Talk about starting your tenure as the Komets' captain the right way.
Matthew Boudens, given the 'C' before the team's 70th season opener, scored two goals, assisted on another, got in a fracas with Tyler Drevitch and hit seemingly everything in sight, as the Komets defeated the Wheeling Nailers 4-3 at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday..
The night began with much pomp and circumstance commemorating the team's Kelly Cup championship. The championship banner was raised and rings were presented in front of 7,527 fans. And then the Komets started the game sloppily – a product of having an almost entirely new roster and no preseason games – before finishing with three unanswered goals to defeat the Nailers, the worst team in the ECHL last season.
“With this being the first game, and everything going on, obviously celebrating last year's team, there were a lot of emotions. But we were excited to be playing that game. Obviously, it wasn't a great start, but this shows the kind of guys we've got in our locker room and we just stuck with it,” said Boudens, a 28-year-old forward in his third season with Fort Wayne.
“Obviously, it's the first game of the year, and sometimes you're fighting the legs and fighting the puck a little bit. But the way that we battled back and to get that goal late and hang on to win, it's huge and something we can build on.”
Oliver Cooper had the only goal of the third period, redirecting a Marcus McIvor shot out of mid-air at 12:36.
“We were just playing the right way,” Cooper said. “That's what our coaches were preaching – 'Get it to the point, get shots on net and get traffic' – and I was just lucky to get a stick on it. (Stephen Harper) made a good play to get it up to the point and (Matt Alvaro) was just standing in front of the net so the goalie didn't have much to see. So I was just kind of the beneficiary on that goal.”
(Video highlights from the game are above.)
The Komets now have plenty of time to get ready for Game 2 of 72, this Saturday at Kalamazoo, Michigan, against the Wings.
A nasty habit that hindered the Komets a whopping seven times last season – giving up goals on the first shot 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 stopped 25 of 28 shots in his Fort Wayne debut.
Fort Wayne recovered from its early gaffe when a Shawn Boudrias shot caromed off the boards behind the Wheeling net and Harper, the reigning Playoff MVP, snagged the puck to chip it past goalie Joe Murdaca 13:09 into the first period for a power-play goal.
Fort Wayne was 1 for 4 on power plays and Wheeling was 0 for 2.
“The only thing that we ultimately cared about was the result of the game tonight,” Fort Wayne coach Ben Boudreau said. “It didn't matter how we got there; the only thing that really mattered to us was the two points. If anybody expected us to be perfect on the first night, I would say they were seeing delusions because we had no preseason games and an almost completely new mix of guys, and we got almost exactly what we expected in the first period, which was a really sloppy and unorganized period of chaos.”
Harper bailed out Patera late in the first period 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 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.
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, and it happened shortly after the Komets' Matthew Barnaby and 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.
The Komets were supposed to have preseason games Oct. 15 and 16 against the Nailers, but they were scrapped after positive COVID-19 tests for Fort Wayne's Alvaro and Anthony Petruzzelli, who were healthy, tested negatively during the week and able to play in the opener.
Petruzzelli and McIvor were Boudens' alternate captains.
“You know, without the exhibition games, it was definitely weird jumping right into a game in the regular season,” Cooper said. “But honestly, I think just as quick as the periods turned around, we were seeing improvements. So I think another good week of practice here, and another game next week, and I think we'll be rolling.”
Boudens also expected things to be a little challenging at the start Saturday, but he was ecstatic with the improvement throughout the game.
“For sure, it's just kind of getting your legs under you with no exhibition games, but (the Nailers) were in the same boat,” Boudens said. “It was just getting to the pucks and getting your legs going, and I think in the second (period) we started to play our game with less turnovers and started to get in on the forecheck. I think when we're playing like that, we're a tough team to beat.”
Notes: 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.