KALAMAZOO, Mich. — During Friday afternoon’s warm-ups, Komets goaltender Eric Levine was so obviously nervous that 88-year old broadcaster Bob Chase could have scored up on him — from the press box. After all, every teammate was hitting the back of the net on every shot, and they struggled mightily to scratch out two goals during their last two games."All the games I’ve played good in, the warm-ups are usually lousy," Levine said. "You’ve got to get the goals out early, and then I like to play a little ticked off, thinking, really, I was that bad?"
Oh, yes, he really was.
And then the first shot of the game against Levine was a breakaway by Kalamazoo’s Ludwig Bloomstrand. Somehow Levine made a shoulder save to deflect the puck over the net.After that, Levine was fine, calmly making 20 saves in a 4-1 Fort Wayne win at Wings Stadium. It was Levine’s first start of the season for the Komets after getting sent to Peoria of the Southern Pro Hockey League out of training camp, and his first win in the ECHL, something he said he’ll always remember.
It was a memorable performance as the Komets out-shot the Wings 47-21 behind goals from Eric Faille (short-handed), Shawn Szydlowski (power play), Garrett Meurs (even strength) and Nathan Condon (empty net). Defensively, the Komets blocked a ton of shots and cleared every rebound in front of Levine while limiting the Wings to mostly a few shots from outside. Well, they did see the warm-ups, too.
"Maybe the guys finally realized they didn’t have to play goal, too," Levine said with a laugh.
No, but for a while it looked like he might have to skate to the other end to also shoot the puck. Because of a one-game suspension to Joel Martin, the Wings were playing back-up goaltender Oscar Dansk, and he got peppered early but held the Komets scoreless for the first 27 shots. The Wings defenders were hustling constantly, throwing themselves selflessly in front of Fort Wayne shots and tackling any Komet who got near the crease.
With the Komets’ recent offensive struggles, it felt like Dansk was going to throw a shutout — until Komets center Eric Faille snatched a a fumbled puck between two defenseman at the Fort Wayne blue line and roared down the ice to sneak one in on a breakaway.
"I think we had our opportunities, but we needed to bury one and the rest would follow," Faille said.
Then a few minutes later Shawn Szydlowski scored Fort Wayne’s first power-play goal in 22 chances, and then less than two minutes after that Garrett Meurs mishit a fluttering knuckleball of a shot that Dansk swiped at and missed with his glovehand as it floated over his left shoulder in slow motion.
Suddenly, Levine had all the cushion needed because by then, it was obvious the Wings were not going to score two on him, let along the three needed to win.
"Everybody on the whole team is excited for him because he has worked his tail off," Komets coach Gary Graham said. "He had a good camp with us, and we knew we wanted to play him here. We didn’t want to bring him up and not play him. We were so excited to give him this opportunity."
But the coach had watched warm-ups, too.
"Sometimes when you see goalies do that it doesn’t mean much because once the game started, he was on," Graham said.
Maybe it helps that the Komets seem to have Kalamazoo’s number this year, going 5-1 against the Wings so far and 3-0 in Kalamazoo.
And maybe it was just because Levine knew warm-ups were finally over.
For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at @blakesebring and at his blog tailingthekomets.com.
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