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Ice Chips

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Embach leads Komets past Gwinnett

One of the whopping 12 trades the Komets have made this season brought them forward Mike Embach. If they make the playoffs, that may wind up the most important one.

In 43 games with the Komets, Embach has 20 goals and 34 points, including six goals over the last four contests.

On Friday night, he had a goal to lead Fort Wayne to a 2-1 victory over the Gwinnett Gladiators, who traded Embach to the Summit City on Dec. 12, along with defenseman Nathan Martine, for forward Bobby Hughes and defenseman Rob Kwiet.

The victory pulled Fort Wayne (29-22-11) into a tie with Florida for the eighth and final playoff spot in the ECHL’s Eastern Conference – with 10 games remaining in the regular season – and it made for a brilliant debut for rookie goaltender Matt Grogan, who stopped 24 of 25 shots in his first game out of the University of Connecticut.

But after allowing a goal in the third period he left the game because of cramps.

“Matt played really good,” Fort Wayne coach Gary Graham said. “He came from college. You race them in here and he hadn’t been on the ice for seven days or so. I thought he did a really good job. He started cramping up, though.”

Before the game, the Komets signed Grogan and another rookie goalie, Kevin Murdock, who had been at Lake Superior State.

Grogan, 25, was 10-12-2 with a 2.47 goals-against average this season for UConn. In 2012-13, he had the Atlantic Hockey Association’s top GAA (1.93) and save percentage (.937). Murdock, 23, was 7-10-9 with a 3.76 GAA for Lake Superior State this season.

Grogan was rushed into the lineup because Andrey Makarov was called up Monday to Rochester of the American Hockey League and Ben Meisner left Wednesday’s 5-4 loss to Orlando because of an accelerated heartbeat and dizziness. Meisner has been cleared by both a cardiologist and a neurologist, a team official said, though it’s unknown when he’ll return to the lineup for the Komets, who are trying to avoid missing the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since 1974 and 1975.

To make room for the new netminders, the Komets released goalie Larkin Saalfrank, a native of Fort Wayne, who stopped 10-of-12 shots in relief of Meisner on Wednesday in his second pro game.

But the Komets were boosted by the return of forwards Chris Auger, who was second among active ECHL players with 26 goals but missed three games with a head injury, and captain Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock, who had missed a game with an ankle injury.

The Komets opened the scoring 2:21 into the first period when forward Shawn Szydlowski’s shot from the right circle slipped between the legs of goalie Josh Unice.

Szydlowski had a chance to increase the lead in the second period, but he whiffed on his shot from 20 feet out, paving the way for Embach to grab the puck and sweep it into an open net at 14:23 for a 2-0 lead in front of 6,844 fans.

After a race for the puck, Gwinnett’s Will McDonald chipped the puck from just left of the net and it slipped past Grogan 8:23 into the third period, after which Grogan immediately skated off the ice.

Murdock stopped all three shots he faced to close the game.

Justin A. Cohn, pro sports coordinator for The Journal Gazette, has been covering the Fort Wayne Komets since 1997. His reporting includes game stories from home and away, features about the players and personalities associated with the Komets, plus coverage of issues affecting hockey at all levels. A native of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Cohn graduated from Emory University in Atlanta. He can be reached at 260-461-8429 or by email at jcohn@jg.net.

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