Komets thrill huge crowd with third-period win

Komets winger Shawn Szydlowski skates in on Allen goaltender Jeremy Brodeur on a third-period breakaway. Brodeur made the save. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

The Fort Wayne Komets sure do love big crowds and playing from behind in the third period.

The Komets thrilled a Memorial Coliseum sellout crowd of 10,479 on Saturday night by scoring four third-period goals to wipe out a 2-1 Allen Americans lead for a 5-3 victory. The win was even better because ECHL Central Division-leading Toledo lost 3-1 at Kansas City. The Walleye lead the division with 53 points over the Komets with 50, but Fort Wayne has one game in hand which will be made up in a 5 p.m. rematch with the Americans.

The first two periods were about as interesting as watching the snow melt because neither team could stay out of the penalty box and referee Tyler Puddifant felt required to explain each call to the coaches in infinite detail. The game had so little flow, it was like he was explaining the government shutdown.

Part of the problem was the poor ice conditions. Because there was an afternoon basketball game played at Memorial Coliseum, the puck bounced around like a helium-filled doughnut. Neither team seemed able to make consistent passes as the puck bounced, rolled and did everything but slide consistently.

The Komets also couldn’t stay out of the penalty box with any consistency, which has become a consistent problem over the last 20 games. The Americans had seven power-play chances while the Komets had six which is not the way to make playing three-games-in-three-night any easier. Allen came in with the most penalty minutes in the ECHL this season (by a wide margin), but the Komets matched the Americans nearly trip-for-trip to the penalty box.

The Americans also got a huge break during the second period when forward Alex Guptil deliberately ran into Fort Wayne goaltender Michael Houser, knocking him into the back of the net, but received only a two-minute minor for goaltender interference. A charging call could easily have been added at the very least. Instead, the Komets’ Ryan Culkin was called for an obvious cross-checking call that evened out the penalties. Larraza later got a charging penalty in the third period for running over Americans goaltender Stephon Williams, but the Americans did not retaliate.

It didn’t matter because the Komets continue to dominate third period, outscoring their opponents 55-35 during the final 20 minutes this season, including 10-1 over their last three games, all wins.

“We score on our opportunities, and that forces teams to take chances, and I think when we settle in and play well defensively, we can go the other way on them then,” defenseman Curtis Leonard said. “It’s just bearing down. There’s that extra little urgency that we can seal the game or come back.”

Shawn Szydlowski, Cody Sol, Marc-Olivier Roy and Garrett Thompson all scored during the third period Saturday night. Szydlowski’s goal was the 150th of his Fort Wayne career which ranks 26th on the Komets all-time list.

‘I think we just settle into the game more,” said defenseman Jason Binkley who had two assists in the third. “Tonight’s game was very emotional in the first two periods, and that’s the way they want to play. They want to get under our skin or whatever, and if we keep our emotions in check, we take it to them on the scoreboard. When we did that, we ended up winning.”

The Americans have lost three in a row and lack the offensive firepower and the goaltending of the team that knocked the Komets out of the playoffs two years ago in the conference finals. They have only a couple of strategic options, which the Komets eventually figured out.

“We stayed disciplined and stayed away from the stuff after the whistle,” Komets captain Jamie Schaafsma said. “They were trying to entice us into that and get us off our game. We did a good job of controlling our emotions and staying out of the extra-curriculars.”