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Ben Smith

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New look K's drop opener in shootout

The 62nd season of Komets hockey opened with a 4-3 loss to the Toledo Walleye in an overtime shootout. Check out the highlights, including the Jeremy Gates fight.

Komets: Don’t worry, this was something to build on

– OK, OK. So now I see the speed.

I mean, that was an absolute seed Chris Auger just ripped past Toledo goalie Mac Carruth from 40 feet out, stick side, top shelf. Blew the water bottle off the top of the net and everything. If this had been one of those three-throws-at-the-bottles-for-a-buck carnival deals, Auger would have been walking off with the giant stuffed panda.

So there was that, on an opening night with your Fort Wayne Komets that was alleged to have even more new-car smell than usual.

There was the new guy rocking from foot to foot back there behind the bench, Gary Graham. And all these new names (Rob Kwiet? John Muse? Tristan King?) skating out there in the pregame spotlights to the applause of the usual stuffed House O’ Orange. And, yes, more speed, visibly more, and a ton of energy, and – hey, look – Mickey Lang planting the season’s first goal barely 90 seconds in.

A lot of stuff happened after that on the way to overtime and then the shootout and finally Toledo 4, Komets 3. And if not all of it was good, enough of it was.

Lang scored two goals, including the goal that forced overtime with 4:30 to play in the third, then got another in the shootout. The Komets outshot the Walleye 35-22 and consistently beat the Walleye to pucks in the offensive end they might not have a year ago. And if they weren’t perfect in the defensive end … well, it’s game one of 72, right?

“We outplayed them, we outhit them, we just didn’t come away with the two points,” Graham said.

“I think we worked really hard, and we just need to keep pushing and sharpen up a few things – couple turnovers in our zone, couple things like that,” center Tristan King concurred.

And then:

“It’s just very small things and that’s good to see out of the first game. We don’t have any bigger issues. We have a good team here.”

And, no, that doesn’t mean there weren’t issues. The looseness in their own end at times was worrisome. Too many chances – solid, put-it-on-the-board chances – went uncashed. And the power play, an issue last season, was just 1 for 6.

On the other hand, Toledo was just 1 for 6 against the Komets’ penalty kill. And the defense didn’t give Toledo a lot of good looks.

John Muse in goal stole some food off the Walleye’s table a few times – and, after going down 2-1 and 3-2, the Komets answered both times.

Once it was on Auger’s rocket. Once it was on Lang’s second goal, a rebound in front that ended with him pumping his fist like he’d just scored some Game 7 winner, an opening-night display of emotion if ever there was one.

Something to build on. And what else do you want from a new team on the night the curtain goes up?

“That was a character point,” said Graham, and he was absolutely right.

And then: “A lot of things you want to see early in the season we got to see. I expect to win every game. I expect to win. There in the shootout I thought we were going to come away with two points, but it doesn’t always come out that way. (But) there’s nothing to hang our heads about.”

Not that anyone was.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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