The Komets went to Wichita, Kansas, hoping to get at least a split of the first two games of their Western Conference semifinal series. It sounds obvious, sure, but under a strangely formatted best-of-5 series that gives Fort Wayne the potential for the final three games at Memorial Coliseum, despite being the lower seed, winning at least once on the road seemed particularly advantageous for the Komets.
Under that way of thinking, the Komets are in great shape despite losing 5-2 to the Wichita Thunder on Wednesday night, in front of raucous crowd of 915 that saw a game heavily influenced by the referees, Sean MacFarlane and Logan Gruhl, with the quirks of playing at a practice facility.
The series is tied at 1, since the Komets won 3-2 on Tuesday with Anthony Nellis netting the late winner.
“You’re never happy after a loss, but that was the intention – to get at least one here and then win a best two out of three in Fort Wayne. We did accomplish that,” said coach Ben Boudreau, whose Komets will play host to Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Saturday nights at the Coliseum and, if necessary, Game 5 on Monday night.
Wichita scored on 3 of 8 power plays Wednesday. Fort Wayne was 1 for 7 and got an A.J. Jenks short-handed goal that cut the Thunder’s lead to 3-2 at 12:42 of the second period.
In a penalty marred third period, Wichita got goals from Matteo Gennaro, during a two-man advantage, and Spencer Dorowicz, on an empty-netter.
“It’s hard to say right now what went wrong. It’s still fresh and it’s still emotional,” Jenks said. “Obviously, this is one we wanted to have but we’re glad to have taken one of the games on the road, for sure.”
Fort Wayne, the third seed in the conference, also got a goal from Justin Vaive. Dylan Ferguson stopped 31 of 35 shots. Second-seeded Wichita’s Evan Buitenhuis stopped 29 of 31 shots, including myriad acrobatic stops off close-range chances in the third period, and the Thunder also got goals from Anthony Beauregard, Noel Hoefenmayer and Jeremy McKenna.
(Video highlights are above.)
Games 1 and 2 were played at the Wichita Ice Center because INTRUST Bank Arena was booked with “Disney on Ice.” Among the novelties at the practice arena are glass that is shorter than regulation in some spots – the Komets got three delay-of-game penalties from those spots in two games – and a wider-than-usual Olympic-sized sheet of ice.
Despite leading only 25 seconds of action at Wichita – after Nellis netted his winner in Game 1 – the Komets handled the arena oddities about as well as the Thunder, which normally practices on a regulation rink at the Wichita Ice Center that doesn't have seating for fans.
“It was a bit of a grind, yeah, but at the same time they had to deal with all the same conditions we did,” Jenks said. “So it’s no excuse and we’re moving on to the next one.”
Whereas the Komets rallied twice in Game 1, penalties hindered their chances of making another comeback Wednesday. However, some of the officials’ decisions were questionable, including a Cam Clarke hit from behind on Brandon Hawkins that left Hawkins injured a set off a fight between Clarke and Anthony Petruzzelli. Clarke wasn’t penalized for the hit, and Hawkins returned to the game, but Fort Wayne’s Matthew Boudens and Nick Boka soon got penalties for interference and roughing, respectively, to set up Gennaro’s 5-on-3 goal.
“I just thought we self-destructed with our own discipline,” Boudreau said. “That was the difference in the game.”
Wichita’s Beauregard, who was First Team All-League, opened the scoring with a shot from between the circles 9:19 into the first period. Vaive tied it during a power play just 2:06 later, banging in a shot from just outside the crease, after a tic-tac-toe passing play with Stephen Harper and Nellis.
With Fort Wayne’s Mathieu Brodeur in the penalty box for cross-checking Beauregard, Wichita’s Hoefenmayer netted a power-play goal on a one-timer from the top of the right circle for a 2-1 lead 8:28 into the second period.
Another Fort Wayne penalty – delay of game – set up the Thunder’s McKenna to stickhandle around the Komets’ Matt Murphy and score a power-play goal for a 3-1 lead at 10:33.
“We’re definitely excited to get back to home ice, that’s for sure,” Jenks said. “Winning two out of three at home is definitely doable for this group, so we’re excited.
Top-seeded Allen has a 2-0 lead over fourth-seeded Utah in the other Western Conference series.
Notes: The Komets played without Shawn Szydlowski (hand), Jackson Leef, Oliver Cooper, Robbie Beydoun (knee) and Marcus McIvor (groin). … … The Thunder was without Stefan Fournier, Peter Crinella, Sean Allen, Riley McCourt and Garrett Schmitz. … The Allen Americans’ Les Lancaster was chosen as ECHL Defenseman of the Year by coaches, broadcasters, media-relations directors and reporters. Samuel Jardine of Greenville finished second, followed by Allen’s Matt Register, Wichita’s Dean Stewart and Indy’s Willie Raskob. … Tickets for Game 4 are now on sale at the Coliseum box office or through Ticketmaster. … Wichita coach Bruce Ramsay is now 4-12 all-time against Fort Wayne in the playoffs, 0-9 at the Coliseum.