TOLEDO, Ohio -- Cody Sol slid to break up a 2-on-1 rush. Garrett Thompson knelt to deflect a rocketing Christian Hilbrich shot. Jason Binkley took one off the shin that could be felt back in Fort Wayne.
A key to the Komets’ splitting the first two games of the Central Division finals was their willingness to sacrifice their bodies to block shots.
“You can just go down the lineup of who had a shot block. Just point out the list,” said Dennis Kravchenko, who had the winning and insurance goals in the Komets’ 5-3 series-opening victory Saturday at the Huntington Center.
Coach Gary Graham demands that his players block shots to make things easier on the goalie, but it’s easy for him to say when it’s not his body.
The players recognize, though, that Cups are won through sacrifice and that even a goalie as experienced as Michael Houser, who has stopped 41 of 46 shots in the series, needs the help from his teammates.
“Guys are buying into what Gary and (assistant coach Ben Boudreau) are putting down in the game plans, and you can see it in the locker room. Everyone is buying in, and it’s contagious right now,” Sol said.
But the Walleye did a better job of getting around the Komets’ defense in Game 2 – a 2-1 victory Sunday at the Huntington Center – and the shot blocks, a statistic not tracked in the ECHL, certainly weren’t as high for Fort Wayne as they had been the night before.
“They’ve got a ton of speed, a lot of skilled forwards. They’re going to try to beat us off the rush, and we’ve got to contain our gaps and hold them out of our zone,” said Sol, whose Komets will host Games 3 and 4 at Memorial Coliseum at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and 8 p.m. Friday.
Komets fans often claim Toledo’s fans are inhospitable at the Huntington Center. Walleye faithful say Coliseum fans are equally despicable.
Komets forward Shawn Szydlowski, the ECHL’s leading scorer and MVP during the regular season, went public on Twitter with displeasure that a Toledo fan held a sign before Game 2 that mocked one of his family members, who was sitting right there, and it took security almost all of warm-ups to remove it.
“Being heckled by the opposing team’s fans is a part of the game and I respect everyone’s right to root for their favorite team and actually enjoy it most of the time. But it crosses a line when it comes to the family in attendance,” Szydlowski tweeted, adding: “Most in Toledo are good hearted and passionate about their team winning, which is what every fan should be. This was uncharacteristic of the rivalry I enjoy.”
If Fort Wayne fans want to make a statement at the Coliseum games, here’s an idea in good taste. While not many Toledo fans have bought tickets, they are known to interrupt the “Star Spangled Banner” by yelling “Hit Somebody.” If the Komets’ fans were to accompany the anthem singer, it would drown them out. Hint: They yell after "O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave.”
Other than that, be good hosts.
KEYS FOR K’S
The Komets must figure out a way to contain A.J. Jenks, who has accounted for three of Toledo’s five goals and 11 of its 46 shots in the series. He’s one of the few players willing to camp out in front of Houser, so the defensemen must work on moving him out.… The Komets had 36 shots in Game 1 and 29 in Game 2, when Toledo goalie Pat Nagle faced little in the way of close-range shots. Considering the amount of rebounds he gave up in the opener, look for the Komets to attack more in the next one.… The Komets believe the ice surface at the Coliseum is bigger than that at the Huntington Center and that it should open things up more for players such as Artur Tyanulin and Phelix Martineau, creative playmakers who are scoreless with four shots on goal in the series.… In the series, Fort Wayne is 1 of 4 on power plays and Toledo is 2 of 7.
With the ECHL going to the two-referee system in the playoffs, they like to have a referee on standby in case there is an injury. In Game 1, Mike Sheehan was in the stands and slated to work Game 2. But there was no backup Sunday. In the Kelly Cup finals, however, there should always be a backup.… Former Komets forward Brett Perlini helped lead Great Britain to a group championship, earning it a promotion to the top tier for the 2019 World Championships, a level it hasn’t been at in 24 years. Perlini had four goals and six points in five games.