FORT WAYNE – Memorial Coliseum fans cheered for Mike Embach’s hat trick. They booed Mickey Lang’s three-point night. And they gasped when Komets goaltender Ben Meisner sprawled to the ice in the second period, during a stoppage of play, and left the game because of an accelerated heartbeat and dizziness.
There was no shortage of intrigue Wednesday in the Komets’ 5-4 loss to the Orlando Solar Bears that ended with goalie Larkin Saalfrank, a Fort Wayne native, having stopped eight of 10 shots in relief of Meisner.
“My first thing was worry about the safety of my player,” Fort Wayne coach Gary Graham said. “It was a big concern because I couldn’t quite tell from afar (what was wrong). I didn’t know if it was a calf or a hamstring or something like that.”
Meisner, who had stopped seven of 10 shots in 27:19 of action, fell to the ice and tried unsuccessfully to get up before teammates helped him off the ice. Komets president Michael Franke, in explaining Meisner’s condition, said he had experienced dizziness this week and felt well enough after leaving the ice Wednesday to remain under observation in the locker room before going to a hospital after the game.
Before facing Orlando, Saalfrank, a former IPFW goaltender, had played only 32:58 of regular-season professional hockey, in December with the Federal Hockey League’s Danville Dashers. He had also appeared in a 2012 Komets exhibition game and been a backup several times.
“To me, the first time I put this K’s sweater over my head, I thought it was a dream come true. Being able to play in a regular-season game with them, I wasn’t prepared for this. I was put in a tough spot. But I’ve spent my whole life trying to accomplish this, and it finally happened,” said Saalfrank, 22, who is head instructor at The Goalie Academy in East Brunswick, N.J., which uses synthetic ice. But he hadn’t been in full gear on real ice for over a month.
“It was a little nerve-wracking, but how many times have I been on the bench and nothing’s happened?” Saalfrank said. “Then I don’t skate for a month and I get thrown into a game. But it’s all about having fun and the guys kept telling me that.”
Goalie Andrey Makarov had been called up to Rochester of the American Hockey League on Monday, and Graham said a new goalie should arrive today.
Wednesday was the first appearance at the Coliseum for Lang, the ECHL’s leading goal scorer, since he quit on the Komets and demanded a trade Dec. 26.
It was also the return of goalie Cody Reichard, the native of Celina, Ohio, who was 2-4-2 with the Komets before requesting a trade. On Wednesday, he stopped 46 of 50 shots to improve to 12-3-1 with the Solar Bears.
Orlando scored on its first shot after Lang sent a cross-ice pass to Brad Ross, who scored from the right circle during a power play. The Solar Bears went up 2-0, on their third shot, as Eric Baier scored from the blue line at 5:46.
With one of the prettiest goals of the season, Embach answered for the Komets at 7:41. Skating down the left wing, he dangled the puck, spinning defenseman Cody Wild in circles, and sent a shot into the far side of the net.
“I didn’t see it go in. I just didn’t want to get it blocked,” Embach said. “We needed a goal. Especially going down 2-0, usually I would assume with where they are in the standings (fourth in conference) that they wouldn’t let you in the game, but they kind of play a looser style, cheating toward offense.”
The Komets tied it with a power-play goal at 14:46, when Shawn Szydlowski redirected a blue-line shot by Jordon Southorn, who had just returned from Portland of the AHL. Embach struck again at 19:42, getting to his own rebound and sweeping the puck into an open net, but Lang tied it 29 seconds into the second period from the slot.
After a Connor Goggin goal at 17:11, Lang circled the Fort Wayne net and set up Jacob Cepis for a goal and a 5-3 lead 2:57 into the third period. Less than a minute later, Embach completed the hat trick from 30 feet out for the Komets (28-22-11), who are two points behind Florida for the eighth and final conference playoff spot with 11 games remaining.