Rivals ready to write new chapter
One could pick from about any of the 79 games the Komets and Toledo Walleye have played over the last seven years and find something interesting. It’s become the best rivalry in the ECHL, one that will continue with Game 1 of the Central Division semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Huntington Center in Toledo.
The Komets have a 31-22-8 regular-season record against the Walleye, who have won three of four playoff series with a 10-8 advantage in postseason games.
Here’s a look, chronologically, at the most noteworthy moments from the rivalry.
Nov. 3, 2012: The first game between the Komets and a team from Toledo since 1985 was a precursor of the tight, physical games to come. The bruising line of Jean-Michel Rizk, Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock and Stephon Thorne produced a pivotal third-period goal to lead Fort Wayne to a 4-3 victory at the Huntington Center.
Dec. 27, 2013: Gary Graham might not still be coaching the Komets if he hadn’t survived a rough patch in his first season. After Mike Vaskivuo and Mickey Lang left the team, Schrock’s first game as captain saw Fort Wayne skate with only eight forwards, squander a three-goal lead and win 4-3 at Memorial Coliseum on a Scott Fleming goal.
Nov. 19, 2014: The Komets’ Shawn Szydlowski walloped Josh Holmstrom in a fight : during a morning game for kids at the Huntington Center : sparking Fort Wayne to score three goals in a span of 1:05 and tie it at 3. The rally didn’t last; the Walleye won 6-3 on two goals apiece from Anthony Luciani and Troy Schwab.
Jan. 5, 2015: The much-anticipated outdoor game at Fifth Third Field in Toledo had been postponed the day before because of rainy conditions that caused slushy ice and poor visibility. When finally played, the Komets won 3-2 in an overtime shootout in a blizzard, thanks to 44 Roman Will saves and shootout goals from Brett Perlini and Matthew Pistilli.
May 5, 2015: Toledo’s A.J. Jenks unleashed a knee-to-knee hit on Fort Wayne’s best player, Szydlowski, ending his season. Not only was Jenks not penalized in the 3-2 Fort Wayne overtime playoff victory, he got suspended only one game.
May 10, 2015: The Komets allowed a Martin Frk goal with 19 seconds left in regulation of Game 6, endured a waved-off Pistilli goal in the second overtime because the net was deemed off its moorings, and finally got the 3-2 winner from Perlini. After winning all three home games in overtime, the Komets lost 5-2 in Game 7.
March 25, 2016: A 6-3 Walleye victory at the Coliseum : Josh Shalla and Tyler Sikura scored twice : got the Komets motivated for their run to the Western Conference finals, though they didn’t have to face Toledo.
Nov. 26, 2016: A dismal 7-1 loss at the Huntington Center began the Komets 1-3-2 regular-season record with Toledo, which preceded a 4-1 playoff series loss. Toledo scored four power-play goals, a short-handed goal and got 24 Jake Paterson saves.
May 3, 2017: Graham made a gutsy call in net, playing Garrett Bartus instead of Pat Nagle, but the Komets lost 3-2 in Game 3 at the Coliseum. Toledo’s Jeff Lerg had five saves on shots from close range in the waning minutes with his team short-handed, and the Walleye took a 3-0 series lead.
Oct. 14, 2017: Tyson Fawcett got a hat trick in front of 10,089 Coliseum fans as Fort Wayne showed off its faster lineup and won 4-2, setting the tone for a season in which it’d win 6 of 8 series games and then beat Toledo 4-2 in the second round.
May 4, 2018: Daniel Maggio’s hit from behind on Toledo’s Simon Denis is still debated. Could Maggio have avoided the hit after Denis put on the brakes in front of him at the Coliseum? Maggio also scored in the Komets’ 3-1 victory, tying the series at 2, and was suspended one game.
May 8, 2018: Szydlowski’s empty-net goal at the Coliseum was followed by a signal to the sky to late Fort Wayne broadcaster Bob Chase; the Komets had ousted the Walleye and advanced to the conference finals. “It feels good. It’s a relief more than anything,” Szydlowski said. ”(They’d) kind of been our kryptonite.”
March 2: An 11-0 loss at the Huntington Center still has relevance for the Komets. “Obviously they had that embarrassing defeat of us in their barn. I think ever since then, a lot of the team has been angry and I think it maybe renewed that rivalry for the new guys,” Komets captain Jamie Schaafsma said. Nagle stopped all 34 shots for the Walleye and Dylan Sadowy had two goals and four points. The Komets have won both meetings since.
Notes: Indy’s Ryan Rupert was suspended 14 games by the ECHL for checking Fort Wayne’s Sean Flanagan from behind and punching linesman Christopher Williams during a fight, injuring them both Friday. ... Cincinnati’s Matt Thomas was named ECHL Coach of the Year on Tuesday. Tulsa’s Rob Murray, a former Komets player, was second.