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 for the annual Bob Chase Memorial Game, named after the Komets' longtime broadcaster who died on Thanksgiving in 2016.
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.
So decimated by injuries and call-ups, the Komets played with nine defensemen – three more than usual – and only seven forwards. Graber, Zach Tolkinen and Chays Ruddy, normally defensemen, played up front.
“It's not ideal, but we have a good group in there and it's just a next-man-up mentality,” Busch said. “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.”
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, Komets coach Ben 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.”
Graber opened the scoring for the Komets, on their first shot, 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. 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' disagreement – 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, putting Toledo up 2-1.
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, and it was tied at 2.