Matthew Boudens’ first night as captain was a memorable one.
The 28-year-old forward, in his third season with the Komets, was given the ‘C’ before they began their 70th season at Memorial Coliseum, listened as 7,527 fans cheered the unveiling of the Kelly Cup banner and received his championship ring from owner Stephen Franke before the opening faceoff.
Then Boudens got involved in an early fracas with the Wheeling Nailers’ Tyler Drevitch – a villain at the Coliseum – before scoring twice, assisting on another goal, and helping the Komets to a 4-3 victory that saw them score three unanswered goals.
Oliver Cooper had the winning goal 12:36 into the third period, redirecting out of mid-air a Marcus McIvor shot.
The Komets now have plenty of time to get ready for Game 2 of 72, next Saturday at Kalamazoo, Michigan, against the Wings.
A nasty habit that hindered the Komets last season, giving up goals on the first shots against them, reared its head just 4:38 into the first period when the Nailers’ Nick Hutchison scored on breakaway rush with his team skating short-handed.
Hutchison’s goal came against netminder Jiri Patera, a prospect of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, who made his Fort Wayne debut and stopped 25 of 28 shots.
Last season, seven times the Komets allowed goals on the first shots they faced.
Fort Wayne recovered from its early gaffe when a Shawn Boudrias shot caromed off the boards behind the Wheeling net and Stephen Harper, the reigning Playoff MVP, snagged the puck to chip it past goalie Joe Murdaca 13:09 into the first period.
Harper bailed out Patera later in the period by sweeping the puck out of harm’s way as it was about the cross the goal line, but seconds later, at 19:51, Sean Josling snapped a 42-foot shot that crept underneath Patera and into the net for a 2-1 Nailers lead.
Wheeling’s Patrick Watling made it 3-1 with a slapshot from the right circle 1:29 into the second period, shortly after Fort Wayne’s Connor Jones was thwarted from point-blank range at the other end.
Fort Wayne’s Boudens, battling for position in front of the Wheeling net, redirected a Will Graber blue-line shot to cut Wheeling’s lead to one at 8:32. It happened shortly after the Komets’ Matthew Barnaby and Oliver Cooper were foiled by a diving Murdaca, who stopped 24 of 28 shots.
Boudens, who became the captain in the wake of A.J. Jenks’ retirement, tied it at 13:59 at the end of a breakaway rush, caused when Wheeling’s Jake Flegel tripped and coughed up the puck at the Fort Wayne blue line.
Notes: Fort Wayne’s Anthony Petruzzelli and McIvor were the alternate captains. … Petruzzelli and Matt Alvaro, who had tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the cancellation of the preseason games last week, were given doctor approval after testing negative last week and played Saturday. … The referee was JR Strager. … Shawn Szydlowski, the Komets’ longtime star, did color commentary on the WOWO broadcast after unveiling the banner. Szydlowski, who had back surgery in August, began skating with equipment last week but is at least three weeks from being able to go full contact. He hasn’t been re-signed by the Komets. … The Komets played without Aaron Huffnagle, Nick Jermain, Corbin Baldwin, Josh Owings and Samuel Harvey. … Defenseman Matt Murphy was released by Belleville of the AHL, but the Komets don’t currently expect him to return as they think he’ll sign with another AHL team.