The mission for Fort Wayne was very simple and to the point in Saturday's Game 4 of the CHL President's Cup Finals at Memorial Coliseum. Win the third period and you will be remembered as champions forever. Lose the final 20 minutes and the Komets would have taken the perfect set-up for a championship celebration and made Monday's Game 5 somewhat anti-climactic.
The latter occurred as Wichita got a 4-3 win in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,480 orange-clad, title-hungry Komet fans to trim its deficit in the series to 3-1.
Everything was in line for the coronation of the Komets to send the massive throng down Coliseum Blvd to party late into the night. The arena was packed, the Thunder shocked - and worse - apathetic, and Fort Wayne fans brought out a multitude of brooms to mock Wichita about being swept in the series. However, Fort Wayne proved too inept early and too inaccurate late to award itself with its ninth championship.
``The hockey gods weren't with us tonight,'' Komets coach Al Sims said. ``Look at the shots on net, the chances, breakaways with our best players... You have to give (Wichita goaltender Bryan) Hogan a lot of credit. When he didn't stop them, his posts and crossbars did. That happens, but we'll come back Monday and focus and do the same thing. We just have to do a little better around the net.''
Fort Wayne spent the first 15 minutes of the game surviving itself. The Komets took advantage of a Wichita penalty just 19 seconds into the game and forward Mike Vaskivuo buried a penalty shot to put the hosts up 1-0. However, rather than build on that momentum, Fort Wayne disregarded it and committed four penalties in the first 9:21 of the game.
The Thunder answered with a power play goal by Daniel Tetrault at the 6:49 mark of the first period to tie the game at one. But with 4:10 remaining in the period, the Komets got a power play opportunity of their own and Chris Auger redirected a shot by Daniel Maggio to give Fort Wayne a 2-1 advantage.
As they did all night, the Komets simply could not put away the scrappy Wichita squad. Instead of heading into the initial intermission with a lead and momentum, the Thunder boosted its confidence with a goal from Matt Summers with just 22 seconds remaining in the period to tie the game at two goals apiece.
Throughout the second and third periods, the Komets played a conservative, stunningly unemotional game, while Wichita seemed happier to be surviving with every passing minute. But Fort Wayne didn't lack for opportunities. The Komets had 10 looks at the Thunder goal during the period and banged four of those off of the post.
Komet center J.M. Rizk notched a score at the 5:52 mark to give the Komets a 3-2 lead, but the Thunder responded with a goal from Aaron Davis with 6:20 remaining in the period to tie the game at three.
Fort Wayne winger Kaleigh Schrock tried to instill some energy into his team and the crowd by picking a fight with Thunder defenseman Justin Sawyer, who had seven inches and 50 pounds on “Schrocky Balboa,” but even that didn't give the Komets an emotional lift.
The third period was a carbon copy of the second, as both teams played more so not to lose, rather than let it hang out and skate a carefree, aggressive hockey game.
Thunder forward Thomas Beauregard got a blast past a surprisingly shaky Nick Boucher at the 10:10 mark of the final period, which proved to be the difference. Boucher (17 saves) never looked entirely comfortable all evening and his team gave him a 39-21 shot advantage, but the Komets never seized on the opportunity.
``It was a good game by both teams,'' Wichita coach Kevin McClelland said. ``There were a lot of missed opportunities on both sides, but our goaltender made some big saves.
``We're a proud hockey club. We have a big game coming up on Monday. We played our game and we battled hard. Guys sacrificed out there. We discussed that as a group, and this is what we do. These guys battled hard tonight.''
Bad luck continued until the final buzzer for Fort Wayne. With the final seconds ticking away, Komet defenseman Frankie DeAngelis found himself just outside of the crease and a rebound on his stick and he fired it past Thunder goalie Bryan Hogan (36 saves). It caromed off of the post (the sixth by a Komet player) and DeAngelis slumped over – as did the Komet fans.
Jamie Lovell, Daniel Maggio, Bryant Molle, and Stephon Thorne each recorded assists for the Komets in the loss.
Game 5 will be played Monday at the coliseum at 7:30 p.m.