Give Stephon Thorne this much: With a fresh year waiting in the wings: His legs weren't nearly as gone as 2011's were.
Not even a fifth game in nine nights could drain enough gas from his tank to keep him from circling the Bloomington net and beating Blaze goalie Brian Mahoney-Wilson shorthanded Saturday night, the go-ahead goal in what eventually became a 2-1 New Year's Eve 'W' for the Fort Wayne Komets in front of a sellout crowd of 10,480.
"I just heard 'Go to the net, go to the net,' so I thought I'd just shoot the puck," Thorne said later.
His goal with Bryant Molle in the box for high-sticking came at the 4:50 mark of the second period, and the rest was what has become the standard formula for this team on its climb to the top of the Turner Conference: Defense up and down the ice, a whole lot of stubbornness and magic from Nick Boucher in the net, and an absolute refusal to give up a lead once they get to the third period.
Saturday's win was the Komets' fifth straight and seventh in their last eight games, and pushed their record this season when leading after two periods to 9-0.
"This team finds a way to win," coach Al Sims said Saturday. "Whether it's two goals, or five goals, or whatever it is … I don't know how many one-goal games we've won this year, but it's got to be quite a number. And we've never lost leading after the second.
"It speaks volumes about the character on the team – the character that's being built on the team, the confidence the young guys are getting in winning close games and the confidence our team is getting in winning close games. We just don't believe we can lose.
We believe we can protect the lead at all times."
And if a lot of that is due to Boucher – stellar again Saturday, he kicked out 36 of 37 shots and absolutely robbed Aaron Dawson from dead in front with 32 seconds to play – part of it was also due to Thorne, who turned the momentum back the Komets' way after Bloomington scored in the first 38 seconds of the second period to knot it at 1.
After Brett Smith and Jamie Lovell carried the play into the Bloomington zone on the Blaze power play, Thorne cashed their effort, eluding a Bloomington defender in the corner, circling behind the goal and tucking it home between Mahoney-Wilson and the post.
"We had a good breakout and Smitty made a good play bringing it into the zone, and I kind of made a quick move to beat the guy out of the corner," Thorne said.
Bobby Chaumont got it going for the Komets at the 7:20 mark of the first period, slipping a cross-ice pass past Mahoney-Wilson's glove hand on a two-man break with Artem Podshendyalov. Jamie Milam initiated the breakout, threading a wall-to-wall pass out of the neutral zone that caught Podshendyalov in stride at the blue line.
That sent the Komets to the dressing room with a 1-0 lead after a first period in which they peppered Mahoney-Wilson with testers but could get only the one past him.
"I thought we came out in the first and had a great first period," Sims said. "If it wasn't for their goaltender, we could have been up 3, 4-0. He played tremendous all night. We just had trouble beating him all night."
It paid off for Bloomington 38 seconds into the second period. A Komets rush boomeranged the other way when a bouncing puck eluded Brent Henley as he churned into the attacking zone, and Vladimir Nikoforov finished at the other end to make it 1-1.
But that was it for the Blaze, who lost for the third time in the Coliseum this year.