Goaltender Bailey Brkin made 14 saves. Matthew Barnaby had the lone goal. But it was the sacrifice of the team at large – it totaled a whopping 17 shot blocks – that particularly guided the Komets to a 1-0 victory Friday over the Iowa Heartlanders in the annual New Year's Eve game at Memorial Coliseum.
It was Fort Wayne's third shutout of the season, and second in four games against expansion Iowa, and it included eight third-period shot blocks.
“It's a simple thing that you don't need any special skill set to do,” forward Anthony Petruzzelli said of blocking shots. “We've talked about it, and everybody on the team can buy in. It's not always the most fun thing to stand in front of a shot like that and have to wear a slap shot, but you do it for the betterment of the team and it helps us defensively.”
The most key sequence of shot blocks came in the third period, as Fort Wayne was clinging to the lead Barnaby had given it by redirecting a Chays Ruddy shot in the second period. Iowa's Shane Kuzmeski skated out from behind the Fort Wayne net, trying to take advantage of Brkin being sprawled on the ice, but Ruddy blocked two Kuzmeski attempts to preserve the lead as Fort Wayne (16-7-3) improved to 6-1-1 in its last eight games.
“I thought we did everything well, except for the power play (going 0 for 3). We knew that we had one game this weekend, so we gave everything and completely emptied the tanks,” coach Ben Boudreau said. “We were very selfless when it came to sacrificing our bodies and helping Bailey out. And I thought that was our most complete game, just 60 minutes start to finish, and just playing the same way in a committed system. And it paid off.”
A crowd of 9,463 was on hand, the largest at the Coliseum since a sellout of 10,477 on July 2, when the Komets won the Kelly Cup with a 2-1 victory over the South Carolina Stingrays. The Komets are 43-17-5 in New Year's Eve home games.
But it wasn't all good news for the Komets, who lost D.J. King when he was checked in the first period. He was sent to a local hospital with an ankle injury, and the Komets fear he'll be out long term. Shawn Szydlowski, who had offseason back surgery, also went down in the third period after he was checked from behind, though he returned for one shift and the team said he had a charley horse.
For Iowa (9-15-4), goalie Corbin Kaczperski stopped 32 of 33 shots. The Heartlanders were 0 for 2 on power plays.
“Guys were buying in and we played playoff hockey,” Boudreau said. “It was a great, intense atmosphere, and I thought the guys really rose to the occasion. It was just a really committed game plan by the guys from top to bottom, and we found a way to squeak one out.”
Fort Wayne is 2-2-0 against Iowa, including a 24-save Jiri Patera shutout Dec. 3. Samuel Harvey had the Komets' other shutout this season, stopping 39 shots against Toledo, on Nov. 13.
The scoreless first period – Fort Wayne had 10 of 16 shots – was marked by how many quality chances the Komets had but failed to score on, including two Szydlowski opportunities from point-blank range. The Heartlanders thought they'd taken a lead when Cole Stallard scored off a rebound at 13:47, but referee Trevor Wohlford waved it off because Kaid Oliver had interfered with Brkin.
Instead, it was Fort Wayne that opened the scoring 2:37 into the second period, when Barnaby tipped a Ruddy blue-line shot. The Komets outshot the Heartlanders 15-2 in the second period.
“Defensively, overall, we played a really solid game,” Petruzzelli said. “Brkin did a good job making that first save and our defensemen did a good job of keeping the second-chance opportunities out. So that definitely helped us out.”