For a split second Thursday night, right wing Sean O’Connor remembered what his father, Don, had taught him growing up – use deception to your advantage.
In a split second, O’Connor changed the scope of the Komets’ 4-2 victory over the Port Huron Icehawks in the opening game of the IHL semifinals, in front of 5,412 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
O’Connor got control of the puck beside the Port Huron net early in the third period, then started jetting behind the goal, as if he were going to wrap it around the other side. He put on the brakes and goaltender Larry Sterling flew by. O’Connor spun around, went back from where he came and tucked the puck inside the near post for a 3-1 lead.
I knew Sterling was going to get up and go quick, knowing that I wrap around often, said O’Connor, selected to the IHL’s All-Rookie Team this week, thanks to 23 goals and 51 points in 72 regular-season games. I just stopped midway through and tucked it in the short side, got a little lucky.
I used to do the move a lot growing up, playing hockey. It’s something my dad used to tell me to do. And I know they’ve done their scouting reports and know I like to wrap it around. It just came to me in the moment.
And it left his teammates awestruck.
It was just unbelievable, said center Justin Hodgman, who set up Matt Syroczynski’s first-period goal then made it 2-1 himself by splitting the defense and slipping a backhand shot just inside the left goalpost at 13:08 of the second period.
(O’Connor) is a skilled guy. He’s a playmaker, a goal-scorer. That just proved what he’s got in his arsenal.
O’Connor demonstrated his cache again, after Port Huron defenseman Daniel Tetrault scored with a slapshot from just inside the blue line at 5:21 of the third period. O’Connor netted a wrist shot from 30 feet out at 8:16 for a 4-2 lead.
Then it was time for Fort Wayne goaltender Tim Haun to shine, and he did so with 25 saves. It was perhaps surprising that coach Al Sims went with Haun for Game 1, even though he was selected as the IHL’s Goaltender of the Year, because two-time Turner Cup-winner Nick Boucher was on the bench.
Boucher will get the start in Game 2 on Saturday at McMorran Arena, where Boucher has won 14 of 16 games over the last three seasons.
If the opener was any indication, that will be a highly physical series. There were 30 penalties assessed by referee Scott Hoberg, including seven misconducts. Twice, Port Huron players took runs at Haun, and near the end of the game, Fort Wayne captain Guy Dupuis was being challenged by Tetrault.
The first games (of series), there’s always a lot of pushing and shoving, but not many fights, Sims said. A lot of punching in the head and both teams trying to get the extra shot in, trying to assert themselves and get an edge on the other team physically. Most series, teams are going to test each other out early and see what they can get away with.
As things move to the smaller ice surface at McMorran, it’s likely to get more intense.
This is a good rivalry, O’Connor said. And I like playing Port Huron all throughout the season because it always feels like a playoff game. They are always tough games against them. I know we were ready to play and were all excited for the playoffs. It was huge to come out (hard) in the first period, and I think both teams were hitting a lot and getting the puck in deep, and when you play a game like that, it’s easy to get into it.
Sterling stopped 30 shots.