Usually, when everyone expects a big rematch hockey brawl, it never happens, but tonight could be one of those few times when the gloves come off early.
Normally there's a lot more than 24 hours before the teams meet again, and tempers have had a chance to dissipate. The irate Fort Wayne Komets will need longer than that to settle down after Friday's 4-2 butt-kicking by the Gwinnett Gladiators before 7,417 Memorial Coliseum fans. The Gladiators outshot the Komets 37-20, and then neither team seemed satisfied with the outcome of a line brawl with 7.4 seconds remaining.
``I think we have a team that sticks up for each other and doesn't let anybody take liberties with us,'' Komets coach Al Sims said. ``If somebody wants to push around like (goaltender Marco) Cousineau, then that's what's going to happen. They had three guys in there trying to push and shove Cousineau, and we're not going to let that happen.''
The Komets were trying to kill off a penalty as well as the clock when the disagreement started. The Komets say the Gladiators instigated it by shoving at Komets goaltender Cousineau with three forwards. The Gladiators say Komets defenseman Brent Henley started it by launching three uppercuts into the Gladiators' Tyler Murovich. ECHL Vice President of Hockey Operations Joe Ernst will get the definitive say this afternoon.
Referee Chris Pitoscia gave Henley a match penalty, which leads to an automatic league review. Instead of delaying the game to hand out all the other penalties and allow more talk and probably more ``Well I oughtas,'' Pitoscia told his linesman to drop the puck to finish off the clock. Then they sorted out the rest of the infractions after the game with six fights, four game misconducts and 90 penalty minutes from the incident.
``All I know is I was standing still in the crease, he came toward me,'' Henley said. ``I had my glove on, I punched him with my glove on and then I got hit by way more than one guy.''
Then what happened?
``I don't remember,'' Henley said. ``I was getting hit by way more than one guy. My glove was on to start, and their player dropped their gloves before I did. That's indisputable. It will be on tape. I took my gloves off when he dropped his and I got hit by more than one player.''
Ernst will have a great deal to rule on, including Murovich missing Henley with a wild swing and slugging a linesman's face instead. No one wanted to stop throwing even after the linesmen split everybody apart.
The brawl was awful, but the Komets' overall performance was worse. From the opening faceoff, they were always on the defensive as the Gladiators outshot Fort Wayne 16-9 during the first period, and the score could easily have been 3- or 4-1 instead of 2-1. The Komets couldn't get out of their own way or their own zone with the puck, and they were getting killed because of weak backside coverage defensively.
``I think our guys were frustrated tonight and made some very bad turnovers that cost us goals, especially the first two,'' Sims said. ``You just can't turn it over against that team. You just have to get it deep and grind them in their zone like we did the last half of the first period, second period and I thought the last half of the third.''
The entire first period seemed like a Gwinnett power play, and it wasn't because there was a Komet sitting in the penalty box. The faster Gladiators simply followed coach John Wroblewski's game plan better. Gwinnett's quickness, particularly on the forecheck, was a huge factor as the Komets couldn't stop Casey Peirro-Zabotel, Evan Bloodoff or Doug Jones.
The Komets were just hanging on until the end-of-period buzzer.
The second period was almost as poor, as the Komets were out-shot 9-6 and the margin grew to 3-1. The Gladiators were so fast the Komets couldn't catch up, the Gladiators barely touching the puck on their sticks before moving it. The Komets would possess the puck and look up for where to go next, and by then it was too late and a Gladiator was challenging to take it away.
The Komets had a chance when Brandon Marino scored his second goal of the game to cut the lead to 3-2 with 7:53 left, but the Gladiators raced to the other end to score 51 seconds later.
``It's was just an embarrassing effort from my perspective,'' Komets veteran Brett Smith said. ``First period we were flat-footed and we weren't prepared. We weren't battle-tested. They came out, they were flying, we were standing there. It's not that we were in the wrong position. We had no legs, no nothing. Why is that? I don't know. Maybe we had too much time off between games. Either way, we didn't have it, and we need to find a way to have it. It's not a switch and you can just turn it on. Let's be honest, we had spurts and that was it. It was just embarrassing.''
Komets captain Colin Chaulk was just as blunt.
``They worked, they pressured us and we didn't manage the puck very well tonight,'' he said. ``We didn't do our job and play our system. If we play the system, we're a good hockey team. If we don't play the system, when things don't go well or you start to play on your own and think you're better than that or you have an innovative idea, it throws off the other four guys on the ice. Stay with the plan, stay with what works.''
Sims, Chaulk and Smith will likely have a lot more to say in the locker room before tonight's game.