BLAKE SEBRING: Observations on Friday’s Komets game

Komets forward Justin Hodgman avoids a check from Rapid City's Pavel Jenys during the first period Friday night. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)
Komets forward Marc-Olivier Roy ripped this slap shot past Rapid City goaltender Adam Vay 15 seconds after the opening faceoff Friday night. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)
Rapid City goaltender Adam Vay robbed Komets forward Garrett Thompson on several scoring chances Friday night. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)
Komets defenseman Ryan Lowney came in as the trailer to slam this goal over the shoulder of Rapid City goaltender Adam Vay during the second period. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)
Captain Jamie Schaafsma played on defense for the first time this season on Friday night. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

The Komets survived a trap game Friday night with a 6-4 win over last-place Rapid City before 7,433 Memorial Coliseum fans. The Komets led most of the game, but they really weren’t sharp.

“It was a weird game,” said Komets defenseman Cody Sol who scored two goals. “A team like that you see them low in the standings, but they came out and stuck with us the whole game. Give credit to us in the end for holding on and we kept rolling. It was a big win we needed to get.”

The problem was too many turnovers. Sometimes it was the forwards trying to get too cute in the offensive zone or not coming back deep enough to give the defneseman a solid target for a pass, and sometimes it was the defensemen trying to make a more difficult play instead of just getting rid of the puck quickly.

“Sometimes these games on Fridays after you have a long week of practice takes you a while to get going,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “There where some highs and lows. When we took care of the puck, is when we were at our best. We had too many turnovers tonight, and it really hurt us against a fast transition team, a young hungry team. When you give them opportunities like that… they hadn’t scored a lot of goals in their last few games, so to give up that many goals against a team that’s been struggling to score is disappoint, but give the guys credit, they found a way to win on home ice.”

* The game marked the return of center Justin Hodgman after he missed three months with a shoulder injury. He has two assists and was plus-2.

“We have so much productivity top to bottom, so the coaches said there was no reason to bring me back unless I was absolutely 100 percent,” he said. “I’ve been putting in the hard work, and getting the monkey off my back on the first shift was great.”

Hodgman set up Marc-Olivier Roy’s goals 15 seconds after the opening faceoff by forcing a turnover deep in the Rapid City zone. He also did a good job most of the night of staying high in the defensive zone to play well defensively.

“As a centerman, I always try to be responsible,” he said. “I had a complete brainfart on their 4-on-4 goal and that was totally my fault. I’ll take responsibility for it. The whole team made it really easy for me to come back tonight.”

* Captain Jamie Schaafsma was also playing defense instead of his usual forward spot. He was paired with rookie Ryan Lowney who continues to impress.

“It was a little nerve-wracking at the start, but I got comfortable out there,” Schaafsma said. “Lowns made it pretty easy for me. He’s definitely a good player, so it was a good night.”

He didn’t have any points, but was plus-2 on the night and was no on the ice for any of the four Rush goals.

“He kept is simple, he blocked some shots,” Graham said. “It just goes to show you on defense, when you keep it simple, it makes the game so much easier. Glass and out. Chip the puck out. It can be ugly hockey, but if the NHL teams are going to do it all game long, why can’t we do it? When in doubt, glass and out.”

* The Komets now have three very strong forwards lines. With Garrett Thompson, Mason Baptista and Shawn Szydlowski, and Trevor Cheek, Justin Hodgman and Marc-Olivier Roy, they actually have two No. 1 lines, and the third line of Gabriel Desjardins, Dennis Kravchenko and Louick Marcotte or Logan Nelson is a very solid No. 2 line that would be a top line on many ECHL teams. There’s no way an opposing coach can try to match up with that much depth as any line has the capability of carrying the Fort Wayne offense on a given night.

* Every Komet had at least one shot on goal Friday night, which doesn’t happen that often, about three times a season. The Komets have won seven of their last eight games, and have scored at least four goals in eight straight games.

* Garrett Bartus was fighting the puck a bit but expect a stronger performance tonight in Wheeling. The Nailers pounded Indy 7-3 and will be fresh as they wait at home for the Komets to arrive.

* Toledo was off on Friday so the Komets picked up two points on the Walleye and are two points back of the division leaders. The Komets have still played one fewer game than the Walleye. This race is going all the way to the end of the season.

* Referee Alex Normandin was excellent. He controlled the game the entire night without talking a lot to the players or the coaches, and that’s why the game had a great flow.

* Rapid City did not compete like a last-place team or one that was playing its fifth road game in a row. The Rush have a young team with plenty of speed that played hard all night.

* Rush goaltender Adam Vay kept his team in the game the first two periods. The only times the Komets beat him were off turnovers right in his lap where he had no chance to react. Whenever the Fort Wayne forwards put a lot of pressure on the Rapid City defensemen, they crumbled.

* The Komets are calling up goaltender Gordon Defiel from Pensacola of the Southern Professional Hockey League to back up Bartus tonight. He made it to Fort Wayne just in time to take his physical and get on the bus to Wheeling. He has a 10-3-2 record this season with the Flyers with a 2.37 goals against average and a .916 save percentage. He played one game in the ECHL earlier this year with Orlando, giving up three goals on 25 shots in 34 minutes.

* Every time I see Garrett Thompson block a shot or get hit awkwardly, I always wonder if he’s coming back. He’s dealing with so many little nicks, but he keeps coming back. He was robbed about four times Friday night by Vay, and could be due for a big game tonight.

* Zamboni driver Paul Hollabaugh is going to miss the next few weeks as he gets a knee replaced. He plans on being back sooner than later.

* Though he had never played for the Komets before, it was a little bit of a Homecoming for emergency backup goaltender Andy DiCristofaro on Friday night. The Indiana Tech goaltending coach went to high school with Shawn Szydlowski in Saint Claire Shores, Mich.

* Besides scoring two goals, Komets defenseman Cody Sol was called for a roughing penalty midway through the third period when he hit a Rapid City forward after he had released a shot. Twenty years ago, that probably wouldn’t have been called, but in the age of concussions, it was an automatic penalty.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of News-Sentinel.com. Email Blake Sebring at bsebring@news-sentinel.com.

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