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Baptista goal lifts K’s past ECHL’s top team

February 25, 2019

The Komets have made a habit of third-period comebacks. But in their way today was the team with the ECHL’s best record, the Cincinnati Cyclones, and Fort Wayne’s whopping three penalties for delays of game.

Ultimately, the Komets emerged with a 6-5 victory over the Cyclones in overtime at Memorial Coliseum.

Shawn Szydlowski intercepted a pass from Brady Vail in the 3-on-3 overtime, hesitated just long enough to keep the play onside, sent a cross-ice pass to Mason Baptista and then watched as Baptista sent the puck into the net to complete the 5-4 come-from-behind victory.

Baptista, who has eight goals and 18 points in 27 games this season, had been a healthy scratch in the Komets’ previous game.

“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.”

(Video highlights are above.)

Szydlowski has two goals and six points in four games since he was benched by coach Gary Graham for a game. He set up the overtime by scoring with 41 seconds remaining in regulation with a shot from the front of the net. It came after Brady Shaw had been foiled by goaltender Michael Houser from point-blank range but got his rebound, went behind the net and sent a pass to the front.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that we want to get rolling down the stretch here,” Graham said. “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. They know that. I’m not telling them anything they don’t know, and the expectations they have on themselves is just as high as I have. Sometimes it’s tough to get going and confidence can be a tricky thing, but I think ... this week we got confidence as a group.”

The Komets have had 16 games go beyond regulation time, more than any team except Rapid City, and Fort Wayne is 6-3 in games decided in overtime and 1-6 in shootouts.

The Komets (25-18-9) have won back-to-back games on the heels of a 1-1-6 run. The Cyclones (38-9-7) had won their previous seven games.

Zach Fucale stopped 27 shots for the Komets. Houser stopped 23 shots for the Cyclones.

Three times, the Komets were penalized for delay of game because they shot the puck into the stands. While there may not be a more controversial rule in all of hockey, doing it three times in a single game is pretty inexplicable.

The Cyclones made them pay, scoring on two of those power plays and going 2 for 4 with the man-advantage overall, in front of 8,185 fans at Memorial Coliseum.

It was the second and final “Pink the Rink” game 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).

The Komets had defeated the Wichita Thunder 6-5 at the Coliseum on Friday, paced by Anthony Petruzzelli’s two goals and three points.

Today began as a goaltending battle : Houser foiled Petruzzelli from point-blank range; Fucale gloved a rocketing Mitch Jones shot from 25 feet out that seemed destined for the net : but soon the shooters solved the netminding.

Cincinnati’s Alex Wideman opened the scoring 14:48 into the first period by crashing the net to redirect Myles Powell’s pass from the left corner. But Fort Wayne defenseman Garrett Clarke answered 40 seconds later with a shot from the blue line, taking advantage of Szydlowski’s drop pass.

Campagna gave Fort Wayne a 2-1 lead at 16:29 by one-timing the puck as he fell to his knees in the right circle, just after Justin Hodgman fed him a cross-ice pass.

But the Cyclones’ Pascal Aquin tied it by redirecting the puck in front of the net, during a power play, 5:21 into the second period.

Petruzzelli netted his third goal in two games by redirecting a Shaw shot for a 3-2 lead at 17:00, after Shaw came out from behind the Cyclones net and engaged in a give-and-go with Baptista.

“We challenged (Baptista) 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 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.”

That goal was followed by a fight between Fort Wayne’s Craig Cescon and Cincinnati’s Arvin Atwal along the boards.

The Komets’ third penalty for delay of game resulted in a game-tying power-play goal for the Cyclones’ Eric Knodel on a shot from 40 feet out 2:06 into the third period.

An odd-man rush ended with Cincinnati’s Vail, a former Fort Wayne player, netting a slapshot from the right circle for a 4-3 lead at 11:10.

Houser, who backstopped the Komets to overtime of the Western Conference finals last season, rejoined the Cyclones this season after Fort Wayne entered into an affiliation agreement with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights that gave then Fucale.

Earlier in the week, Houser became the Cyclones’ franchise leader in victories with 64. He is second in the franchise history in games played with 109 behind only Geoff Sarjeant’s 127.

jcohn@jg.net

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