PORT HURON, Mich. – The Komets pride themselves on being the team that never gives up.
And time and again they prove they deserve the reputation.
For the second straight night they faced elimination in the IHL semifinals and for the second straight night they won, this time defeating the Port Huron Icehawks 4-3 in Game 6 on Saturday at McMorran Arena.
Center Leo Thomas scored the game-winning goal with only 2.1 seconds left forcing a Game 7 Monday night at the Coliseum.
It’s just unbelievable. It’s just the heart of a champion. That’s all you can say, said coach Al Sims, whose Komets are chasing a third straight Turner Cup championship.
The puck was moving up the boards when Komets defenseman Kevin Bertram shot it from the left side of the blue line. Thomas was charging the net and redirected the bouncing puck past rookie goaltender Raffaele D’Orso, who stopped 13 of 16 shots after replacing star Larry Sterling at the first intermission.
When I saw the puck going around the boards there (toward Bertram), I started heading backdoor and nobody was covering me, said Thomas, who got his first two goals of the playoffs after leading Fort Wayne with 33 during the regular season. It was a great bounce for us but we worked hard for it, you know? I give it to everybody on this team. We have a lot of fight in this room and we proved it tonight.
Fort Wayne’s biggest obstacle may not have been the Icehawks, who were victimized by the Komets’ comeback from a 3-1 deficit during the 2008 Turner Cup Finals. Fort Wayne spent much of the game fighting itself, as eight of referee Scott Hoberg’s 10 power plays went in favor of the Icehawks, who scored twice with the advantages.
On one of the Icehawks’ three 5-on-3 power plays, forward Derek Patrosso scored off a rebound to tie it at 1 early in the second period. Right wing Sean O’Connor regained the lead for Fort Wayne at the end of a 2-on-1 rush at 12:15, but another two-man advantage saw Port Huron defenseman Jamie Lovell score with a shot from the point at 18:56 of the second period.
After Fort Wayne center Justin Hodgman, who returned from a two-game suspension, whiffed on a shot from about 35 feet out, center Colin Chaulk picked it up and wristed it past D’Orso at 14:39 of the third period for a 3-2 lead.
The celebration for roughly 800 rowdy Fort Wayne fans, among the 1,729 total, didn’t last long. Icehawks right wing Mike Kinnie wrapped the puck in from behind the net, with goaltender Nick Boucher sprawled, to tie it at 15:47.
We had to be resilient, Komets captain Guy Dupuis said. We were disappointed when the puck went in, but you could see on the next shift, the guys got back at it.
Boucher stopped 31 of 34 shots. Sterling, who left after aggravating the head injury that kept him out of the Komets’ 7-2 victory Friday, stopped 7 of 8 shots.
Now the Komets will try to complete a comeback from a 3-1 deficit for the third time since 2005, when they did so against the Rockford Icehogs in the United Hockey League semifinals.
It’s going to be a great fight and that’s how hockey should be played, Dupuis said. If you’re a hockey fan in Fort Wayne, you have to be there. There’s no excuse. Cancel everything else you have on your schedule and show up Monday night.