Considering the Komets and Allen Americans hadn't played since 2012 -- in the Central Hockey League -- few could have expected just how heated this series would be.
The Americans have a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals, thanks to a 3-2 victory in overtime tonight, cemented by Gary Steffes' goal off a redirection.
There have been four fights, 11-and 10-player post-whistle scrums, and tonight's was preceded by a wild scene in which all 36 players almost came to blows during warm-ups.
The referees, Stephen Reneau and Tyler Puddifant, weren't yet on the ice to see Allen’s Dyson Stevenson fire the puck at an opposing player and Fort Wayne’s Gabriel Beaupre return the favor. Then, Allen’s Spencer Asuchak skated behind Spencer Martin and gouged him with a stick, sending the backup goaltender sprawling to the ice. (Video of the incident is above.)
What ensued was mostly shouting at center ice but it set the tone for the game.
“Honestly, I think it was (started) on their part,” said Komets captain Jamie Schaafsma, who captained Allen to the ECHL title last season. “Marty definitely didn’t cross the red line there. You get someone who slewfoots our backup goalie, we’re not just going to stand by. I think that’s garbage.
“You can see them acting like they’re patrolling the red line, like they’re running security there. I think it’s them probably trying to get us off our game and I don’t think it really worked. I think it got everyone more heated to beat these guys, a little more motivated. So we’re not really going to worry about it too much.”
The ECHL's vice-president of hockey operations, Joe Ernst, saw warm-ups from the press box and could assess fines or suspensions before Thursday's Game 3 at Allen, Texas.
Once the puck was dropped Sunday, Fort Wayne’s Mason Geertsen fought Justin Courtnall, Jordon Southorn took on Asuchak, and Shawn Szydlowski had a slugfest with Stevenson. In Game 1, there had been a fight between Beaupre and Steffes.
“We showed that if they want to go out and throw fists with us, we’re a tough team and can defend ourselves that way, too,” Schaafsma said. “We’re not going to give into those kinds of antics, but we want to play between whistles and try to stay out of the box.”
Minor penalties, not fighting, have been the Komets' biggest hindrance. They have allowed Allen to score on 3 of 13 power plays, while Fort Wayne is 1 of 6. The referees have penalized Fort Wayne 23 times and Allen only 15 times.
Considering these teams hadn’t played since they were both in the CHL, there’s no clear reason for the hatred. However, Allen coach Steve Martinson, who has won nine championships, including three with the Americans, often fields teams that try to get under opponents’ skins.
This series is already similar to the three between the Komets and the United Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs from 2005 to 2007. Martinson’s IceHogs won two of those and would run at the goalies, try to draw penalties after the whistles and verbally attack Komets during warm-ups. But the Komets came back from a 3-1 deficit to win the 2005 semifinals.