BLAKE SEBRING: Final third of conference race will be three-team sprint

Wichita goaltender Shane Starrett reacts too late to stop Justin Hodgman's shot during the second period. (By Blake Sebring of
Playing his first game in 14 days, Komets goaltender Michael Houser makes a toe save in the first period. (By Blake Sebring of
Fort Wayne's Shawn Szydlowski and Wichita's Nick Latta fought during the first period. (By Blake Sebring of
Mason Baptista's first goal of the game found the top corner just inside the post. (By Blake Sebring of
A first-period deflection of Mason Baptista on Shane Starrett. (By Blake Sebring of

The remarkable thing about Friday’s Fort Wayne Komets game was how different it was from Wednesday’s game. The opponent was the same, the Wichita Thunder, but they played a different style.

“I liked our game,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “I thought Wichita made some great adjustments. You could tell right away they were prepared and we expected that. They were checking very tight in the first period.”

But it didn’t matter. After scoring nine goals on Wednesday, the Komets came back strong with seven goals over the final two periods in an 8-4 win. Fort Wayne has won five in a row and 10 in its last 11 games, scoring 65 goals over those 11 games.

Garrett Thompson scored two goals and four points and ECHL scoring leader Shawn Szydlowski had four assists. Wichita goaltender Shane Starrett gave up 13 goals on 77 shots over two games, getting yanked both times.

The crazy thing about the hot streak is that the Komets haven’t been able to catch Toledo in the ECHL’s Central Division. Including Friday’s 2-1 home win over Kansas City, the Walleye have gone 11-2-1 of late to maintain a two-point lead over the Komets.

Oh, if only there were say, two or three games remaining between these two teams to look forward to down the stretch.

Instead, the teams will play one more time, April 6 at Toledo to start the regular season’s final weekend.

The Komets, who have gone 26-8-0 over 34 games since Nov. 17, have 26 games remaining, 14 on the road and 12 at home.

The Walleye, who have gone 20-10-4 over 34 games since Nov. 24, have 25 games remaining, 14 at home and 11 on the road.

The biggest difference between the two teams the rest of the way are the type of road trips they have to take. While Toledo has a couple of two-game road trips remaining (to Kalamazoo and Quad City, and then a two-game set in Quad City), the Komets have two significant road trips coming up. They go to Wichita, Kansas City (for two) and to Quad City from Feb. 28-March 4, and they head to Reading, Adirondack and Worcester March 14-17.

The other interesting development is that both teams have chased down Mountain Division-leader Colorado for the Western Conference lead. The defending Kelly Cup champions have lost five games in a row, including Friday’s 4-3 home shootout loss to Idaho. Colorado has 24 games remaining, 12 at home and 12 on the road.

Colorado has 67 points, Toledo 66 and the Komets 64. All three teams would love to have the home-ice advantage in the playoffs.

The three squads might need all 57 days remaining to figure this out.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of Email Blake Sebring at