wayne’s Jordon Southorn and Reading’s Aaron Gens, and Graham and general manager David Franke came out of the locker room to break it up.
The jawing continued between Fort Wayne captain Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock and Reading goaltender Riley Gill, who was benched by Royals coach Larry Courville after losing 5-1 on Thursday and 3-1 on Friday at the Coliseum. And Reading players bantered with fans behind the bench.
Fort Wayne forward Dean Ouellet’s opened the scoring on a 2-on-1 rush 2:48 into the first period, flicking the puck above a diving Anderson, who had 34 saves. Royals forward Sean Wiles tied it on a redirection at 17:29 of the second period.
I’m at a loss for words right now, I’m so tired, Komets forward Shawn Szydlowski said. But I’m so proud of this group right now.