BLAKE SEBRING: The amazing play that won the Komets Game 1
As a Fort Wayne Komets rookie defenseman, Kevin McKernan’s No. 1 responsibility every game is to not screw up and get noticed — which really means don’t get scored on. His job in the offensive zone is to pretty much stay away from the puck except for maybe chipping it back in to maintain pressure.
And that’s about it.
Which is why the play he made in double overtime Saturday night was so surprising. Playing just his 10th professional game, McKernan made a shockingly brilliant play to help set up Jamie Schaafsma for the game-winning goal at 6:29 of the fifth period and give the Komets a 4-3 win in Game 1.
The Komets pounded Cincinnati goaltender Jonas Johansson all game with 70 shots but he just would not break and allow the game-winning goal. In fact, a rebound off another brilliant Johansson stop that squirted to McKernan at the right faceoff dot. It’s almost irrelevant that there was pretty much no reason for McKernan to be that deep in the Cincinnati zone, but he saw an opening in the defense and sneaked in.
“The whole game they were blocking our shots,” McKernan said. “Once I had the puck, I saw their D-men and both forwards focus on me. They kind of disregarded Dezi and Schaafs on the back door, so I took a chance and it worked out.”
McKernan could have fired on net, maybe even should have, but he spotted teammates Gabriel Desjardins and Jamie Schaafsma skating near the back door beside Johansson.
“He has his head up and got the puck in the slot and instead of shooting like a lot of players would, he went backdoor and forced the goalie to slide,” Schaafsma said.
McKernan’s pass hit Desjardins on the stick and the left wing was a little surprised to be so wide-open that he might have rushed his shot.
“He surprised me,” Desjardins said of McKernan’s pass. “I honestly thought I had an open net. When I saw his pad, I said, `Oh, no!’ ”
Somehow, Johansson threw his left pad out just enough to somehow block Desjardins’ shot. The moved shocked all 7,318 Memorial Coliseum fans — but only for a split-second because the rebound scooted through Desjardins’ legs and directly onto the stick of Schaafsma a few feet behind Desjardins who said he never knew the Komets captain was there.
“In the background I could see the ref waving Dezi’s shot off,” Schaafsma said. “I knew I had time because the goalie had sprawled out so bad on the ice and he didn’t have time to recover. I just wanted to make sure I hit the net in an open spot because he still had part of it covered. I just wanted to make sure it went in.”
Schaafsma didn’t hesitate, but he didn’t rush his shot, either, making sure to place it perfectly, lifting it over Johansson’s pad to start the celebration.
It was an unbelievable play by everyone involved, including Johansson who finished with 68 saves, the most ever by a Komets opponent.
It was an amazing play by a rookie scoring his first professional point in a way he’ll never forget, and neither will his teammates.
“I’m just glad it worked out,” he said.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of News-Sentinel.com. Email Blake Sebring at firstname.lastname@example.org.