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Blind save helps K’s turn back Thunder

December 15, 2018

Goaltender Zach Fucale’s save in the first period was a masterpiece : he threw his body to the left to blindly stop a Dyson Stevenson one-timer and somehow came up with the puck in his glove : and it was the defining moment of the Komets’ 5-2 victory over the Wichita Thunder.

It sure was a wild Friday night at Memorial Coliseum.

Stevenson, maybe frustrated he hadn’t converted the shot that would have gotten the Thunder back into the game, soon unleashed a flurry of punches on Fort Wayne’s leading goal scorer, J.C. Campagna, and knocked him out of the game. Campagna was left with a ugly looking eye injury that will keep him out at least the rest of the weekend.

Stevenson later fought Fort Wayne’s enforcer, Taylor Crunk, to the delight of the 6,631 fans at Memorial Coliseum. Campagna did leave with something for his trouble: his 14th goal, thanks to a Justin Hodgman feed, as he upped his team-leading point total to 30 in 22 games.

There were pretty goals from Fort Wayne, such as captain Jamie Schaafsma’s power-play backhander that opened the scoring, and Jake Kamrass’ rocket that closed it in the third period from the left circle. There were long-range Fort Wayne goals from Jason Binkley and Chase Stewart. 

But it came back to that Fucale first-period save, the best of his 23.

“I got beat a little bit. I think there was a bounce and I just threw myself across and it was just one of those moments where you don’t know : you just throw : and I just got lucky, man. It just went in my glove. I just got lucky,” said Fucale, the Komets’ only NHL-contracted player, a prospect of the Vegas Golden Knights.

Fucale got off to a rough start this season, but he has now won seven straight games; he’s 8-4-0 with a 3.09 goals-against average and a .895 save percentage heading into today’s 7:30 p.m. game against the rival Toledo Walleye at the Coliseum.

“I’m not changing anything,” Fucale said. “I’m playing the same way. That’s what I’m trying to do every night, whether we’re up one or down three. You’ve got to just play the game. That’s what I’m doing, and the guys are bailing me out, too.”

As Fucale spoke, there was an uncomfortable buzz throughout the Coliseum; a clerical error had sent a notification to the ECHL website and to ECHL fans that the Komets had forfeited the game because of an illegal roster. That wasn’t the case, though they’d made a flurry of moves.

There was the Thursday re-signing of Mason Baptista, who had started the season with Freiburg in Germany after a career-best season of 18 goals and 50 points for the Komets in 2017-18. On Friday, the Komets bolstered the offensive capabilities of their blue-line by acquiring defenseman Trey Phillips from the Jacksonville Icemen for forward Garrett Ladd and defenseman Chris Rygus.

Phillips, 25, had four assists in 20 games with the Icemen. He was coming off a four-season career at the University of Vermont : he was a teammate of Fort Wayne’s Anthony Petruzzelli : before which he was a prolific scoring defenseman in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, totaling 25 goals and 65 points in 58 games in 2013-14 for the Canmore Eagles. That season, Phillips was the AJHL’s MVP and Most Outstanding Defenseman.

Wichita (11-10-4), which had its winning streak halted at five games, got 34 saves from Stuart Skinner, who was outshined Fucale and his save.

“That was an unbelievable save. I don’t know how he did it,” Komets coach Gary Graham said.

jcohn@jg.net

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