The ECHL was ravaged by call-ups Monday – a day after the NHL decided to reinstitute taxi squads so its teams would have more players on hand in case of COVID-19 outbreaks – and the Komets certainly were not immune.
Of the at least 24 ECHL players off to the higher-level American Hockey League on the first day of the trickle-down effect, three had been with Fort Wayne: Goaltender Samuel Harvey went to San Jose, goalie Jiri Patera to Henderson and forward/defenseman Will Graber, who had arguably been the Komets' MVP, to Hershey.
On Monday night, as management braced for more call-ups and mulled the tumultuous future of the lineup, the Komets showed the resiliency they have all season and put forth a remarkable comeback for a 5-4 overtime victory over Cincinnati. Shawn Boudrias pushed in the rebound of an Anthony Petruzzelli shot during a power play, and Fort Wayne scored five unanswered goals in front of 6,291 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
“It was a good feeling. It felt so good afterward,” Boudrias said. “When we started and were losing 4-nothing, we weren't like, 'Ah, shoot.' We kept going. We were motivating each other on the bench. We were blocking shots, hitting, doing everything. Just winning that game is insane.”
The defending champion Komets also got goals from Matthew Barnaby, Petruzzelli, Matt Alvaro and Connor Corcoran, who had three points. Fort Wayne's third-string goalie, Bailey Brkin, who hadn't played since Dec. 4, stopped 20 of 24 shots after allowing three goals on the first eight shots.
“It's one of those games that happen every so often – maybe once a year, or once every other year – that you can put in your memory bank. And those are the ones that stand out,” Komets coach Ben Boudreau said. “It was an unbelievable comeback and a great finish. We had every excuse, every reason to roll over against those guys, especially when we got down 4-nothing. But there's no quit in this team. Belief and positivity is an unbelievable thing.”
The Komets (15-7-3) are 3-1-1 so far in their seven-game homestand that continues at 8 p.m. Friday against the Iowa Heartlanders, though it's anybody's guess what the Fort Wayne lineup will look like then. The Komets have had eight players called up this season a total of 13 times and that doesn't include players who have been here on NHL or AHL contracts: Patera, Graber, Corcoran and Stephen Harper.
“There's a great level of concern,” Komets general manager David Franke said of the call-ups. “The ECHL is losing players left and right. And there's not really a lot of players out there to replace the guys you're losing – especially the talent level.
“I understand the National Hockey League's dilemma, but at the end of the day we're trying to keep our product on the ice as good as we can, we're trying to run our business as good as we can, and we're looking for players. When you lose guys, you're not going to be able to find the quality that you're losing.”
For Cincinnati (15-11-1), goalie Mat Robson stopped 29 of 34 shots.
The Cyclones opened a 3-0 lead through the opening 18:30: Louis Caporusso scored off the rebound of a Jack Van Boekel shot, Gianluca Esteves crashed the net to swat in the rebound of a Nick Boka shot, and Esteves skated around Marcus McIvor to flick a shot high on Brkin.
Boka made it 4-0 with a one-timer from the left circle, during a power play, 11:45 into the second period.
Barnaby ended the shutout bid at 13:31; he blasted in the rebound of a Nick Jermain shot. Petruzzelli netted a short-handed goal 3:01 into the third period, after Kellen Jones stripped Wyatt Ege of the puck.
Alvaro cut the deficit to 4-3 by getting to the puck behind the Cincinnati net, attempting a wrapround and smacking the rebound of his own shot inside the right post at 12:03. Corcoran tied it with a blistering slap shot from the middle of the right circle at 19:25.