It's been such a blur that forward Anthony Nellis isn't necessarily digesting what he's accomplishing. He leads the ECHL playoffs in goals (seven) and points (12) over 11 games, and his Komets are in reach of a Kelly Cup, not bad for a player who, in hindsight, didn't receive enough attention from onlookers when the season began.
“I feel like we're playing so many games lately that it's been play one game, then immediately focus on another game. In the (Western Conference Finals) against Allen, we played four games in five nights and it was a possibility we'd play five in six. You don't really have time to embrace where you're at in the stats columns,” Nellis said.
“Obviously, I know I'm having success right now, but I've got to give credit to my linemates. I've gotten a lot of opportunities from the coach (Ben Boudreau), as well. Getting a lot of trust from my teammates and my coach, it's a big boost to myself.”
The Komets, who are tied at 1 with the South Carolina Stingrays in the best-of-5 Kelly Cup Finals, built their roster with flashy names such as Shawn Szydlowski, A.J. Jenks, Brandon Hawkins, Justin Vaive, Anthony Petruzzelli, Marco Roy, Zach Pochiro and Blake Siebenaler.
Nellis seemed like he'd be a good support piece. The Komets liked what he did for them late in the 2018-19 season as a rookie out of Lake Superior State, with six goals and 10 points in 15 games, including five playoff games. Last season, he grew into a solid player with 15 goals and 29 points in 47 games for the Idaho Steelheads, plus three games with the Texas Stars of the higher-level American Hockey League.
This regular season, he blossomed. In 39 games, he had 10 goals and 30 points; was crucial on both the top-ranked power play and penalty kill; brought a high-speed, physical brand that earned him the team's Mr. Hustle Award; and was selected Fort Wayne's Most Improved Player.
“It's been a very different year this year, if I compared where I started to where I am right now,” said Nellis, 26, a native of Breakeyville, Quebec. “I just embrace the process. So far, things are going well for me in the playoffs. I've just got to keep going. Realistically, we've only got one week of hockey left. I just want to keep going and the ultimate goal is to win that Cup.”
Nellis had playoff success in juniors, reaching two finals, and at Lake Superior State, which lost to Minnesota State in the semifinals of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament his senior year. But never had he endured grueling scheduling like this – 17 games over the last 32 days, covering 8,355 miles – and he'd never won a Cup.
That could change soon; Game 3 is at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Memorial Coliseum, where Games 4 and 5, if necessary, will also be played.
“We need to win two, but they've got to win in our barn, so obviously I think we feel good about this situation,” said Nellis, whose team won 7-2 and then lost 4-2 in North Charleston, South Carolina. “The goal was to get at least one (victory) over there. When you win the first one, now your goal changes and you want to win the second one. But at the end of the day, the (original) goal was to win one over there and everyone is realistic and now we're optimistic about what's ahead of us now.”
Nellis has at least one point in 7 of 11 playoff games. In five games since being put on a line with Szydlowski and Alan Lyszczarczyk, he's produced four goals and eight points, and the line has totaled seven goals and 23 points. Nellis was the only Fort Wayne player to score in both Games 1 and 2 of the finals.
Nellis' rights are still held by the Steelheads, who opted out of this season because of the pandemic. The rights to Hawkins, Vaive, Lyszczarczyk, Randy Gazzola and Mathieu Brodeur are also owned by other teams. But that's not something on Nellis' mind right now.
“The goal for myself was to win no matter where I played this year,” he said. “Fort Wayne, I'm glad they showed interest in me. I'd played here before, so they knew me, but the mindset didn't change, and I'm not thinking about where I'm going to end up next year. I'd rather win this Cup and, afterward, see what the future holds.”
Notes: More than 6,100 tickets for Game 3 have been sold. ... With the Coliseum returning to full capacity, it is reminding fans: a clear-bag policy remains in effect, with rules at komets.com; fans not vaccinated against COVID-19 should wear masks in compliance with health recommendations; and patience is requested at concessions lines because of short staffing.
vs. South Carolina
Tied at 1
Game 1: Komets 7, Stingrays 2
Game 2: Stingrays 4, Komets 2
Game 3: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Memorial Coliseum
Game 4: 8 p.m. Friday at Coliseum
Game 5: 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Coliseum*