AP NEWS

Baptista delivers winner

February 25, 2019

Shrugging off the decision by coach Gary Graham to sit him in the previous game, Mason Baptista made the most of his return Sunday with a goal and an assist, including the overtime winner, as the Komets defeated the ECHL-leading Cincinnati Cyclones 5-4 in front of 8,185 fans at Memorial Coliseum.

“We challenged him today during a video session to be better offensively with the puck and to do the things we’re used to him doing over the last few years,” Graham said. “It’s not that he’s not capable of it; it’s just sometimes a confidence thing or the reads on the ice and making better decisions.

“I thought that tonight, you could see that when he’s playing with the puck and playing with some poise, that’s when he’s making people around him better and he did a good job of that.”

Baptista, who has eight goals and 18 points in 27 games, was an obvious choice to return to the lineup after Marco Roy was called to Laval of the American Hockey League on Saturday.

On the winner Sunday, Baptista benefited from playmaking by Shawn Szydlowski, who has two goals and six points in four games since his one-game benching.

Szydlowski had forced overtime with 41 seconds remaining in regulation on a shot from 20 feet out, thanks to a pass from behind the net from Brady Shaw, who had shown perseverance after goaltender Michael Houser stopped him from point-blank range.

To set up the winning goal, Szydlowski intercepted a Brady Vail pass, patiently made sure the play was onside, then sent a cross to Baptista for a shot.

“It’s tough when you have to sit out. That’s not my decision. It’s my job to be ready and to be a professional,” Baptista said. “I got out there and I was just (wanting) to go play my game, not worry about anything else, and just see what happens and help my team in the best way I can.”

The Komets have had 16 games go beyond regulation : more than any team except Rapid City (18) : and are 6-3 in games decided in 3-on-3 overtimes and 1-6 in shootouts.

On the heels of their 6-5 victory Friday over the Wichita Thunder, the Komets (25-18-9) have won back-to-back games after a 1-1-6 stretch. They’ve pulled into a tie with Kalamazoo for third place in the Central Division. The Komets and Wings play at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Houser stopped 23 shots against his former team. Zach Fucale stopped 27 shots for the Komets in the second and final “Pink the Rink” night of the season, in which the Komets donned special jerseys to benefit the Vera Bradley Foundation’s fight against breast cancer. Jamie Schaafsma’s jersey sold for the most (1,500), Taylor Crunk (1,200).

Cincinnati (38-9-7), which had won its previous seven games, got goals from Alex Wideman, Pascal Aquin, Eric Knodel and Vail, and it went 2 for 4 on power plays as the Komets had three penalties for delay of game for shooting the puck into the stands.

“Tonight, we got the job done and that’s all the matters,” Fucale said. “So we’re going to regroup, take a couple of days of practice and make sure we’re ready for the next game.”

The Komets got goals from Garrett Clarke on a blue-line shot, Campagna on a right-circle shot and Anthony Petruzzelli off a redirection.

“If we’re going to make a serious push here and be a serious contender here in the playoffs, you need your top players and your horses,” Graham said. “They know that. I’m not telling them anything they don’t know, and the expectations they have on themselves (are) just as high as I have.”

jcohn@jg.net