Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Phelix Martineau of the Komets attempts to score on Cincinnati during the second period at Memorial Coliseum on Sunday night.
Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Michael Houser of the Komets prevents Daniel Muzito-Bagenda of Cincinnati from scoring during the third period at Memorial Coliseum on Sunday night.
Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Phelix Martineau, shown here trying to score against Cincinnati, is one of the Komets’ latest late-season finds.
Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Mike Barrett of Cincinnati takes posession of the puck from the Komets during the second period.
Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Daniel Maggio of the Komets and Mike Barrett fight for control of the puck during the second period at the Coliseum.
Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Gabriel Desjardins of the Komets attacks Cincinnati Cyclones goaltender Hayden Stewart at Memorial Coliseum on Sunday.
Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Bobby Shea of the Komets fights against Cincinnati’s Brandon McNally.
Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Bobby Shea of the Komets attempts to take control of the puck from Cincinnati’s Shawn O’Donnell during the second period at the Coliseum.
Saturday, April 14, 2018 1:00 am
JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette
This week was filled with anticipation for Game 1 of the Central Division semifinals between the Komets and Cincinnati Cyclones, teams that left the Memorial Coliseum ice after the regular-season finale Sunday dangerously close to a brawl. They don't like each other, that's abundantly clear, and that's one of the reasons to be excited about this best-of-7 series.
Here are 10 storylines you need to know about heading into today's 7:30 p.m. opener at the Coliseum.
Top 2 scorers: The ECHL's scoring champion and MVP, Fort Wayne's Shawn Szydlowski (31 goals, 79 points), will go head to head with the runner-up, Cincinnati's Jesse Schultz (18 goals, 75 points). But Szyd has a lot more offensive help, including Garrett Thompson, who was fifth in the league with 71 points, and Gabriel Desjardins, who was tied for eighth with 67 and voted MVP by his teammates.
Overtime watch: The Komets and Cyclones have already had two epic playoff series in the ECHL. After upsetting the conference's top seed, Reading, in 2014, the Komets lost in the second round in six games to the Cyclones. In 2016, the Komets' road to the conference finals included a seven-game first-round victory over Cincinnati. In those two series, the Komets won three of the six games that went past regulation time, and there were three games that reached double overtime.
Special-teams watch: Fort Wayne ranked 13th during the regular season with 14.97 penalty minutes per game and Cincinnati was 16th (13.78). But the Cyclones' deadly power play could be a formidable factor in this series if penalties are ramped up. It ranked second in the league (20.1 percent) while Fort Wayne's penalty kill ranked 12th (84 percent). Not that the Komets and their ninth-ranked power play (18.1 percent) wouldn't relish some time to work against the second worst penalty kill (76.7 percent). Keep an eye on Cyclones forward Justin Vaive, who was third in the league with 12 power-play goals, while Fort Wayne defenseman Ryan Culkin totaled four goals and 10 assists on power plays in just 53 games.
The next big things: The Komets have a history of finding late-season gems coming straight out of juniors or college. Justin Hodgman, Daniel Maggio and Ryan Lowney are just a few from the past. Phelix Martineau and Anthony Petruzzelli have already stood out, combining for five goals and six points in their first seven combined games. The Cyclones' newbies includes Myles Powell, who has one goal and three points in five games out of R.I.T. and has also played four games in the higher-level American Hockey League, and Eric Diodati, who has two goals and six points in 18 games.
AHL returns: The Komets hope to get all-star Artur Tyanulin back from Tucson of the AHL when he passes concussion testing – perhaps in time for Game 3 – and there's the possibility that they could also get either Trevor Cheek or Zac Larraza back. Cincinnati left the ECHL's Rookie of the Year, Justin Danforth, on its playoff roster even though he's with Rochester of the AHL. And goalie Anthony Peters is 11-7-1 with a 2.74 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Goaltending battle: Fort Wayne's No. 1 goalie, Michael Houser, was 28-11-4 with a 2.73 GAA, a .909 SP and two shutouts in the regular season. And he's familiar with many of Cincinnati's shooters, since he played with them last season. Garrett Bartus is as capable a backup as there is in the ECHL. Cincinnati has three goalies on its active roster – Jonas Johansson, Jason Kasdorf and Hayden Stewart – and Johansson fared best against the Komets in the regular season with a .897 SP in three games. But Stewart played four of Cincy's last five games and the rookie from Cornell is 2-2-0 with a 3.51 GAA and a .901 SP.
Heady players: Komets captain Jamie Schaafsma won titles with the Allen Americans in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and went to playoff finals seven straight years. The Cyclones have three players – Vaive, Dominic Zombo and Brock Beukeboom – that are the sons of longtime NHL players.
Komets' Achilles heel: Two teams gave the Komets fits consistently this season – Kalamazoo, which won 5 of 6 meetings, and Cincinnati, which won 5 of 9. And it wasn't just Schultz, Vaive and Danforth that burned the K's. Shawn O'Donnell had two goals and nine points in six games; Daniel Muzito-Bagenda had three goals and six points in seven games; and Winston Day Chief had four goals and five points in eight games. A darkhorse for Fort Wayne would be defenseman Bobby Shea, who had one goal, six points and 22 penalty minutes in eight meetings.
On the coaches: Fort Wayne's Gary Graham won championships as Al Sims' assistant, then won one of his own as a head coach in the Southern Professional Hockey League with Pensacola. Since taking over as the Komets' head coach, he has a playoff record of 27-22 and has won 5 of 9 playoff series. Cincinnati's Matt Macdonald was an assistant with the Cyclones from 2012 to 2014, when they lost to Alaska in the Kelly Cup finals. Since taking over as the head coach, he has lost his only playoff series – in seven games to Graham.
Health concerns: The Cyclones are dealing with injuries, but nothing like the Komets, who are without Tyanulin, Marc-Olivier Roy, Curtis Leonard, Taylor Crunk and Cam Lanigan. Schaafsma is expected to return from a lower body injury tonight and Culkin may be available, too, and this is to say nothing of the players who have had serious injuries in recent weeks such as Shea, Justin MacDonald, Cody Sol and Dennis Kravchenko.
Prediction: Brace yourself, this is the rare playoff series you shouldn't expect to be filled with low-scoring, defensive games. Special teams will play a huge factor and that woeful Cyclones penalty kill sticks out like a sore thumb against Fort Wayne's top-ranked offense. Komets in six.
– Justin A. Cohn,The Journal Gazette