Memorial Coliseum was just about full – 10,233 fans were in attendance – for the annual New Year's Eve game.
It's a night in which local hockey fans can usual count on a victory – the Komets have a 41-16-5 all-time record on Dec. 31 – but they didn't really get their money's worth until the third period Monday night.
That's when the Komets scored three unanswered goals, not quite enough in a 4-3 loss to the Colin Chaulk-coached Brampton Beast.
Anthony Petruzzelli began the rally with a controversial goal 7:17 into the final period on a shot from the right circle that the Beast argued unsuccessfully had not gotten underneath the crossbar. The ECHL doesn't utilize video replay of goals at the Coliseum.
Petruzzelli scored again at 9:11, taking advantage of a Jamie Schaafsma pass from the right corner, by sending a 15-foot shot into the top of the net.
Justin Hodgman, who returned from his two-game suspension for swinging his stick at Kalamazoo's Tanner Sorenson, got Fort Wayne within a goal by sending a shot from the right corner that caromed off netminder Austin Lotz and crept into the net at 15:13.
The Komets played the final 3:18 of the game on a power play, including a 1:52-long two-man advantage and a major penalty on Jordan Henry for slew-footing Brady Shaw, but Fort Wayne couldn't convert.
Asked what was different in the third period, Petruzzelli said: “I think all three lines were going and we started to buzz a little bit more. We were getting in on the forecheck. Once we started getting up on their (defensemen) and turning pucks over, getting to the net, good things started happening.”
Earlier in the day, Fort Wayne's No. 1 goaltender, Zach Fucale, a prospect of the NHL's Vegas Golden Knights, was in net as Canada lost to Finnish club KalPa Kuopio 2-1 in an overtime shootout in the final of the Spengler Cup. At Davos, Switzerland, where Canada was trying to win its fourth straight championship, Fucale stopped 21 shots and 5 of 8 shootout attempts. Fucale should be back for Thursday's game against the Indy Fuel in Indianapolis.
While Fucale had been away, Lukas Hafner filled the net for the Komets (16-14-1) and, Monday, he was playing his third game in as many nights, and his fourth in five nights. Hafner stopped 23 of 27 shots. Lotz stopped 26 of 29.
“We condition all season long for these type of games,” Petruzzelli said. “Whether it's the third in three or one every other night, we've got to be conditioned and ready to go. I think we were eager to go for the third period and definitely wanted to turn it around for all the fans here.”
Brampton (14-16-3) had been off Sunday, while the Komets were winning 3-2 in overtime at Toledo, Ohio.
“The amount of scoring chances we had, we're going to be thinking about a lot of those. We had enough scoring chances to win that game, that's for sure,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “Obviously, it was a tough four games in five nights and I thought our legs were definitely not up to par there early in the game.
“In the third period, when we finally started playing, I thought we were the better team. But you've got to tip your hat to them, they did what they needed to down the stretch. You've got to score on your 5-on-3s.”
Hafner came up with a sprawling stop on Francois Beauchemin, who had sped in from the right wing, in the first period. While the crowd called for the play to be blown dead because the puck was underneath Hafner, referee Jarred Mitrano allowed it to go on long enough for the Beast to dig it out and Erik Bradford to unleash a shot that was stopped by Fort Wayne forward J.C. Campagna, who was kneeling in the net, though Henry scored off the rebound at 3:28.
Brampton's Chase Golightly netted a 35-foot shot – on Brampton's seventh shot of the game – to make it 2-0 at 8:21, quieting what had been an exuberant Coliseum crowd. And the lead became 3-0 when Nathan Todd got to the rebound of a Daniel Ciampini shot and lifted it past Hafner at 19:16, during a Brampton power play.
The Komets' woes didn't end there; a Kevin Gibson misfire on a shot in the offensive zone was quickly converted by the Beast into a breakaway goal at the other end by Artur Tianulin, who played last season for Fort Wayne, and the lead was 4-0 at 2:48 of the second period.
“We had to recollect our thoughts and challenge one another," Graham said. "You're facing a very hungry team that's sitting around last night in Fort Wayne and not playing. They were definitely fresher. We knew that. And they did a great job of pushing the pace early on, pushing us back and making us defend. We just said, 'Enough is enough.' … It's difficult because you feel like you deserved a better outcome but you didn't get it.
Brampton scored on 1 of 4 power plays. Fort Wayne was 0 for 6.
Notes: A Komets official said that an infant sitting in the lower level of the Coliseum, who was hit by the puck during the second period, should be fine and was being taken to a local hospital for precautionary reasons. Hodgman confirmed that the fan was his niece and also confirmed she should be OK. … Eric Levine, who had been called up from Quad City of the Southern Professional Hockey League to back up Hafner, had told the Quad City Times he expected to play for the Komets while he was here but that didn't happen. … The Komets played without Ryan Siiro and Trey Phillips. … Brampton's Jackson Leef is a native of Fort Wayne.