FORT WAYNE – Despite an abundance of injuries, and using three players who had never before worn Fort Wayne jerseys, the Komets defeated the Florida Everblades 5-2 Friday night in front of 8,036 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
Considering the stakes, it was their most important game of the season and, probably, their best game of the season, too.
It was obviously a huge game. We were tied with these guys coming into the night for the (eighth and) final playoff spot. Nothing else needs to be said. It was a huge game. Luckily, we came out and got the win. Now we’ve got to be ready for tomorrow because they will come out just as hungry as they were tonight, said Komets right wing Brandon Marino, who netted his 23rd goal of the season and upped his ECHL-leading point total to 73.
The Komets got a goal and assist from forward Sy Nutkevitch, 38 saves from Ben Meisner and remain one point back of Wheeling for seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
The Komets’ list of injuries was long – Dean Ouellet (head), Scott Fleming (foot), Matt Carter (groin), Jason Dale (groin), Christian Ouellet (leg) – though captain Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock was back after missing one game with a shoulder injury.
They also lost forward Chris Auger to an upper-body injury Friday, but they got goals from Aaron Clarke, who came to the Komets on Thursday from Toledo by way of Orlando to complete the midseason trade of Mickey Lang, and forward Mitch Bruijsten, who came from Stockton for future considerations.
Defenseman Matt Bruneteau, who had been at Lake Superior State, also made his professional debut, as the Komets improved to 10-8-9 at the Coliseum.
Against a team like that, to have our (new) guys stepping up is huge, Marino said. We got goals from a bunch of different players and from different angles, and that helps.
Fort Wayne scored first at 5:08 into the second period after defenseman Nathan Martine dumped the puck into the far corner of the ice. Nutkevitch got behind the defense then fed right wing Shawn Szydlowski, who redirected it into the top of the net.
The Everblades (28-23-7) tied it at 15:00, when forward Brandon MacLean was left unguarded in front of the net and he slipped a backhand shot underneath Meisner.
But Fort Wayne regained its lead 1:04 later, as left wing Mike Embach fired a 30-foot shot that ricocheted off goalie Mac Carruth, flew high into the air and was smacked into the net by Nutkevitch just as it hit the ice.
The Komets increased their lead 1:50 after that, as Bruijsten redirected defenseman Nathan Maione’s shot from the blue line into the top of the net.
Marino cemented the victory with a shot from the left wing at 7:07 of the third period that was followed, 1:25 later, by a goal from Clarke.
Our guys did a great job tonight, Komets coach Gary Graham said.
It was a resilient group. Meisner was big for us, made some big saves. And we had some good moments where we were very opportunistic. That’s what it comes down to tonight – we made the most out of the chances that we had.