LOVELAND, Colo. – Colorado Eagles forward Michael Joly was the ECHL’s leading goal-scorer for the 2018 regular season, netting 41 goals in 52 games. Yet, coming into Game 1 of Western Conference Final against the Fort Wayne Komets, he had only tallied three goals in ten games against the Wichita Thunder and Idaho Steelheads.
Tonight, Joly turned on the magic and got back to what he does best.
The 23-year-old from Gatineau, Quebec scored three goals Saturday night, notching his first hat trick since December 6, 2017 against Rapid City, and the fourth overall of his ECHL career. Bigger than Joly’s individual accolades was the fact that his standout performance helped lead Colorado to a Game 1 overtime victory against Fort Wayne by a score of 3-2.
The beginning of the game unsurprisingly found both teams in a bit of a feeling-out period, trading puck possession in the neutral zone and seeing each squad muster just two shots on goal in the first eight minutes of gameplay. Fort Wayne did a quality job of clogging up the neutral zone, as well, preventing Colorado from any intricate play development or offensive charges early on.
Things picked up as the penalty calls started coming in halfway through the first period. Fort Wayne’s Ryan Culkin kicked things off on the PIMs sheet with an interference minor at 8:06 of the first, followed by a double unsportsmanlike conduct call on Colorado’s Gabriel Verpaelst and Fort Wayne’s Daniel Maggio at 11:35. It wasn’t until the Eagles’ Ryan Harrison was called for charging at 15:46 that the Komets received their first power play of the game. After the resulting faceoff, Verpaelst lost his stick on a big hit, leaving the d-man with only his body to defend against Fort Wayne’s power play chance. About 30 seconds later, Culkin ripped a shot from the blue line, finding a deflection from Maggio to get past Colorado goalie Joe Cannata to make it 1-0 at 16:34 of the first.
A Jamie Schaafsma interference call put Colorado on their second power play of the night at 18:06 of the first period. Not even 30 seconds into said power play, Joly drove in from the left wing on a defending Cody Sol, going from forehand to backhand to maneuver past the Komets’ defenseman. He utilized the same forehand-backhand exchange to get the puck by an outstretched Michael Houser for Colorado’s game-tying score at 18:34.
The middle frame of regulation brought on a flurry of Colorado chances early on, with Julien Nantel, Shawn St-Amant, and Cliff Watson netting shots on goal in the first minute and a half. Colorado captain Matt Garbowsky put that momentum to a halt, however, after upending Anthony Petruzzelli and getting whistled for tripping at 2:03 of the second. The Komets power play descended upon the Eagles yet again, this time with regular season MVP Shawn Szydlowski setting up a speedy Gabriel Desjardins, who blew by two Colorado defenders en route to a backhand goal squeezed by Cannata at 3:49 of the second to make it 2-1, Komets.
An eventful second period of physical play and penalty calls yielded a shots on goal lead for Colorado after trailing 10-9 after one; the Eagles led 22-16 in shots on net after two periods of play. Fort Wayne was none-too-pleased about the extracurricular activity in front of and actually on goaltender Michael Houser, especially from Shawn St-Amant. The Eagles’ second-year forward pestered Houser all night with post-play bumps, gaining ire from defenseman Bobby Shea on a number of occasions. St-Amant was eventually given a Charging the Goalie in the Crease call at 19:51 of the second for his contact with Houser after the whistle.
The resulting Komets power play carried over into the third period, which started off with a jolt for Colorado after Fort Wayne’s Jason Brinkley rang a shot off the post 25 seconds in. St-Amant sought redemption for his goalie antics a bit later, breaking away after coming out of the penalty box, only to be stifled by Houser at the last moment. Fort Wayne netted two minor penalties early on in the third, to no avail for Colorado; the Eagles would eventually go 1-for-7 on the power play for the night.
Shorthanded, however, Colorado was just as successful. After Nicolas Meloche went to the penalty box for tripping at 8:51 of the third period, Joly found himself driving in Fort Wayne’s zone late in the penalty kill. His resulting shot went five-hole past Houser, giving him his second goal of the night and Colorado yet another game-tying goal at 10:40 of the third. Houser had a bit of a scare after a collision late in the period, but continued in net for the rest of regulation and into overtime.
Starting the OT period, an early turnover and Mason Baptista chance on Cannata snapped Colorado to attention. Colorado’s Ryan Harrison was then penalized for Charging the Goalie in the Crease at 1:45 of the extra period, followed by a Jamie Schaafsma high stick a mere five second later at 1:50. The resulting four-on-four hockey opened up the ice, and Colorado rookie forward J.C. Beaudin took full advantage. Beaudin started from behind his own net around the three-minute mark, picking up speed as he skated the length of the ice uncontested. A backhand pass to a waiting Joly garnered a quick shot on Houser, and even with Komets defenseman Curtis Leonard draped all over him, Joly exploited Houser’s five-hole yet again to get the game-winning goal at 3:25 of overtime play.
Game 2 of the Western Conference Final between the Komets and Eagles takes place at 7:05 pm MT, once again at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado.
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