It’s easy to toss around the term “chemistry” and just how important it is for a hockey team. But conjuring up harmonious play on the ice, especially when the roster is always in flux, that’s not so simple.
“Chemistry is a pretty easy word to use in this game,” Komets forward Shawn Szydlowski said. “But it really does make a lot of sense in terms of getting to read how another guy plays or how his body looks when he does a certain movement, shot or pass or whatever. When you can read off that stuff, it makes the game that much easier. So it plays a big role in it.”
After the Komets lost 4-2 to the Indy Fuel on Friday night at Memorial Coliseum, chemistry – or the apparent lack thereof – was the postgame topic on a night the Komets battled back from a three-goal deficit to almost tie it late in front of 6,467 fans.
The defending-champion Komets aren’t generating much offense during 5-on-5 action these days – their goals Friday came on power plays from Szydlowski and Anthony Petruzzelli – and the out-of-sync look has been prominent in the Komets’ 1-4-1 slide that has them barely hanging onto third place in the Central Division.
Coach Ben Boudreau isn’t as frustrated with his players as he is with the situation. The Komets came into the week leading the ECHL with 81 transactions (about what you might have in an entire season, and we’re only 32 of 72 games in), and it’s a direct product of the COVID-19 pandemic that has, among other things, caused mass call-ups. The latest casualties were Playoff MVP Stephen Harper and Marcus McIvor, who went to the AHL.
“There’s zero chemistry and it’s obvious,” Boudreau said. “I was just doing the math and it’s Jan. 14 and since New Year’s, we’ve had nine players leave this hockey team. That’s (almost) 50% roster turnover in two weeks and it’s impossible to generate chemistry. You practice one day and everything changes the next.
“It’s starting to take a toll on the entire team, including me, both mentally and physically. Instead of coaching and preparing, you’re just trying to find a way to field a roster by the end of the weekend. I don’t want to use it as an excuse, but that’s what the reality of our situation is currently.”
Harper’s AHL rights were acquired by the Tucson Roadrunners on Friday from the Chicago Wolves for future considerations, and Tucson immediately called Harper from Fort Wayne, though the Komets keep his ECHL rights. McIvor was called to Ontario on Thursday and he had an assist Friday on a goal against former Komets goalie Jiri Patera of Henderson.
The good news is the Komets got forward Lynden McCallum from Henderson of the AHL, where he had one goal and four points in 17 games as a rookie out of the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings, and McCallum's crossing pass set up Szydlowski for a third-period goal that cut Indy’s lead to 3-2.
The Komets had a great chance to tie it, but Oliver Cooper’s shot from just a few feet out caromed off the post. Indy’s Jared Thomas finalized the scoring with an empty net goal.
The Komets (17-11-4) scored on 2 of 9 power plays. The Fuel was 1 for 7.
“It’s just another one of those games where we’re kind of trying to put together a lineup last minute. It’s very difficult to generate any sort of chemistry or get any continuity in the lineup right now. The guys are just battling,” Szydlowski said. “We’ve got two new goalies here from what we started with and every position is liable to change, but I think the best part is that we showed the willingness to battle (from a 3-0 deficit) all the way to the end tonight. So if there’s anything positive out of it, it’d be that.”
It was Martin Luther King Jr. Night and the Komets celebrated the late civil-rights leader by wearing special jerseys that were auctioned off to benefit Healthier Moms and Babies, whose goal is to reduce infant mortality and improve the outcome of pregnancy in Allen County.
Fort Wayne goalie Mario Culina stopped 27 of 30 shots, though he allowed three goals on the first eight Indy shots. The Fuel’s Mitch Gillam stopped 31 of 33 shots.
The Fuel opened the scoring on its second shot, from Riley McKay 8:56 into the first period, after Indy’s Spencer Watson slithered his way through three defenders to set him up. Indy’s Karl El-Mir made it 2-0 with a rip from the left circle, during a power play at 14:13, and Griff Jeszka upped it to 3-0 at 18:28.
Petruzzelli got to the rebound of his own shot and flicked it into the top of the net, during a power play 4:02 into the second period, to cut the Indy lead to 3-1. And Culina kept the deficit at two goals by foiling the Fuel’s C.J. Eick at the end of a 2-on-1 rush at 13:29 and Thomas on a breakaway at 18:00.
The game then got heated, with both teams barreling over the opposing goaltenders, and Szydlowski scored from the left circle 5:58 into the third period.
Notes: Szydlowski’s MLK jersey sold for the most, $1,727, followed by Petruzzelli’s ($989) and Matt Alvaro’s ($873). … The Komets held a moment of silence for Teddy Balkind, the 16-year-old Connecticut hockey player who died from an injury sustained during a game Jan. 6. … Fort Wayne’s Will Graber completed his four-game suspension for making physical contact with a linesman. … Other Komets in the AHL included: Matthew Boudens (Henderson), Blake Siebenaler (Charlotte), Drake Rymsha (Hershey) and Samuel Harvey (San Jose). That doesn’t include players who had been in Fort Wayne on NHL or AHL contracts: Patera and Connor Corcoran. … The referee was Rocco Stachowiak.