K’s hearts heavy after bus crash

April 8, 2018

The tragedy that rocked the hockey world : a traffic crash involving the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Humboldt Broncos that resulted in 15 deaths : could be felt at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday.

A moment of silence was observed before the Komets’ game, and the players, who spend a considerable amount of time traveling on buses, were reminded of their mortality. A native of Humboldt, Reid Gardiner, scored a goal for the Wheeling Nailers in their 7-3 victory in front of 8,666 fans.

“Whenever you see something tragic like that, it definitely hits you pretty deep,” Komets forward Garrett Thompson said. “You almost feel like it could be anybody. You never want to see anything like that anywhere. The hockey community is super supportive and there’s that love that’s pretty strong throughout the sport. You see from the top to the bottom, it’s like a brotherhood.”

Komets forward Tanner Froese played against Humboldt from 2010-14. Former Komets defenseman Kevin Schmidt was a college teammate at Northern Michigan of Broncos coach Darcy Haugan, who died.

There was a cloud over all of hockey.

And the Komets’ moods certainly didn’t improve with their next-to-last game of the regular season, which saw them give up four goals of the third period to Wheeling (35-28-9) and lose another player, defenseman Curtis Leonard.

“We were (crap on Saturday). It means we have to play with some heart and play better. That’s it. If you get waxed on home ice 7-3, you better come to play the next night,” said coach Gary Graham, whose team plays at 5 p.m. today at the Coliseum against the Cincinnati Cylones. The two teams will then faceoff in a best-of-7 first-round playoff series that begins Saturday at the Coliseum.

The intrigue today for the Komets (45-20-6) will be: attempting to gain momentum despite injuries and a 3-4-3 record over the last 10 games; trying to set the tone despite having lost 5 of 8 games to the Cyclones and seeing if Shawn Szydlowski can secure the scoring title. Graham wouldn’t say if Szydlowski, who has 77 points, two more than Cincinnati’s Jesse Schultz, would be in the lineup. But he did say: “I’m looking for our older guys, our top guys, to play well. Actually, I thought a lot of them were awful (Saturday).”

Gabriel Desjardins scored his team-leading 32nd goal for a 1-0 lead. Gardiner answered by hauling down Cody Sol and snapping a 20-foot shot past goalie Garrett Bartus, who then allowed a goal to Freddie Tiffels for a 2-1 Wheeling lead.

A Dennis Kravchenko goal was answered 8 seconds later by Nick Sorkin. After Fort Wayne’s Anthony Petruzzelli scored by poking in the rebound of his own breakaway shot to tie it at 3 at 9:01 of the second period, things went awry.

Wheeling’s Owen Headrick tackled Kravchenko, who got into a shoving match with Nailers goalie Adam Morrison, drawing a crowd. Referee Sean Fernandez gave only two penalties : roughing to Kravchenko and unsportsmanlike conduct to Sol : and Cam Brown scored on the ensuing 5-on-3 power play to kick off the onslaught of goals.

“Getting beat like that, it’s something I think we should carry in with us (today),” Thompson said. “However guys have to deal with it to get ready for Cincinnati because we’re going to have them (today). Even though it’s not a playoff game, it should be treated like a playoff game, and guys have to be mentally ready for it to be like a playoff game.”