The Komets know, perhaps better than anyone, the capabilities of Brandon Hawkins – their MVP last season.
He showed it again Saturday. He scored two goals, including a scintillating lacrosse style shot he tucked underneath the crossbar while coming out from behind the net. But this time it was to lead the Toledo Walleye to a 3-2 victory over the Komets in front of 8,033 fans at the Huntington Center in Toledo.
Hawkins was a key cog in the Komets capturing the Kelly Cup last July, though 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 goalie Max Milosek after Fort Wayne's Kellen Jones scored the game's final goal, thanks to 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 shots for the third-place Komets and was backed up by equipment manager Skylar Garver.
“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,” Boudreau said. “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 warmups.
The Komets, who play host to the Kalamazoo Wings at 5 p.m. today, 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 chance 18:06 into the first period.
Fort Wayne had five of the second period's first six shots, but the Walleye cooled the momentum with Hawkins' goal on the so-called Michigan Move at 7:22. The Komets answered with a Connor Jones goal at 11:46, but the Walleye's Brett Boeing netted a shot from the right circle for a 3-1 lead at 19:07.