LOVELAND, Colo. – Fort Wayne goaltender Michael Houser was bumped into, knocked around, and flat out barreled over by the Colorado Eagles in Game 1 of the ECHL Western Conference Final. The Youngstown, Ohio product even had trainers come out to look at him late in the third period of Saturday’s 3-2 loss, eventually waving them off as he played the rest of regulation and overtime.
On Sunday, pregame reports listed Houser as out with dehydration and cramps, leaving Fort Wayne to give the nod to Garrett Bartus in goal for Game 2. Would there be any retaliation from the Komets for the Eagles apparently putting out their primary goaltender?
That question was answered even before the puck dropped.
Game 2 was overshadowed by fisticuffs during pregame warm-ups, with Colorado’s Gabriel Verpaelst and Fort Wayne’s Dennis Kravchenko jawing back and forth before finally coming to blows with both team’s lined up at center ice. About 30 seconds later, Eagles forward Joey Ratelle and Komets defenseman Daniel Maggio began to tussle, with Ratelle pushing Maggio into the boards and driving him into the ice before being corralled by Ft. Wayne captain Jamie Schaafsma.
Verpaelst and Kravchenko were immediately suspended for Game 2 following their altercation. The ECHL allowed both teams to compensate for the absences, with Colorado dressing defenseman Teigan Zahn and Fort Wayne activating d-man Kevin McKernan.
Video Courtesy of Justin Cohn and the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette
When Game 2 did start, both squads struggled to find their offensive footing, with Fort Wayne slightly edging Colorado 2-1 in shots on goal for the first five minutes of play. Capitalizing on Colorado’s goaltender attack from the night before, Bartus drew an interference on the goaltender penalty from Colorado forward Brady Shaw at 5:56 of the first period. The resulting power play led to a Maggio rebound off a Jason Binkley wrist shot, making it 1-0 for Fort Wayne at 7:05 of the first period.
After a Collin Bowman penalty for slashing at 7:50 of the first, the Eagles began to increase their offensive pressure, punctuated by a couple of speedy drive attempts by none other than forward Michael Joly. However, another penalty derailed Colorado’s building momentum, as the fill-in d-man Teigan Zahn received two minutes for boarding Gabriel Desjardins at 17:38 of period one. Again, Fort Wayne was efficient on the man advantage, with Cody Sol firing a shot from the point that Garrett Thompson put home on the rebound. The Komets found themselves now up 2-0 at 19:26 of the opening frame.
Fort Wayne clamped down on Colorado in period two, forcing neutral zone turnovers and eliminating any chance for a shot on goal until 6:18 into the middle regulation frame. It wasn’t until later in the second that the Eagles got on the board. Matt Register forced a turnover from Binkley after a hard body check behind Bartus’ net, passing the puck to Shawn St-Amant out front, who then set up a one-timer for Joey Ratelle that cut the Fort Wayne lead to one at 14:10 of the second.
As Colorado found their fire and increased their shots on goal after Ratelle’s tally, Fort Wayne was there to answer late in the period yet again. Garrett Thompson posted up behind the net of Colorado goalkeeper Joe Cannata, drawing the defense and the eyes of Matt Register long enough before passing it to a wide-open Marc-Olivier Roy in front for the score at 19:20 of the second period.
Fort Wayne took their 3-1 lead into the third period, as Colorado’s desperation began to bleed over onto the shot sheet; the Eagles outshot the Komets 7-2 in the first six minutes of the third. Unfortunately, Colorado would only get three more shots on goal after that, with one of them being a Nicolas Meloche rebound score at 9:17 of period three. Even with Cannata pulled for the extra skater with 1:45 remaining, Colorado was left empty-handed after a bevy of chances were turned aside by Bartus as time expired and Fort Wayne evened the series 1-1.
The Western Conference Final now shifts to Indiana for Game 3 on Wednesday night.