KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Playing before a midweek crowd of fewer than 1,000 people takes a little extra motivation. The Fort Wayne Komets found enough to be the team celebrating in the locker room at the end of the night.
With 5:26 left in regulation, Komets forward Eric Giosa scooped up a loose rebound five feet from the crease and lifted the puck over Kalamazoo goaltender Joel Martin's right shoulder and into the top corner. The goal gave the Komets a 2-1 win over the Wings, who fall seven points behind the Komets in the ECHL North Division standings. The teams play again Friday in Fort Wayne.
``If they win these two games, they are a point behind us,'' Komets coach Al Sims said. ``We wanted to put some distance between us and them, and now we've got a seven-point bulge and hopefully we can go to nine and push them away from us for the rest of the season.''
Both teams are desperate to get on a strong run to improve playoff position, and both have goaltenders playing their best hockey of the season. Komets goaltender Kenny Reiter has now won seven of his last eight games, and Kalamazoo's Martin was the ECHL Goaltender of the Week.
Both were great Wednesday night as Reiter made 34 saves and Martin 32. The Komets took a 1-0 lead on a snap shot from Thomas Beauregard halfway through the first period and might have rode that to the victory, but Kalamazoo scored a power-play goal with one second left in the period.
After a scoreless second period, the Komets came out flying in the third period, pressuring the Kalamazoo defense. After Tyler Butler shoved a puck into the corner, John Dunbar recovered it for a shot on net. Martin was unable to control the rebound, and Giosa pounced.
The win continues a trend for both teams. The Komets are now 23-5-2 when tied or leading going into the third period, and they are 15-2-2 in one-goal games.
``I think it's our effort, our battle,'' Giosa said. ``We're determined, we're confident, and we know if we're doing the fight things and playing hard we're going to wear the other team down and get some opportunities. We've got the whole team on the same page, and if we continue to do that we're going to have more success than failure.''
That record is amazing considering the Komets are playing with five rookie defensemen.
``I think that bodes well for the playoffs because they are going to be low-scoring and not much between the teams,'' Sims said. ``I just think our team is growing together, and the more games you win like that the better it is for the playoffs.''
Conversely, Kalamazoo is 11-11-5 in one-goal decisions and is 7-18-2 when tied or trailing after the second period.
``They are a team that finds a way,'' Kalamazoo coach Nick Bootland said. ``You need to score more than one goal in this league to win. We've been struggling with that all year. I felt the last three weeks we've been making strides as a hockey team, but tonight was a step back.''
And the Komets hope it's a big step forward.