Something had been brewing all night, starting with a play in which the Toledo Walleye’s Butrus Ghafari flipped the Komets’ Connor Jones, WWE-style, as they were tussling in the first period.
In the third period, with the Komets having established a two-goal lead, things intensified with a melee that began with Toledo’s Mitchell Heard upending Dillon Hill. Soon after, Toledo’s Brandon Hawkins dropped Komets goalie Liam Hughes to the ice, setting up Fort Wayne’s Stephen Harper for two power-play goals within 37 seconds.
More tussles ensued, and the Walleye got a late power-play goal, but the outcome was a 4-1 victory for the Komets at Memorial Coliseum.
Toledo had been on a 6-0-1 run.
Given the way the game ended, the match 5:15 p.m. Sunday between the teams in Toledo, Ohio, should be particularly interesting.
The Walleye had walloped the Komets 7-2 at the Coliseum on Wednesday, when Hawkins had five assists. Hawkins was the Komets’ MVP last season, when they won the Kelly Cup, but his rights reverted to the Walleye, which had opted out of 2020-21 because of the pandemic.
The Mad Ants basketball team had played at the Coliseum earlier Saturday, losing 114-99 to Raptors 905, and there was only a window of 3 hours, 51 minutes between the end of that game and the beginning of the Komets’ warm-ups. The Coliseum changed over the facility for hockey in just 2:24.
During that time, the ECHL announced it had suspended the Komets’ Will Graber four games for his actions just after Friday’s 5-4 loss to the Cincinnati Cyclones. Graber, who has nine goals and 24 points in 19 games, playing as a defenseman and a forward, made physical contact with linesman Chad Fuller, pushing Fuller in the chest with his glove, just after the final whistle. A source confirmed Graber was upset about an icing that was waved off in the waning seconds of the game.
The Komets had played with only 16 players, two short of a full lineup, on Friday. Despite losing perhaps their MVP in Graber, the Komets had 18 players Saturday with forward Shawn Szydlowski returning from a charley horse, forward Tyler Busch from COVID-19 protocols and defenseman Matt Murphy from non-COVID illness. Forward Matthew Barnaby remained out (ankle/head) and the Komets played with only five defensemen, one fewer than is customary.
Fort Wayne’s Hughes stopped 26 shots in his debut out of the University of Manitoba. He was the eighth netminder used by the Komets this season in just 29 games.
Toledo’s Max Milosek, in his ECHL debut, stopped 30 shots. Milosek had been 13-1-0 with a 2.01 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage and one shutout this season for Huntsville of the lower-level Southern Professional Hockey League.
Both goalies put on a show, making a number of sprawling saves on shots from close range and Milosek was the first to buckle, allowing a goal to Szydlowski on a shot from the right circle 4:20 into the first period, just after Fort Wayne’s Marcus McIvor got the puck past Milosek only to watch it carom off the post and away.
Szydlowski, who has three goals and nine points in eight games since re-signing with Fort Wayne, had missed the previous two games with his injury suffered in the 1-0 New Year’s Eve victory over the Iowa Heartlanders.
Fort Wayne’s Matt Alvaro made it 2-0 by redirecting a Zach Pochiro blue-line shot at 8:08, during a power play.
Notes: The referee was Tyson Stewart. … For Toledo, Kyle Bonis, 32, came out of retirement to join the team this weekend. His 95 goals are third most in Walleye history. He was thwarted by Hughes on a breakaway early in the third period. … The Walleye played with four former Komets: Hawkins, Ryan Lowney, Randy Gazzola and Heard.