The Wheeling Nailers’ Cody Sylvester has been on a tear. The Komets know it all too well, after he totaled three goals and six points in the home-and-home series that concluded with a 4-3 Nailers overtime victory Wednesday night at in Wheeling, West Virginia.
Sylvester forced overtime on a 42-foot shot with 1:08 remaining in regulation – Fort Wayne’s A.J. Jenks was in the penalty box serving a hooking call – and Sylvester netted the winner from slightly closer range in the 3-on-3 extra session.
(Video highlights are above.)
Komets coach Ben Boudreau was cautious with his words, after a disappointing outcome that dropped the Komets to 2-0-3 at WesBanco Arena. Fort Wayne took one of a possible four points in the home-and-home set, though it's 7-1-3 against Wheeling this season.
“We played an unbelievable defensive game,” Boudreau said. “I thought our details were great, keeping them to 16 shots in regulation time there. We did everything we needed to do to win, and it sucks to come out with a loss.”
Over his last eight games, Sylvester, the ECHL’s reigning Player of the Week, has eight goals and 13 points. In 11 games against Fort Wayne, he has six goals and 12 points.
For Fort Wayne (14-6-4), which fell behind Wichita for first place in the Western Conference, goaltender Jeremy Helvig stopped 15 of 19 shots Wednesday in front of an announced crowd of 861. League-worst Wheeling (14-23-5), which defeated the Komets 6-3 on Saturday, saw its goalie, Shane Starrett, thwart 25 of 28 shots.
“I thought we played a really good game, for the most part,” said the Jackson Leef, who put Fort Wayne up 3-2 by banging in the rebound of a Blake Siebenaler shot 8:34 into the third period. “We out-chanced them yet again tonight, just a couple tough bounces at the end. We need to find a way to finish those out.”
Fort Wayne got an early power-play goal from Brandon Hawkins, who has six goals and 10 points in 11 games against his former team, Wheeling. Over his last nine games, regardless of opponent, Hawkins has totaled 10 goals and 14 points, and he leads the Komets in goals (15) and points (24), while also ranking second in the ECHL with eight power-play goals.
The Nailers, who had only one shot through the first 15:39, didn’t scored until their fifth shot, 4:16 into the second period, when a wild bounce in their end set up a 3-on-1 up-ice rush that was finished by a Matt Miller one-timer.
“I think we were just playing hard on pucks, winning our small-area battles, our one-on-one battles, holding on to the puck,” said Leef, a native of Fort Wayne. “I think that’s one of those things that’s been helping us. That’s our success right there. If we stick to that, I think we’re hard to play against.”
Siebenaler, who’s also from Fort Wayne, answered just two minutes later with a 50-foot slapshot, giving him goals in back-to-back games. Siebenaler, who played with Hawkins last season for the Nailers, has three goals in 24 games this season. Leef has two goals in 15 games, and he credited the defensemen for the way they’re creating offense, as happened on his Wednesday goal.
“Yeah, that’s one thing we’ve been working on – getting pucks to our point and then getting to the net,” Leef said. “It obviously didn’t work out in our favor tonight, but we get a lot of really good scoring chances off of it and, if we can capitalize on our opportunities, I think we have a good shot of winning any night.”
Starrett prevented the Nailers from falling behind further late in the second period, thwarting Matt Murphy and Zach Pochiro on breakaways. Just 28 seconds into the third period, Helvig followed suit with a sprawling save on Lawton Courtnall.
But Helvig couldn’t thwart Matt Alfaro’s shot, at the end of a 2-on-1 rush, that tied it at 2 at 7:45.
The Nailers played without forward Joshua Winquist, as he served the first half of his two-game suspension for elbowing Komets goalie Dylan Ferguson, who was out with a neck/head injury but might be back for Friday’s game against the Indy Fuel in Indianapolis.
Notes: Jenks, who assisted on the Hawkins goal, has three goals and 11 points in his last seven games. … Fort Wayne scored on 1 of 2 power plays. Wheeling was 1 of 4. … The Komets announced that a limited number of tickets have been made available for the games at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday and Sunday against the Fuel, thanks to an improved state of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the team reiterated that wearing masks will still be mandatory at Coliseum games indefinitely. “The Komet Hockey Club will continue all safety precautions that have been in place since February at our home games,” team president Michael Franke said in a news release. “We have been very fortunate to get back to playing hockey under the guidelines and see no reason to change course at this time.” The Komets play at Indianapolis on Friday. … Marco Roy, Nick Boka, Oliver Cooper, Nolan LaPorte and Curtis Leonard sat out for the Komets. … The referee was Trevor Wohlford.