FORT WAYNE – The Komets won the CHL championship last year, while the Florida Everblades won the ECHL title. Last year, Florida was the Double-A affiliate of the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, who now send their players to Fort Wayne.
Several things linked the Komets and the Everblades heading into Friday night’s game, not the least of which was their shared desperation for a victory.
And the Everblades’ hunger translated to a 6-3 victory in front of 9,087 fans at Memorial Coliseum. Former Fort Wayne defenseman Mike Ratchuk, who had a goal and two assists, led the way for Florida.
The Everblades (31-20-10) have lost eight of their last 15 games, during which they acquired defenseman Brent Henley from the Komets for cash, but their victory Friday pushed them to fifth place in the Eastern Conference. The Komets (29-29-3) had been on a 3-1-1 surge before Friday, but they’ve lost 10 of 15 and are in 11th place, nine points back of Greenville for the final playoff spot.
They have only 11 games remaining in the regular season to make up the ground – beginning tonight at the Coliseum against Florida – or they will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2002, when they played in the UHL.
Every time we scored a goal tonight, we would give one right back, said defenseman Tyler Butler, who scored for Fort Wayne. We’d score, they’d get it back, instead of us capitalizing on momentum. We let them grab it back a couple of times.
The Everblades tallied eight of the game’s first nine shots. The Komets rattled off the next nine shots. But then the Everblades got the first goal, when forward Mike Merrifield sent a shot from the right circle through the legs of goaltender Jeff Deslauriers, who started for the seventh straight game since being sent down by Anaheim.
At 2:59 of the second period, Fort Wayne right wing Brandon Marino sent a pass out from behind the Florida net and defenseman Jamie Milam blasted it in. Less than three minutes later, the Everblades executed the same play and got a goal from defenseman Tyson Gimblett.
Ratchuk made it 3-1 by scoring off a redirection and, at 8:22 of the third period, forward Corey Trivino’s backhand shot fooled Deslauriers for a 4-1 lead. Forward Matt Firman answered for Fort Wayne with a blistering 25-foot shot, but left wing Mathieu Roy answered 25 seconds later to cement the victory.
We’ve just got to keep playing desperate and putting pucks on the net, said Butler, whose Komets have scored only 23 goals over the last 12 games. We need to get hungrier around the net.
Florida goaltender Jesse Deckert, making just the second start of his pro career, stopped 30 shots. Deslauriers did the same.
They finished around the net better than we did, Fort Wayne coach Al Sims said. We struggled to score on our opportunities, especially in the first period, when (center Colin) Chaulk walked right in and just buried it into the goalie’s pads. We finally got to him in the third, but it was too little, too late.
Notes: General manager David Franke said defenseman Ryan Hegarty has a knee injury but could return next week. Henley had an assist.