TOLEDO, Ohio – Saturday night, the Fort Wayne Komets came into the Huntington Center and simply outplayed Toledo to take a 1-0 series lead in the Central Division Finals. As the time came to suit up for game 2, Dylan Sadowy was recalled from Toledo to Grand Rapids to add more difficulty to the task of tying the series. It all served to set up a critical contest on Sunday afternoon. Pat Nagle and Michael Houser once again faced off for their teams.
Play began with Toledo and Fort Wayne feeling each other out initially. Both teams had quick shots on goal but followed up with four minutes of back and forth play.
Fort Wayne’s first offensive series came after seven minutes as it put five shots on Nagle in a three and a half minute span, but were unable to beat him.
Toledo responded in turn with its own offensive with just under four minutes remaining in the period, but Houser kept pace and denied all comers.
In a much more evenly paced first period than the previous game, shots on goal were 9-8 Fort Wayne as the teams left the ice scoreless.
Toledo came out swinging to start the second and put two quick shots on Houser which he turned away, and Cody Sol returned the favor and was met with the same result.
The first penalty of the game came when former Komet Mike Embach was called for high-sticking behind Houser. Fort Wayne went to work on the man advantage and had good chances, but the Toledo penalty kill stepped up to keep the puck out of the net.
Energized after the penalty kill Toledo took the puck up the ice into the Komet zone and went to work. Charlie O’Connor went digging behind the net and beat his defender for the puck. Seeing Shane Berschbach alone in the slot, O’Connor put the puck on his tape and Berschbach sent it past Houser for the game’s first goal at 6:49.
Shortly after the goal Jared Wilson and Curtis Leonard received offsetting roughing calls behind Houser to cause 4-on-4 hockey, which would proceed and expire with no further consequence.
Between the 12 and 16 minute mark the offenses of both teams ramped things up, with six consecutive shots by Fort Wayne and then six retaliatory blasts from Toledo. Shawn Szydlowski would receive a slashing call with 1:11 left in the period, but time would expire before the Walleye power play could make anything happen.
Similarly to the start of the second Toledo came out firing in the third and found success. Berschbach went down into the corner and retrieved the puck, and dished it to A.J. Jenks. Jenks skated into the slot while being dogged by the Fort Wayne defender, but found space to release a backhand shot that fooled Houser and put Toledo ahead 2-0 1:05 into the period.
Five minutes later, Toledo had a chance to extend the lead with its first power play of the game but was unable to capitalize on it. Seconds after the power play expired, play was whistled dead and both teams lined up for a faceoff outside the Komet zone in front of the Walleye bench. Both teams set up, but before the puck was dropped the referee assessed Colin Jacobs a roughing minor for his actions to gain position for the faceoff. The Toledo bench, along with many fans, were left bewildered by the call on the ice. Fort Wayne took the opportunity to climb back into the game, as with 16 seconds left on the power play Gabriel Desjardins scored on a one-timer that blew by Nagle before he could attempt a save.
After the Komet goal with 9:39 left in regulation, Fort Wayne was revitalized and continued its attack on Nagle until Mason Baptista hauled down O’Connor behind Nagle. Toledo put shots on net, but couldn’t extend the lead as Houser kept his team in it. After killing off the penalty, Fort Wayne tried once again to regain the zone and mount an attack but was called for a penalty at 16:18 when Phelix Martineau sat for slashing. Despite the Komet penalty kill keeping the Walleye shotless, they weren’t able to mount an effective attack late as Nagle, and the Walleye would secure a 2-1 victory to tie the series at one game apiece.
Games 3 and 4 will take place in Fort Wayne on Wednesday and Friday nights, respectively, as both teams will try and take a decisive lead in this division final series.