Matthew Boudens' first night as captain was certainly a memorable one.
The 28-year-old forward was given the C before the Komets began their 70th season at Memorial Coliseum, listened as 7,527 fans cheered the unveiling of the Kelly Cup banner and received his championship ring from majority owner Stephen Franke before the opening faceoff Saturday.
Then Boudens got involved in an early fracas with the Wheeling Nailers' Tyler Drevitch – a villain at the Coliseum – before scoring twice and assisting on another goal as the Komets cemented a 4-3 victory that saw them finish with three unanswered goals.
“With this being the first game, and everything going on, obviously celebrating last year's team, there were a lot of emotions. But we were excited to be playing that game. Obviously, it wasn't a great start, but this shows the kind of guys we've got in our locker room and we just stuck with it,” Boudens said. “Obviously, it's the first game of the year, and sometimes you're fighting the legs and fighting the puck a little bit. But the way that we battled back and to get that goal late and hang on to win, it's huge and something we can build on.”
Oliver Cooper had the only goal of the third period, redirecting out of mid-air a Marcus McIvor shot at 12:36.
“We were just playing the right way,” Cooper said. “That's what our coaches were preaching – 'Get it to the point, get shots on net and get traffic.' – and I was just lucky to get a stick on it. (Stephen Harper) made a good play to get it up to the point and (Matt Alvaro) was just standing in front of the net so the goalie didn't have much to see. So I was just kind of the beneficiary on that goal.”
A nasty habit that hindered the Komets seven times last season, giving up goals on the first shots against them, reared its head just 4:38 into the first period when the Nailers' Nick Hutchison scored on breakaway rush. Hutchison's goal came against netminder Jiri Patera, a prospect of the NHL's Vegas Golden Knights, who made his Fort Wayne debut and stopped 25 of 28 shots.
Fort Wayne recovered from its early gaffe when a Shawn Boudrias shot caromed off the boards behind the Wheeling net and Harper, the reigning Playoff MVP, snagged the puck to chip it past goalie Joe Murdaca 13:09 into the first period.
“The only thing that we ultimately cared about was the result of the game tonight,” Komets coach Ben Boudreau said. “It didn't matter how we got there; the only thing that really mattered to us was the two points. If anybody expected us to be perfect on the first night, I would say they were seeing delusions because we had no preseason games and an almost completely new mix of guys, and we got almost exactly what we expected in the first period, which was a really sloppy and unorganized period of chaos.”
Harper bailed out Patera late in the first period by sweeping the puck out of harm's way as it was about the cross the goal line, but seconds later, at 19:51, Sean Josling snapped a 42-foot shot that crept underneath Patera for a 2-1 Nailers lead. Patrick Watling made it 3-1 with a slapshot from the right circle 1:29 into the second period.
Boudens redirected a Will Graber blue-line shot to cut Wheeling's lead to one at 8:32, and it happened shortly after the Komets' Matthew Barnaby and Cooper were foiled by a diving Murdaca, who stopped 24 of 28 shots. Boudens tied it at 13:59 on a breakaway.
Notes: Anthony Petruzzelli and McIvor were the alternate captains. ... Defenseman Matt Murphy was released by Belleville of the AHL, but the Komets don't currently expect him to return as they think he'll sign with another AHL team.