TOLEDO, Ohio – In an overtime shootout in which seemingly no one wanted to score, of course it was Justin Kea that did.
Kea, who began the season with the Komets and wound up with the rival Toledo Walleye through a strange set of circumstances, netted the only goal of the shootout and led Toledo to a 3-2 victory today in front of 7,867 fans at the Huntington Center.
“I’m not going to lie, it felt pretty good,” Kea said. “They’d beaten us both times since I’ve been here. As a competitor, that stings a little bit. But we’ve been struggling a little bit the last few games, so it feels good to get the win overall.”
(Video highlights above.)
Kea, who had four goals and eight points in 23 games for the Komets, was traded to Orlando on Dec. 22 to complete a deal for Brady Shaw after Aidan Muir had failed a physical. Orlando then flipped Kea to the Walleye and he played against the Komets that night, scoring a goal.
“Sometimes the way hockey is, it doesn’t work out where you are in certain situations,” said Kea, who won the game by flicking a shot from the right side of the slot in the far left of the net. “I’m enjoying my time here with this group of guys.".
Kea has three goals six points in 13 games with Toledo. He also had a scary moment in the second period when he was tripped by Craig Cescon and lay motionless on the ice, thinking he’d hurt his knee before returning later in the period.
The Komets remained without their top two scorers, Justin Hodgman and Jake Kamrass, but Fort Wayne had Taylor Crunk back after he served his four-game suspension for punching the Indy Fuel’s Radovan Bondra.
Hodgman has missed five games with a hand injury but expects to be well enough to play in Monday’s 3-on-3 All-Star Classic Tournament at the Huntington Center, which begins 7 p.m. on NHL Network. Kamrass has missed two games with an upper-body injury.
Coming off three straight losses, including a 3-2 overtime loss Friday to the Fuel at Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne coach Gary Graham surprisingly opted to start Eric Levine in net over Toledo-native Lukas Hafner.
Levine stopped 35 shots and 4 of 5 shootout attempts. Toledo’s Pat Nagle stopped 34 shots and 5 of 5.
Levine, who hadn’t played a game for the Komets since 2014-15, rewarded Graham by stopping Kea on a shot from point-blank range in the first period.
“I thought (Levine) was outstanding. I thought he gave us a chance to win and that’s all I asked him to do,” Graham said.
The Walleye still scored the period’s only goal at 17:45, when Jordan Topping snapped a shot from the top of the left circle into the far side of the net during a power play.
Toledo had an excellent chance to build on its lead when Dylan Sadowy got a breakaway 7:00 into the second period, but put the puck over Levine’s outstretched glove and missed the net. And Fort Wayne missed an opportunity to tie it at 10:10 when Alexander Kuqali’s blue-line shot caromed off Nagle and got behind him but sailed wide of the net.
The Komets were able to solve Nagle 36 seconds into the third period when Marco Roy skated out from behind the Toledo net, sent a backhand pass out front and J.C. Campagna buried it.
But it almost was short-lived; referee Sean Fernandez awarded a penalty shot to Greg Wolfe after he was hooked from behind by Cescon on a breakaway at 2:14, but Wolfe missed the net right on the ensuing free attempt at Levine, keeping it tied at 1.
Sadowy atoned for his earlier miss by scoring on a one-timer from the right circle at 4:22 for a 2-1 lead.
Fort Wayne’s Shawn Szydlowski had an opportunity to tie it at 12:10, but his slapshot from the left circle caromed off the leg of Matt Register and the left post, leaving Toledo with a one-goal lead.
Roy tied it at 2 with a power-play goal at 16:59, getting to a rebound and slipping the puck inside the left post as he fell to the ice, after Shaw made a nifty move to confuse Nagle and unleash a shot from the right post.
“That points (for the standings) we got was huge,” Roy said. “We’re battling for a playoff spot with Indy and Kalamazoo and those teams, so every point we can add is huge for the battle for the playoff spots. We’re happy about it. But the second goal for them, it was kind of, well, some guys thought it was offsides. It was an unlucky goal, but we battled back to get the point. It was a huge goal on the power play and everyone stepped up their games to do that.”
In the shootout, Fort Wayne’s shooters who failed to score were Campagna, Matthew Weis, Roy, Szydlowski and Jamie Schaafsma.