The Komets had a bevy of opportunities to net the winning goal in the 3-on-3 overtime, including a Connor Jones shot that caromed off the goalpost, but the Toledo Walleye got the 3-2 victory Thursday at Memorial Coliseum with a Josh Dickinson blast from the right circle that found the far side of the net with just 8.6 seconds remaining in extra time.
The goaltenders ruled the night, though, as Fort Wayne’s Samuel Harvey stopped 24 of 27 shots and Toledo’s Billy Christopoulos thwarted 34 of 36 at Memorial Coliseum.
The Komets (8-4-2) got goals from Will Graber and Tyler Busch in front of 7,877 fans for the annual Bob Chase Memorial Game, named after the Komets’ longtime broadcaster who died on Thanksgiving in 2016. The Komets have a 38-17-5 all-time record in Turkey Day games at the Coliseum.
The Komets wore throwback 1985-86 jerseys, which were auctioned off to benefit GiGi's Playhouse Fort Wayne, a Down syndrome achievement center. Toledo wore Goaldiggers jerseys akin to those worn by their International Hockey League franchise from the same season.
Decimated by injuries and call-ups, the Komets played with nine defensemen – three more than usual – and only seven forwards.
“I’m not making excuses, but from a coach’s standpoint, I’m extremely proud about how we battled all the way to the end,” Komets coach Ben Boudreau said. “A quarter-inch off the post with Connor Jones and they find a way (to score) at the other end, so it’s a game of inches and we didn’t get the bounce tonight. But I’m extremely proud of our group.”
Graber, Zach Tolkinen and Chays Ruddy, normally defensemen, played up front for the Komets, who are on a 0-2-1 slide.
“It’s not ideal, but we have a good group in there and it’s just a next-man-up mentality,” Busch said of the makeshift lineup. “We’ve lost some guys to the American Hockey League, and we’ve been short bodies, but everyone is stepping up and filling a role whether it’s their natural position or not. Things like that are really good to see, especially early in the season like this.”
Toledo (9-5-0) pulled into a tie with Fort Wayne for first place in the Central Division, though the defending-champion Komets are 2-0-1 against their bitter rivals this season.
As for playing with such a discombobulated lineup, Boudreau said: “We all know the details, and we do have to remind them about some of the simple things, but you can’t overcomplicate when you’re a defenseman going to play forward. You’ve just got to simplify, get the puck on your stick, and we just want it out (of our zone). These hockey players are simple guys, so if they see something they’ll be able to do it. If you don’t see something, make sure the puck is going north.
“(Playing with those defensemen at forward), it takes a toll on all those guys. And we did about the same thing (Wednesday night in a 4-3 loss at Kalamazoo). So back-to-back nights, to give everything of yourself and still find a way to battle back and get a point, I think it’s something that we can all look at ourselves in the mirror and be proud.”
Graber opened the scoring for the Komets, on their first shot of the game, when he redirected Corbin Baldwin’s attempt from the blue line 48 seconds into the first period.
Harvey thwarted Marcus Vela on a breakaway at 5:16. But he was defenseless to stop T.J. Hensick’s shot from the right circle into an open net at 6:40, after a Dickinson shot from the left circle caromed off the boards behind the Fort Wayne net and onto Hensick’s stick during a Toledo power play.
Hensick had another chance to score, from almost the same spot, 4:49 into the second period but Harvey got in his way this time to keep it tied at 1. And Harvey’s best work came at 8:06 when he gloved a Dickinson shot at the end of a 2-on-1 rush.
Harvey had to stop another 2-on-1 rush at 12:57, when his used his blocker to redirect a Brett Boeing shot out of harm’s way. Christopoulos answered at 13:39 when he foiled Kellen Jones’ shot from point-blank range, following a Toledo turnover, but Jones was penalized for goaltender interference – much to the fans’ disgust – because he crashed into Christopoulos.
That set up a 4-on-4 situation. On the ensuing faceoff, a Randy Gazzola pass off the boards set up Hensick for a goal at the end of yet another 2-on-1 rush at 13:49.
A fight broke out at 18:36 between Busch and Toledo’s Butrus Ghafari, after Ghafari blindsided Matthew Barnaby with an elbow that referee Jacob Rekucki didn’t call.
It was then Christopoulos’ time to shine, thwarting Matt Murphy from the left circle 2:14 into the third period and Connor Corcoran on a blistering shot from the blue line that sailed through a crowd at 6:10. But he couldn’t solve Busch on a 15-footer at 6:52, after the puck pinballed around the slot.
The Komets felt they got better as the game went along, especially as they dominated long stretches of the third period and overtime.
“For the most part, it was a good effort by our group,” Busch said. “We kind of figured out their game plan and, you know, started to take advantage of the forecheck. Starting in the second period there, we started to tilt the ice and made a good effort in the third. We just came up short. It’s a tough pill to swallow right now, but overall I thought it was a pretty good effort by our group.”
Notes: Blake Siebenaler’s Fort Wayne jersey sold for the most at auction, $1,000. Harvey’s sold for $895. Busch’s and Anthony Petruzzelli’s went for $750. … Before the game, the Komets presented Kelly Cup championship rings to Murphy and two players who are now members of the Walleye – Brandon Hawkins and Gazzola. Hawkins was out with a wrist injury. Gazzola had two assists and five shots.