FORT WAYNE, Ind. — After an eventful two games in Colorado, the ECHL Western Conference Final shifts to the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. Both teams are looking for momentum as the Eagles had found it in game one. With their win in game two, the Komets had tried to turn home ice into their favor with the next three games at home. Though the first two games had been physical, last night’s game saw the goalies shine and control the play early on and throughout the contest.
The goalies, Joe Cannata for Colorado and Michael Houser for Fort Wayne, were tested early and often to start the game as both teams turned the puck over and allowed quality chances. About nine minutes into the game, Colorado had a tremendous scoring opportunity as the puck slid through the crease behind Houser, but no Eagle players were able to redirect the puck into the net. More missed chances followed. The teams traded rushes – a 2-on-1 for Fort Wayne and a 3-on-1 for Colorado – but neither team managed a shot on goal. The game would remain scoreless through the first period.
In the middle frame, Colorado began to ramp up the pressure on Houser. The Eagles played well in transition and got a few great chances. However, Houser continued to frustrate as he turned away shot after shot.
Just before the halfway point of the contest, a takeaway at the top of the offensive right faceoff circle led to the first goal of the night. Cliff Watson had the puck for Colorado. The Komets’ Ryan Culkin forced a turnover from Cliff Watson. Marc-Oliver Roy picked up the loose puck and skated down the right side of the slot towards Cannata. As the Colorado goalie dropped to the butterfly position on the left side of the crease, Roy flipped a quick pass to Garrett Thompson, who fired the puck behind Cannata’s stick side at the 9:42 mark.
Colorado responded by getting multiple shots off at Houser who continued to turn away shots. It would be a shot from the center point with Houser screened by four players, two from each team, to pull the visitors even at 12:03 of the second. Michael Joly had the puck on the boards just above the right faceoff circle and passed it to Jake Marto. Marto skated along the blue line and fired a shot through the maze of bodies and into the net past Houser’s stick side.
When both goalies are on their game, special teams can play a massive role, and this game would be no exception. After being turned away on their second power play opportunity of the night, the Eagles would get into penalty trouble to end the second period. Collin Bowman would be sent off for roughing at 19:11, followed by Matt Register getting called for high-sticking at 19:45. The Komets would begin the third period with a two-man advantage for 1:12. The hosts would capitalize on the opportunity and pull ahead for good. Roy had the puck at the point above the left faceoff circle and fired a pass to Bobby Shea just below the faceoff dot. Shea passed the puck across the slot to Gabriel Desjardins who snapped the puck between Cannata’s glove and right leg pad for a 2-1 lead.
Just over two and a half minutes later, the Komets would notch an insurance marker. Thompson and Roy outskated the Colorado defenseman trying to prevent the rush. Thompson passed the puck right-to-left across the slot to Roy, who fired it into the open cage before Cannata could shift over to the other post.
The Eagles would claw back to within a goal with just under nine seconds to play as Marto would again beat Houser with a heavy shot from the right point. Joly and Register were awarded assists on Marto’s second goal of the night.
However, it would be the Komets Desjardins who put the final goal on the board in this one. With Cannata on the bench for six Colorado attackers, Mason Baptista won the faceoff following the Eagles goal forward to Desjardins, who slid the puck into the empty net with five seconds remaining in the game.
Houser picked up his first win of the series as he made 27 saves on the 29 shots he faced. Cannata took the loss, making 22 saves on the 25 shots he faced. Fort Wayne finished the night 1-for-4 on the powerplay while killing three penalties of their own.
Fort Wayne now leads the best-of-seven series, 2-1, with game four in Fort Wayne on Friday night at 8:00 pm.