The Komets were short on bodies, but they built a two-goal lead Friday. They couldn't hang on, though, losing 5-4 to the Cincinnati Cyclones in front of a crowd of 5,136 at Heritage Bank Center in Cincinnati.
The Komets (16-9-3), who dropped to third place in the division, begin a home-and-home series with the first-place Toledo Walleye at 7:30 p.m. today at Memorial Coliseum.
The Komets, who got goals from Matt Alvaro, Oliver Cooper, Zach Pochiro and Shawn Boudrias, played without Shawn Szydlowski (charley horse), Tyler Busch (COVID-19), Matthew Barnaby (ankle/head), Matt Murphy (flu), D.J. King (leg) and Josh Owings (upper body). That left them with only 16 players – two short of a full lineup.
“Honestly, I thought as a team we played really well,” Cooper said. “It's a tough loss and we may have deserved better. But that's hockey. We'll have to forget about that one, build off it and get ready for (Toledo).”
Both of Fort Wayne's goalies were rookie newcomers: Mario Culina, who stopped 16 of 21 shots, and backup Liam Hughes. Culina, who was signed Friday, was 5-0-0 with a 2.20 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage for the Newfoundland Growlers in 2018-19, before he returned to college hockey for Brock University.
The Komets signed Culina and Hughes, who had been at the University of Manitoba, in the wake of releasing Bailey Brkin and Tommy Proudlock on Thursday. If Hughes starts today, he'll be the eighth goalie used by the Komets in 28 games. That includes Sean Bonar, who stopped 28 of 32 shots for second-place Cincinnati (18-11-1).
“Any day of the week, whoever we have in the lineup, we have a lot of confidence we can get the job done,” Cooper said. “I think the big thing for us to be successful is to be physical and to be aggressive. As long as we keep doing that, I truly believe we're going to have a lot of success this year.”
After goals by Alvaro (power play) and Cooper (short-handed), Cincinnati's Justin Vaive scored a power-play goal off a rebound. And Patrick Polino scored on a shot from between the circles, tying it at 2 at 1:15 of the second period.
The Cyclones took advantage of lax defense at 5:18, when Jason Tackett feathered a pass through the defense to an unguarded Lincoln Griffin for a goal. Griffin scored again, to make it 4-2 at 17:37.
Pochiro answered 2:01 into the third period by batting the puck out of mid-air, as he fell to the ice, but Cincinnati's Dajon Mingo answered on a power play.
“You know, we played hard and we threw the body and we blocked shots,” Boudreau said. “It's so taxing on these players to play these kinds of minutes, especially when you're short bodies. It's tough when you have the momentum and they find a way to get one in.”