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Evansville at Komets
Faceoff: 8 p.m. Friday
TOLEDO, Ohio – Early in the third period of Wednesday morning's game, almost 7,000 school kids let loose a shriek that would have even scared off a herd of zombies. The Toledo Walleye had used a Fort Wayne turnover at center ice to take a 2-1 lead over the Komets on school appreciation day, and everyone was very appreciative.
The roof lifted about 3 inches before finally settling back down. The kids never did.
Maybe that noise finally woke up the Komets, who blitzed in three straight goals to win 4-2 and pull within a point of first-place Cincinnati in the ECHL's North Division.
Josh Brittain crashed to the net to give the Komets the tie, Stephon Thorne drove the net to nail a backhand off a faceoff and then Brent Smith scored the empty-net goal to at least cause the kids to catch their breaths a little bit.
It was the type of game a team with plenty of doubts has no chance in, but the Komets have won four games in a row and are 4-0-1 on the road. They are 6-2-1 and confident.
``Especially early in the year, the more games you can win like this, you can see the confidence in our team,'' Komets coach Al Sims said. ``When we go down 3-2 or 2-1 or whatever, and respond, we believe we can do it. Toledo is sitting over there with three losses in a row, and then we get the (tying goal) and then we go ahead, and they are thinking `Here we go again.' It's just two ships going opposite ways. The longer you can keep this feeling going, the better.''
After the Walleye snatched the lead, the Komets didn't do anything unique other than return to running their systems, clamp down defensively and keep the pressure on the Toledo defense.
``We knew we had chances to score, but we hadn't buried a few,'' defenseman Brent Henley said. ``There will be lots of times this year when we're down one goal. We just have to respond correctly and play our system and our style and trust that those will bring us success and goals. Our system is a team effort. Everybody has to do their job, and when they do you can see how well it works because we have periods like that.''
No one panicked or tried to make a big individual play; they simply kept playing. Henley broke up a Toledo pass at center ice to flip the puck to Brandon Marino, who fed Colin Chaulk, who gave Brittain a saucer pass before the Toledo goaltender could blink.
``Kudos to my linemates for a great effort,'' Brittain said. ``We were staying composed as a team. Coach gave me a pat on the back and asked for some of the boys on our line to step up, and I did everything in my power to take that puck to the net and put it home.''
Then J.M. Rizk won a faceoff, Thorne skated into the loose puck and cut 10 feet to the Toledo goal to score.
The goals were total team plays, and so was the defense. Toledo couldn't get any shot off within 25 feet of goaltender Charlie Effinger in the third period. After the Walleye took the lead, they rarely got another scoring chance and barely fought their way into the Fort Wayne zone. The Komets couldn't shut up the young crowd, but they could shut down the Walleye.
``I don't think we gave up anything major,'' defenseman Tyler Butler said. ``That's how we're going to be successful. Every time we stick to the system and guys buy into it and block shots, we're a good team. We're going to create offense from our defense.''
Nine games into the season, the Komets have already figured out they may struggle to score sometimes, but they can always be strong defensively, especially if they stick to Sims' systems.
``They play well bottling up the neutral zone, which is a challenge for us,'' Toledo coach Nick Vittucci said. ``We've got a lot of creative guys who at times don't need to be creative, and a team like Fort Wayne is going to expose a lot of mistakes and create a lot of turnovers.''
Defense will allow them to be competitive against any team in any situation, even when there are 7,000 kids screaming in their ears.