The Komets know all about the remarkable things Brandon Hawkins can do on the ice; he was their MVP last season.
But on Saturday night, he did it for their archrival, scoring twice, including a scintillating lacrosse-style shot he tucked underneath the crossbar while coming out from behind the net, as the Toledo Walleye secured a 3-2 victory over the Komets in front of 8,033 fans at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio.
Hawkins was a key component of the Komets winning the Kelly Cup last July, but his rights reverted to Toledo, which had opted out of last season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He has five goals and 13 points in 12 games for Toledo, including two goals and eight points in four games against Fort Wayne.
The Komets had a multitude of chances to force overtime but couldn’t solve goaltender Max Milosek after Fort Wayne’s Kellen Jones scored the game’s final goal, on the heels of a Matt Murphy centering pass, 2:37 into the third period.
Milosek stopped 40 of 42 shots and both teams were 0 for 4 on power plays.
“It was a playoff-type atmosphere and I hope we get a chance again – not putting the cart before the horse – to hopefully down the road settle it in the playoffs,” said coach Ben Boudreau, whose Komets (17-12-4) have six more regular-season meetings with the Central Division-leading Walleye (21-8-2), starting Jan. 23 at Toledo. “That was a great back-and-forth game of inches and I thought they got the bounces tonight and we didn’t.”
Surprise starter Mario Culina stopped 40 of 43 shots for the third-place Komets and was backed up by equipment manager Skylar Garver, as the Komets slid to 1-5-1 in their last seven games.
“We’re struggling to score right now, whether it’s 5-on-5 or 5-on-4, power play-related, and that’s what it comes down to,” said Boudreau, who likened the game to Wednesday’s 5-4 loss to the Kalamazoo Wings in which he felt the Komets deserved a better outcome. “I feel bad for Mario because he had an unbelievable performance, getting thrown into the fire right before the game. We had a ton of chances, but we just didn’t find a way to finish them.”
Boudreau declined to comment on why the expected starter, Liam Hughes, was absent after warm-ups.
The Komets, who play host to the Wings at 5 p.m. Sunday at Memorial Coliseum, believe their luck will turn soon.
“It seems to be almost who’s getting a little bit luckier with the puck and, moving forward, now we’ve just got to start creating our own luck,” captain Anthony Petruzzelli said. “For everyone, top to bottom, it’s right there. I think we hit three or four posts tonight and it’s just a matter of (making sure) we actually hit the back of the net. Things will start going our way a little bit more.”
The Komets had 13 of the game’s first 20 shots on goal, but Hawkins opened the scoring off the rebound of his own shot 18:06 into the first period, shortly after he’d been robbed by Culina during a power play.
The Komets had five of the second period’s five six shots, but the Walleye cooled the momentum with Hawkins’ goal on the so-called Michigan Move at 7:22. He had converted a similar goal two seasons ago while playing for Wheeling.
“It was all because of (Conlan Keenan), who made a play off the wall and got the D away from me. It gave me the opportunity, with a little bit of space, to have some time to try it,” Hawkins said on the Walleye’s BCSN TV broadcast, where it was noted that he scored while skating around the net, not coming out of a stand-still position. “Luckily I got the puck up on my stick and made it work.”
The Komets answered with a Connor Jones goal at 11:46, set up by a 100-foot Zach Tolkinen pass, but the Walleye’s Brett Boeing netted a shot from the right circle as he fell to the ice for a 3-1 lead at 19:07.
Notes: Remaining in the higher-level American Hockey League were Komets players Drake Rymsha (Hershey), Matthew Boudens (Henderson), Marcus McIvor (Ontario), Blake Siebenaler (Charlotte) and Samuel Harvey (San Jose). Rymsha has been up there the longest, since Nov. 9, and went into Saturday with six assists in 22 games. Boudens, gone since Nov. 18, had five assists in 14 games. Harvey, gone since Dec. 27, was 2-1-0 with a 1.88 goals-against average, a .928 save percentage and two shutouts. … Will Graber, the Komets’ leading scorer, was back in the Fort Wayne lineup after serving a four-game suspension for making physical contact with a linesman. Shawn Szydlowski sat in Graber’s place.