Shane Bennett was a last-minute addition to the Komets’ training-camp contingent. And he’s one of many youngsters making decisions difficult for coach Ben Boudreau.
Bennett scored in the 3-on-3 overtime Friday to lift the Komets to a 5-4 victory over the Wheeling Nailers at Memorial Coliseum.
Bennett skated into the offensive zone one-on-one, drew a penalty, sent a shot that deflected off goalie Andrew D'Agostini and then Wheeling defenseman Macoy Erkamps, and watched it go into the net for the victory.
D’Agostini had 36 saves. Fort Wayne’s Dylan Ferguson made 26, and his team came back from a late two-goal deficit.
“The older guys definitely stepped up, scoring a couple of big goals for us. There were lots of fights, getting everybody going,” said Bennett, who played last season for Quad City and Fayetteville of the lower-level Southern Professional Hockey League. “We were staying positive on the bench, saying, ‘It’s not over.’”
The Komets scored twice in the final 5:57 to force overtime, getting a power-play goal from Shawn Szydlowski and a goal from rookie Max Gottlieb, who was set up by Brady Shaw’s pass from behind the net.
“There was a belief, the positive reinforcement that we had this,” Komets coach Ben Boudreau said. “There were unheralded heroes; everybody had a role to play. That’s what it was, next guy up, ‘What can we do?’ It was just the belief. We all believed we could come back. No one sat there and thought, ‘OK, this is a better team than us.’ I think guys are figuring out each other. There was a confidence and a belief that we were going to come out on top of this.”
Brandon Hawkins, a rookie out of Northeastern University, had a hat trick for the Nailers, who scored four consecutive goals to take the 4-2 lead on an experienced Fort Wayne defense.
“We haven’t had a lot of time to prepare and there are going to be mistakes,” said Boudreau, whose roster changed a lot throughout the week as players returned from Ontario and Chicago of the American Hockey League. “Preseason is to work these kinks out. But the biggest thing was when guys made mistakes, it was pulling them back up and instilling in them the belief they can make that change.”
The Komets lost two players to injuries: Eric Israel and Matt Brassard, in a game that had five fights and 74 penalty minutes.
“We’ve preached togetherness, we’ve preached family on and off the ice, and it showed,” Boudreau said. “We were blocking shots and sacrificing bodies like it was Game 7 of the conference finals. It was a lot of fun. We had each other’s backs and there was a lot of positivity.”
The game started 70 minutes late, at 9:10 p.m., because the Nailers arrived late. They first had bus problems then had another delay when they had to return to Wheeling, West Virginia, to pick up a few people they’d left behind.
The Komets and Nailers will finish their preseason slate at 7:30 p.m. today at the Coliseum.
It didn’t take long for the Komets to get going; they scored twice on their first five shots for a 2-0 lead. Both shots were from the left circle, as Szydlowski opened the scoring 1:20 into the first period and Connor Sanvido potted a goal at 8:48.
Szydlowski benefited on his goal from an Alan Lyszczarczyk pass. Meanwhile, Marc-Olivier Duquette set up the second goal by fighting off a check along the boards and maintaining control of the puck.
Sanvido, a rookie out of the University of Lethbridge, has been the surprise of training camp so far. After totaling four goals and nine points in 24 games last season, he had three goals in the two intra-squad scrimmages this week.
There was a physical tone to the game, starting with a scuffle behind the net between Fort Wayne’s Kyle Haas and Wheeling’s Brad Dobot, who reengaged for a fight later in the first period. There was another fight in the period, between Fort Wayne’s Chase Stewart and Wheeling’s Jake Schultz.
And in the second period, a Shaw hit on Wheeling’s Renars Krastenbergs incited a fight between Shawn St-Amant and Wheeling’s Macoy Erkamps.
While Fort Wayne’s Ferguson stopped the first 22 shots he faced – including one on Alex Butcher from point-blank range – he was bested by Hawkins at 16:01.
The Nailers tied it at 2 when Yushiroh Hirano deflected a shot 1:00 into the third period from Blake Siebenaler, a native of Fort Wayne.
A hit that injured Fort Wayne’s Israel set off a melee at 3:44 that featured fights between Szydlowski and Hirano and Will Petschenig vs. Craig Skudalski. After the hit, but before the fights, Wheeling’s Hawkins scored from 20 feet out to make it 3-2 Nailers.
With Wheeling on a power play at 5:23, Hawkins completed his hat trick at 5:23 with a shot from the left circle. Szydlowski answered with a power-play goal from 40 feet out at 14:03. Gottlieb scored on a 30-foot shot to force overtime at 19:28.
Wheeling was 1 for 7 on power plays. Fort Wayne was 1 for 3.