CINCINNATI – Fans across the ECHL, even ones who usually detest all things Komets, blew up social media in the aftermath of Fort Wayne’s season-ending 1-0 loss to the Cincinnati Cyclones in Game 7 of the Central Division semifinals Wednesday night.
The ECHL doubled down and said the right call was made when an Oliver Cooper goal with 1 minute, 11 seconds remaining in the third period was waved off, following video review, because Samuel Dove-McFalls grazed goaltender Beck Warm.
It can be debated if this qualified as interference, certainly to the point it should have decided a Game 7 and squashed the Komets’ chances of one of the biggest upsets in league history. Not only was the level of Dove-McFalls’ contact in question, so was the position it happened – right on the edge of the goal crease, if not actually outside it, as Cooper redirected a Darien Kielb shot.
“It’s a disgusting call,” Komets captain Anthony Petruzzelli said. “We looked at the video and there’s nothing to be said other than it was a terrible call.”
The referees were Tyler Hascall and John Lindner, but they seemed ready to drop the puck with the game tied at 1 before one of the linesmen, Christopher Williams or Chad Fuller, stepped in and recommended a video review that it appeared the Cyclones weren’t even pleading for.
“It’s a disgrace that they had to get involved and have that much of an impact,” Fort Wayne coach Ben Boudreau said. “You want to look back at a hockey game and say that the referees had no impact. You can’t say that tonight.”
The ECHL’s senior vice president of hockey operations, Joe Ernst, who is in charge of officiating, said via text message that the correct call was made. Citing Rule 69.3 for contact inside the goal crease, Ernst wrote: “Dove-McFalls goes through the top of the blue paint, making contact with the Cincy goalie’s glove and left shoulder, spinning him, and he doesn’t have time to reset his position prior to the puck going in. This would be no goal, no penalty.”
Cyclones captain Justin Vaive, who helped the Komets to the 2021 Kelly Cup, netted the only goal that counted by redirecting a Jalen Smereck shot during a second-period power play, after a failed clear of the defensive zone by Cooper.
All four times the Cyclones have been shut out this season, including the playoffs, Vaive has scored the first goal in the following game.
The Cyclones scored on 1 of 2 opportunities with the man-advantage and the Komets were 0 for 4 in a game that was influenced less by the officials than any other in the series, until the final 1:11, when the crowd of 2,174 went into a frenzy.
It was a year to the day that both the Komets and Cyclones lost Game 7s in this round – Fort Wayne 3-2 in overtime to the Wheeling Nailers at the Coliseum, and Cincinnati 4-2 to the Toledo Walleye, the team the Cyclones will now face in the Central Division finals.
Netminder Ryan Fanti, who turned in one of the all-time great Komets postseason series, stopped 37 of 38 shots Wednesday. He had shutouts in Games 3 and 6, and finished with a .959 save percentage, the best in the Kelly Cup playoffs so far.
“(Fanti) was great. He battled every day,” Petruzzelli said. “Not getting the start in Game 1, then being able to get challenged like that and come in Games 2 through 7 and work his butt off, basically, as hard as he could, he gave us a chance to win every night. It was really great to see.”
But it was Cincinnati’s Warm who came out with the 35-save shutout in Game 7, a night after he got pulled going into the third period, and he finished the series with a .950 save percentage.
The Komets played without Marcus McIvor, Noah Ganske, Garrett Van Wyhe and Adam Brubacher, all injured on hits in the series, along with Scott Allan (paternity leave) and Alex Peters, who never showed up from Bakersfield of the American Hockey League.
The Cyclones, who had the ECHL’s second-best record behind the Idaho Steelheads, had a full complement of players but got all they could handle from the Komets.
“These guys fought all the way through to the end,” Petruzzelli said. “I’m happy to be a part of this group. It’s awesome to see the resiliency we had, just all year long, and being able to battle back and force that Game 7.”
The Komets have been in 16 Game 7s in their history and have a 9-7 mark, including the 2016 quarterfinals when they defeated the Cyclones 2-0 at the Coliseum. But they’ve lost their last three Game 7s, including a 4-3 overtime game to the Colorado Eagles in the 2018 conference finals at Loveland, Colorado, that was also marred by controversy. In that game, it was a goaltender interference penalty on Dennis Kravchenko, after referees allowed the same thing to happen at the other end moments before, that set up Ryan Olsen’s winning power-play goal.
Boudreau was an assistant coach on that team 2018 team and Petruzzelli was in the lineup. This loss stung just as much.
“It’s a great effort. I loved everything that the guys did,” Boudreau said. “Nobody thought that we could be here in this position and lose four one-goal games against the division-leading Cincinnati Cyclones, so absolutely I’m proud. There are games you can look at yourselves in the mirror and there are games you can’t, and every one of these guys should be walking around here with their heads held high and being able to look themselves in the mirror.”
The Komets’ end-of-season jersey auction will be at 7 p.m. today at Memorial Coliseum. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and it will be free.