Drake Rymsha has speed and he showed it tonight.
The 21-year-old center stole the puck from the Kalamazoo Wings' Austin Farley and went the length of the ice, steering around a defender along the way, then snapped a shot from the right circle into the net to secure a 3-2 overtime victory for the Komets.
“It's no fun losing, said Rymsha, whose Komets are 5-7-3 in their last 15 games. “We just knew that with this group in here, if we could just put together the full 60 (minutes), we'd come out on top. In the overtime, it's 3-on-3 and there's so much open ice. I was just trying to use my skill and I was lucky enough to pot that win.”
(Video highlights are above.)
Rymsha, a fifth-round pick of the NHL's Los Angeles Kings in 2017, has six goals and 13 points in 14 Fort Wayne games, including two points tonight.
“He passed up an opportunity to shoot in the second period. We told him, he's 'got a great shot,'” Komets coach Ben Boudreau said. “He's typically a shooter when he's playing at his best. We told him to pull the trigger. We keep passing up opportunities to shoot and you can tell he took that message and really applied it. If you put the puck on the net, you give the goalie a chance to make a mistake.”
The Komets (22-19-8) are within three points of Indy for third place in the Central Division and now have a five-point lead over Wheeling for fourth place.
Kalamazoo (18-22-7) got 21 saves from Jake Hildebrand in front of 6,777 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
But he was outperformed by Fort Wayne's Dylan Ferguson, who stopped 27 saves in his first action since Jan. 12. Ferguson, a Vegas Golden Knights prospect, had been dealing with an undisclosed illness.
“He was phenomenal," Boudreau said. "When we're keeping them under three goals per game, we're giving ourselves chances to win on any given night. You can see a lot of losses; last weekend we gave up (16 goals total in three losses) and those are tough games to win, no matter what way you spin it.
“(Ferguson) made saves he had no business making. And he made the routine saves. That's what you ask a goalie to do. You ask him to make the saves he's supposed to make and if he can come up with one or two that are destined for the back of the net, you still give us a chance.”
Kalamazoo scored on 2 of 7 power plays. Fort Wayne was 1 for 4.
Ferguson made abundance of saves on close-range shots as the Wings had a 7-1 shot lead through the first 10:44.
“They had two or three point-blank scoring chances on somebody who hasn't played in a month,” Boudreau said. “So he gave us a chance to win and I'm extremely happy for him because he's been battling an illness and it's just a huge confidence builder, not only for him but for our team as well.”
The Wings enjoyed the game's first four power plays – and more than a minute with a delayed penalty coming and an extra attacker on the ice – and they took a 1-0 lead when Boston Leier got to a rebound and flicked the puck inside Ferguson's arm at 14:51 with a man-advantage.
The Komets answered with a power-play goal of their own at 16:06. Captain A.J. Jenks polished off a tic-tac-toe passing play, which began with Rymsha and Mason Bergh, by scoring from just off the right goalpost.
Ferguson kept it tied by foiling Justin Taylor on a shot from point-blank range at the end of an odd-man rush 56 seconds into the second period.
Hildebrand kept pace by foiling a Gabriel Verpaelst redirection at 2:57.
Those two renewed acquaintances as the Komets made it 2-1 at 11:38. Fort Wayne's Ben Jones swiveled from the left post to send a pass to Verpaelst, who shot the puck from 20 feet out. Hildebrand kicked the net off its mooring as the shot was en route, but referee Stan Szczurek decided to allow the goal since Fort Wayne had nothing to do with that action.
The Wings tied it on a Farley shot off a rebound, during a power play, 1:22 into the third period.
“Our record lately on home ice has been unacceptable and we know that,” Rymsha said. “We had to come out tonight and play a full game. There were a couple moments there where we could have let off the gas there, but we didn't. We stuck with it and ended up getting the two points, which was huge for us in the standings."
OTHER THOUGHTS …
-- It must be a relief for Komets fans to see Rymsha shoot the puck without hesitation, as that's been such a big problem for Fort Wayne lately, though less so tonight. As an example of one mistake, Brett McKenzie skated in on an odd-man rush in the first 2 minutes and attempted a low-percentage backhand pass that was broken up.
-- The Komets have a whopping nine players from their affiliation with the Golden Knights and a working agreement with the Kings: Chaz Reddekopp, Rymsha, Jones, Brad Morrison, Stephen Baylis, Max Gottlieb, Bergh and goalies Ferguson and Cole Kehler.
-- Glad to see the referee allowed the Verpaelst goal, even though the net was clearly off its moorings. That action didn't affect the scoring opportunity at all, and it was clear it was knocked off by the Wings, so I don't like seeing teams lose a goal that way. That and whistles that are blown too quickly are irritating.
-- Say what you will about Jenks, he's got no problems camping out in front of the net and wreaking havoc there. If only the Komets had at least one other player willing to do that.
-- Penalties are really a problem for the Komets. They entered the night as the most penalized team in the league with 17.9 minutes per game, but that can be a deceptive statistic because they have a league-high 29 major penalties. That said, they had been short-handed 194 times – eighth most in the 26-team ECHL – and their penalty kill ranked 20th at 79.9%. Against the Wings, they were short-handed seven times, killing only five of those power plays.
-- This was the Komets' 16th game that went past regulation time. They are 7-6 in games decided in overtime and 1-2 in shootouts.
-- The Komets remained without leading-scoring Brady Shaw (concussion), all-star Shawn St-Amant (upper body) and Morrison (lower body), though they're considered day-to-day and could play Friday at the Coliseum against Indy. Chase Stewart and Kyle Haas have two games left to serve in their six-game ECHL suspensions for their parts in a fight Jan. 31 at Jacksonville, Florida. Scratched were Gage Torrel and goalie Patrick Munson.