There was nothing flashy about Corbin Kaczperski’s performance Sunday – he stopped 22 shots – but he proved himself capable in a 5-2 victory over the Iowa Heartlanders. And that’s just what the Komets needed, a goaltender who could play well enough to give No. 1 goalie Ryan Fanti a night off after Fanti played in 16 of 20 games.
“That’s a lot of games, a lot of games. I actually didn’t know that. That’s kind of crazy,” Kaczperski said after his first Fort Wayne start. “Honestly, I’m just trying to help out any way I can, that’s been my mindset since coming in.”
The flash Sunday came from forward Oliver Cooper, who had two goals and two assists.
With a lineup that’s less than full strength, the Fort Wayne players say they’re stepping up to make this a squad that truly compete for a Kelly Cup. New acquisitions, such as Kaczperski and defenseman Noah Ganske, are trying to plug up holes in the roster. Players such as Cooper and Matthew Boudens, who were part of the 2021 Cup-winning team, are setting the tone by battling through injuries and engaging in blue-collar hockey.
Kaczperski was acquired Feb. 28 from the Heartlanders to complete a November trade that sent forward Tyler Busch to Iowa for future considerations. Finding a capable duo of goalies has been challenging for the Komets, thanks to injuries, call-ups and the inconsistent play of Colton Point, who retired last month citing personal reasons.
Iowa, which has haunted the cellar of the Central Division during its two seasons of existence, has had a crowded net this season and Kaczperski welcomed the change of scenery, which brought him closer to his home of China Township, Michigan.
“We’re in a playoff spot, which is awesome. I haven’t been in that for two years and it’s very nice. I just want to help this team in any way I can,” Kaczperski said.
And that’s been a common theme stated by many of the Fort Wayne players, who have limited time to make up ground in playoff positioning. With 18 games left in the regular season, Fort Wayne (27-21-6) is 12 points back of the Indy Fuel for third place and nine points ahead of the Wheeling Nailers for the final postseason slot.
The Komets and Nailers (23-28-5) begin a home-and-home series at 8 p.m. today at Memorial Coliseum. The Komets play host to the Fuel (35-19-2) at 5 p.m. Sunday.
“(The standings are) always in the back of your mind, but we don’t want to put any added pressure on ourselves,” Cooper said. “We know we’re a good hockey team and if we get to the playoffs, it’s a new season.
“We’ve just got to get there, and I think we’ve got the team to make some noise down the stretch.”
Cooper is a good example of a player who is making sacrifices, coach Ben Boudreau said, and that’s big with Tye Felhaber, Rylan Parenteau and Samuel Dove-McFalls in the higher-level American Hockey League, and Stefano Giliati battling a shoulder injury.
Since Cooper returned from an injury last week, the Komets are 2-1-0.
“We lost four straight games without him in the lineup. He’s a heart-and-soul (player), and I’m not going to get into specifics, but he’s nowhere close to being 100% at this time of the season,” Boudreau said. “Just to be able to come back from some of the stuff he’s been dealing with, and be short of 100%, and to come out and have a four-point night, I wish I could put a lens on how important that is and how big that is. It’s so big that he wants to do it for the guys.”
Like Kaczperski, Cooper is excited about what the future holds for the Komets. So battling through some pain is worth it.
“It’s a joy getting to play with these guys, so it’s easy,” Cooper said.
Notes: Garrett Hallford, who recently completed his college hockey career at Trine, has signed with the Southern Professional Hockey League’s Fayetteville Marksmen. In 28 games this season, Hallford, 25, had 18 goals and 31 points in 28 games. The forward hails from McKinney, Texas. … Former Komets goalie Jiri Patera was called from Henderson of the AHL to the Vegas Golden Knights to back up Jonathan Quick.